It’s almost impossible to imagine a time when Gaza did not look like the disheveled, ravaged and burning wasteland we see every day in media photos and news video reports. But civilization in fact owes much to Gaza and her people.
In 570 CE a pilgrim to the Holy Land wrote that "Gaza is a splendid city, full of pleasant things; the men in it are most honest, distinguished by every generosity, and warm to friends and visitors."
At that time, Gaza City was a jewel along the Palestinian coast, the last outpost of civilization and supplies for travelers facing an arduous and unforgiving trek through the Sinai desert down to Egypt.
Early Christians escaping the power centres of their persecutors found refuge in Gaza; similarly, early Muslims from Arabia enjoyed the hospitality of the Gazan natives. It is said that Hashem, great-grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), died there on a journey from Mecca to Palestine. His grave has long been a shrine in Gaza and in peacetime is visited by many.
Conquerors came and went over the intervening centuries, yet Gaza stood proud as a centre of culture and commerce. The most recent invaders have been the Zionist Israelis who are now bent on breaking its spirit by dealing out relentless death, destruction and misery.
But those who know the character and heritage of Gazans deeply believe that even the well-equipped Zionist Israelis of this 21st century will fail to break the will and the spirit of Gaza, just as Alexander the Great’s bloody conquest of 332 BCE, or Janneus’s brutal attack of 96 BCE failed.
It was in Gaza in 1170 CE that European Crusaders surrendered their strategic control of the area to Saladin, returning it once again to an era of prosperity and peace. Centuries later, however, that peace would be interrupted by another wave of invading conquerors — first the British and then the Zionist Jews. Yet through all of Gaza’s political and military setbacks, its enemies have never prevailed. Ultimately, it was not they who would determine Gaza’s future, either in the past or in today’s uncertain future.
Gazans in 2009 are facing death, deprivation and humiliation, but they live in the same hope as the ancient writer of Psalm 72 who says in Verse 4: "He shall judge the poor of the people; he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor." (Interestingly, on the day this was being written, Christian churches all over the world were using Psalm 72 as one of their appointed Sunday readings.)
From the 1920s on, Zionist Jews were working to create a new state for themselves on Palestinian land; and finally, in 1948, Israel came into being. At that point Gaza City and its hinterland were changed forever by a great influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, driven from their homes by Zionists who took over their lands and property. Like all displaced people, they hoped for a quick return to their towns and villages, once Palestine was liberated from these new conquerors. But more than 60 years on, that has not yet happened.
Like nearly all refugees, those who fled southern Palestine to settle in Gaza arrived in absolute poverty, a situation that continues to this day. Added to their hardships was a brutal Israeli occupation that began in 1967. Now the hardships of occupation, plus an inhumane embargo of essential supplies and food, have been followed by a barbaric genocidal siege.
Never in history has an invading force almost simultaneously waged a war of occupation and retribution by sea, land and air against an oppressed and understandably resistant population – one with barely shoestring resources to counter it. Not Nazi Germany against France, not France against Algeria, not Britain against Ireland – but only an artificially-created Jewish state against native Palestinians.
Today, every one of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents – from the youngest infant to the ill and elderly — lives under threat of death. What was deplorable as a crowded and impoverished ghetto has now become a concentration camp, a place of genocide where hundreds have been killed within a few horrific days, and thousands more wounded.
This is the second time in history that a Jewish state has existed.
But what have they done with the privileges and responsibilities of statehood? In ancient times the Jewish kingdom, which never treated its neighbors as equals, became a frequent flashpoint for war rather than a contributor to regional peace. Unfortunately, little has changed.
The technical, material and personnel resources commanded by the current state of Zionist Israel are hugely disproportionate to its size, mainly due to seemingly limitless financial and political backing provided by American taxpayers.
Israel has the further unfair advantage of being "marketed" by an extensive Western media propaganda machine. Today, that machine is spreading the shameful, immoral lie that the current killing and wounding of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza is a price worth paying for keeping Zionist Israel in charge. But Gazans are the ones really paying the cost of preserving the high standard of living available only to occupation forces and the Jewish settlers who live on conquered lands with beautiful homes, swimming pools, modern schools, hospitals, parks, roads, etc.
Instead of granting Gaza freedom and self-determination and treating all of its native Palestinian people as equals, Zionist Israel assassinated freedom fighters and their families because their democratically elected Hamas government was not to its liking. Hamas’s paralyzed founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was killed in March 2004, followed shortly afterwards by the deaths of Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al- Rantisi and his family. Still on the Zionist hit list is Hamas political wing leader, Khaled Meshal, who narrowly survived a 1997 assassination attempt by Mossad (Israeli secret service) agents in Jordan.
"We don’t fight the Jews because they’re Jews, but because they are occupiers," stresses Meshal. "If the Arabs occupied us, [we’d] fight them too … But why is everybody so worried about our religiosity anyway? Israel has always referred to ancient biblical texts to justify its existence. If an Arab official, for example, wore an Islamic looking turban, he would be sending the wrong signals. But when Israeli officials put on the Jewish kipot (skull cap), that’s not a problem, nobody is worried about religiosity then."
"We live under occupation and we don’t have the traditional tools to defend ourselves" Meshal continues. "We repeatedly demanded that Israel not target Palestinian civilians and end the siege. But Israel never listened."
And to another Palestinian one can give thoughtful last words on this tragic episode in Gaza’s history. In his book, My Father Was a Freedom Fighter, Gaza: The Untold Story, Ramzy Baroud writes:
"Now Gaza is undergoing another phase of hardship and defiance. Its modern conquerors are as unpitying as its ancient ones. True, Gaza is ailing, but standing, its people resourceful and as durable as ever, defiant as they have always been, and hell-bent on surviving, for that’s what Gazans do best. And I should know; it’s my home."