The Punishment of Gaza: The chronicles of a human tragedy through the eyes an Israeli journalist


Both the cover and back page of “The Punishment of Gaza” are dramatic. The front cover shows a man gazing at damaged buildings that suggest that they had been devastated by the fury nature’s earthquakes. Conversely, they in fact represent the cruelty of man — toppled by bombs that were dropped on populated areas and killing innocent civilians, or battered by shells and missiles.

The back cover puts the tragedy in a human perspective. It quotes American human rights and political activist Noam Chomsky: “There are more terrible atrocities in the world than what is being done to the caged prisoners of Gaza, but it is not easy to think of a more cruel and cowardly exhibition of human savagery, fully supported by the US, with Europe trailing politely behind. Gideon Levy’s passionate and revealing account is an eloquent, even desperate, call to bring this shocking tragedy to an end, as can easily be done.”

What is less dramatic, but more revealing, about the tragic plight of Gaza, however, is the chronology of events that the book lists. It narrates the saga of the sufferings of the Gaza people, as the Israeli government punishes an entire people for no fault of theirs, while the US continues its military, economic and diplomatic assistance to Israel and the West, in general, by looking the other way.

The author, Gideon Levy, is an Israeli journalist who chronicles this human tragedy. Levy had covered the Gaza Strip for the newspaper, Haaretz. He reports in the book’s introduction that Israelis never really let Gaza go: “The jailer pulled out of the jail and was now holding its prisoners captive from without. Yes, Gaza was and still is the largest prison on earth, a gruesome experiment performed on living human beings.”

In November 2006, Israel shut down all communication with the Gaza Strip, and Israeli journalists have been denied access ever since. However, Levy kept writing about what he saw and what he learned. He also drew moral lessons from what he saw. He states that though the world’s people are appalled by Israel’s policies, Western governments support Israel and ignore its excesses.

Consider that on Sept. 12, 2005, the Israeli army withdrew from the Gaza Strip, after 38 years of occupation, in line with the then Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon’s, unilateral disengagement plan. On Jan. 25, 2006, Hamas won a majority of votes in the Palestinian legislative elections. On Feb. 19, 2006, the Israeli government adopted measures, collectively punishing the population of the occupied territories, among which was a freeze on the transfer of taxes and customs of the Palestinian Authority.

On April 7, 2006, the European Union suspended direct financial aid to the Palestinian government, thereby bringing about the suspension of the salaries of more than 150,000 Palestinian civil servants. The Palestinian Authority was thus pushed to the verge of bankruptcy. On June 24, 2006, the Israeli army raided a village near Rafah and abducted two brothers, Osama (a doctor), and Mustafa (a student). The next day, a Palestinian commando unit attacks an Israeli frontier post, killing two soldiers and abducting another: Gilad Shalit. From June 28 to Nov. 26, 2006, the Israeli government launched a ground and air offensive in the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, from July 12 to Aug. 14, it launched the July War in Lebanon.

On Nov. 26, 2006, after five months of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, a cease-fire was concluded. The Israeli operations killed almost 400 Palestinians and destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure, including Gaza’s only electricity power plant. On Oct.28, 2007, Israel imposed economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip. From Feb. 27 to March 3, 2008, Israeli launched another offensive Gaza, after Palestinian rockets killed an Israeli. As a result, more than 120 Palestinians were killed and 350 were wounded. On June 19, 2008, Israel and Gaza’s Hamas government concluded a six-month ceasefire through Egyptian mediation, and Israel agreed to gradually lift the blockade of Gaza. In November, an Israeli force entered Gaza and shot six Hamas gunmen, causing Hamas to respond with rocket attacks. On Dec. 19, 2008, Hamas declared that the ceasefire no longer existed because Israeli did not lift its siege of Gaza. On Dec. 27, 2008, Israel launched its biggest offensive against the Palestinian territories since 1967.

On Jan. 6, 2009, Israeli bombardment hit three UN-managed schools, killing at least 43 Palestinians and wounding 100. On Jan. 17, Israel announced a ceasefire and Hamas did the same the following day. According to Palestinian medical services, the Israeli operations killed 1,330 Palestinians, including at least 430 children, and wounded 5,450. Ten Israeli military personnel and three civilians were also killed.

The Israelis are complacent, as American and Western aid continues to pamper them. Their own politicians and media blame Palestinians, dehumanize them and criticize them for the sufferings the Israelis have inflicted on them. Even more, when someone criticizes Israeli policies, he/she is dubbed an anti-Semite.

Levy adds: “The world has also read the Goldstone Commission’s bold, probing report. Israel rejected it aggressively and bluntly, without even giving it a proper reading. Israel denounced Judge Richard Goldstone, a renowned international jurist — a self-proclaimed Zionist whose daughter spent twelve years in Israel — as an anti-Semite. What he had to say on Rwanda and Yugoslavia is applauded in Israel; what he wrote about Israel is considered treason.”

The book is a collection of his pieces published in his paper, Haaretz, during this period. He writes that his articles “were printed in the face of chauvinism, militarism, brainwashing, lies, repression and subterfuge. My Haaretz editors bravely withstood all this and never faltered, not even in the face of mounting readers’ protests and subscription cancellations. This daily newspaper is truly a ray of light in the dark that has descended over Israel.”

It is a heart-breaking story of the daily sufferings of an oppressed people and of the world’s indifference to their plight. Levy’s book is an eye-opener, except that many in Israel and the West prefer to keep their eyes closed, or at least turn them away from what they do not want to see.


— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian newspaperman, civil servant and refugee judge. He has received many awards for his work as a journalist, leadership of Muslims and for promoting better understanding between Canadians of different faiths.


by Gideon Levy

Vero Books, London-New York, 146 pages.

The Punishment of Gaza: The chronicles of a human tragedy through the eyes an Israeli journalist – Arab News.

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