The Toulouse Killings: Not In Palestine's Name
When Mohammed Merah, the now infamous French Islamist, was captured by police after killing three Jewish children at the Ozar Hatorah day school in southern France, he reportedly justified his actions by saying he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children. So it was only natural that reverberations from this crime would extend all the way to Palestine, mere weeks after Palestinian children in Gaza were injured and killed by Israeli bombs.
But Palestinians do not praise Merah's actions. We reject it. And the suffering of people in France mourning the lives of young people lost is a feeling known all too well to the people of Gaza. The despair people feel living in the open-air prison that is blockaded Gaza sunk to new lows when the news came in about Merah's massacre in France.
The proximate cause of our despair, though, is the power crisis we are living through.
Gaza's Power Woes
Of the many lessons Gaza has taught me, maintaining a positive approach in life has been the most important, and the most practical, one learned for surviving the many hardships we face. Life here teaches you to seriously use whatever it is that doesn't kill you to strengthen yourself.
But the electricity and fuel crisis engulfing Gaza has tested this resolve. And this weekend was the very, very last straw.
The energy crisis in Gaza “has disrupted the delivery of basic services and undermined already vulnerable livelihoods and living conditions,” a March 2012 United Nations report states. The report says the blame for the crisis stems from a number of factors: “the destruction of six transformers by an Israeli airstrike in 2006; the restrictions on the import of spare parts, equipment, and fuel in the context of Israel’s blockade; and the dispute between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the de-facto-authorities in Gaza over the funding of [Gaza Power Plant] operations.”
This crisis is connected to the energy usage of hospitals and bakeries, as the two depend on electricity (and if there’s no electricity, they depend on fuel, but there’s a fuel shortage, and so on) for their main functions. And because of the energy crisis, the average household in the Gaza Strip gets no more than 6 hours of electricity every day, which has been the case for the past month and a half. Simultaneously, a severe fuel shortage means that people cannot buy fuel for their small electricity generators, and cannot drive their cars, either.
On the bright side, this means less air and sound pollution, and also less traffic. Less electricity means no TV or computer, which ultimately results in more time for family, friends, hobbies and exercise (also because stairs replace elevators).
But this time, the bright side is too dim. There is nothing bright in a situation where a power outage results in the death of a special needs 7-month-old baby that needed to stay connected to a special breathing device. Call it a new type of power outage-enforced euthanasia. Nothing bright in spending hours waiting for a taxi either, which in turn would've already spent hours in the gas station queue hoping to fill its tank.
It's anything but bright to be the victim of a dirty political game, played by selfish hypocrites who would happily put the blame on the victims if they had to. One and a half million people, caught in the middle of Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt, paying the bills for unavailable services, and also for their leadership's mistakes.
This crisis continues to happen in light of Israel's suffocating siege on Gaza's 1.5 million people, which was imposed after Hamas won democratic elections in the Palestinian territories. Electricity and fuel are the highlighted shortages this month, but we also suffer from a shortage in medicine and hospital supplies, construction material, and restrictions on movement and travel.
The one thing that's worse than political and factional leaders screaming blame at each other while we pay the price is how these same local and regional leaders, supported by their media, broadcast messages boasting Gaza's undaunted people--a people whose core is made from steel, and whose resilience continues to impress the world. They play songs, on repeat, saying that Gaza will never kneel, that its men will never surrender. It's all true of course; Gaza is an exemplary case of resilience, but our leadership has to realize that there's only so much we can take; that we, too, are human beings. This crisis is wearing us out.
The Toulouse killings
In the middle of all this, we heard news of a terrible attack in Toulouse, France, where a militant Islamist gunman shot dead 7 French citizens, including three children, in what was reported to be revenge for the suffering of the Palestinians.
The suffering Merah identified is real. The pain we undergo is a shaping factor of our humanity. And so we know how terrible the loss of a child feels like.
But avenging their death does not happen by killing more children. The world has already lost too many innocent children to the greed and stupidity of adults, and we, Palestinians everywhere, refuse the killing of children –any children, because a child's own identity is his innocence- to avenge suffering.
Palestinians in Gaza and everywhere sadly recognize that the Palestinian cause has become an easy justification for many actions in the world that are completely unrelated to Palestine. The murder in Toulouse is one of many examples. But our cause is a noble one, and we cherish life and appreciate how vulnerable it could be.
So while France mourns the innocent victims of murder, Gaza mourns the innocent victims of a political power outage, which might soon turn into popular outrage. And a few kilometers away, Hana Shalabi nears her 40th day of hunger strike against Israel's abusive use of administrative detention. Pain keeps her awake at night, as mourning does to the families of victims everywhere. You cannot end one's suffering by causing the suffering of another.