Night falls in Gaza

Eóin Murray
25 March 2004

As light fades over Gaza city a cool calm sets in. Daylight ends abruptly each evening around 6pm. Within a few hours, as every night, the F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopter gunships can be heard operating overhead.

Gunfire and explosions are heard sporadically in the distance. I wake each morning to a cacophonic trio: the call to prayer, a nearby cock crowing loud and shrill, and hovering helicopters. Monday morning, 4am, is no exception.

Except that, this morning, I decide to go for a walk around my safe suburban neighbourhood. After about an hour, the sky shakes with a series of three loud explosions. Then gunfire punctures the air. A huge roar sears the sky. I see the traces of fighter jets, but no sign of helicopters or the jets themselves.

Read in openDemocracy the open letter to Tony Blair of the Gaza-based psychotherapist, Eyad Sarraj: “Dear Tony Blair, Justice please” (March 2003)

Further gunshots deter me from walking too far towards the chaos. As I walk back to my apartment, taxis are ferrying women and children away from the source of the noise. Some of the women are crying. People are coming onto their balconies, some also crying.

Unusually for them, the security guards on my street are awake and pacing the road. The sound of ambulances pierces the early dawn and UN vans charge towards the scene of the attack. Soon, the mosque loudhailers join the nightmarish orchestra of gunfire, sirens, and people shouting and screaming.

I return to my apartment and quickly switch on the BBC. News has already come through of the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the 67-year old spiritual leader of the radical Palestinian movement Hamas. This, clearly, is big.

I stay at home, getting ready to go to work and watching the breaking news. By 7am I receive official security advice from UN staff telling me to stay at home all day.

I do so. It is a day of stench, gunfire and boredom. And noise – what sounds like a day-long Arabic version of a huge rugby crowd in Lansdowne Road stadium in my hometown of Dublin, Ireland, at the pushover when thousands of throaty voices urge the scrum onwards: “heave, heave”.

Soon, the smell of burning tyres infiltrates every pore, every ream of space. To the south, in the direction of the Khan Younis refugee camp, the sky suffocates with a heavy black cloud moving slowly north. The mosques quieten down for the funeral, as does the sporadic gunfire. But both start up again during the afternoon.

The attack on Monday 22 March was superbly executed, but what of the strategy behind it? How intelligent are the Israeli military and political leaders who planned the operation, signed the papers, pressed the button? Perhaps Israeli strategy should not be criticised for its failure to see the consequences of its actions. Rather, does it not see all too clearly the ultimate outcome of moves such as this?

If Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from Gaza is successful in its own terms, he will have left the Palestinian Authority with a poisoned chalice: an area too small and isolated from the outside world to be economically viable. The main leader of what is effectively the primary charitable organisation of Gaza is now dead. Services met by Hamas, such as the provision of water and food, will be disorganised if not in disarray.

Not everybody in Gaza supports Hamas, just as not everybody in Ireland supported the IRA. But when the imagined community of “we”, “the people”, “the nation” is under attack from external forces then that collective will unite under a single banner. The binding of imagination is tightened and the community closes in on itself.

The assassination has unquestionably rid the world of a deadly overlord of terrorism. But if terrorism undermines the rule of law to spread fear amongst the populace, then what was the nature of this attack? We in Ireland know all too well about the cycle of violence. I certainly remember the chilling advertisement which showed a boy seeing his father killed. The Cat Stevens soundtrack sang: “my boy is just like me, he has grown up just like me.”

An attack like this breeds terror and terrorists.

Savagery begets only savagery.

If the cycle of violence is not broken, we all will fall down.

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