Deep Roots of the Current Gaza Slaughter

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In our previous article about the napalming of refugees by the Israelis during the Six Day War, we quoted extensively from the 1971 book by the Canadian A.C. Forrest, The unHoly Land.  That is also the primary source for this article.

We must remember that the residents of the Gaza Strip are almost all the descendants of the people who were driven from their homes and their land in Palestine by the genocidal terror tactics of the colonizing, primarily European-origin Zionists in 1948 in the wake of the patently unfair UN partition of Palestine.  We have been sold on the notion that this awarding of a majority chunk of Palestine to these Jewish refugees was a sort of payback for the horrors visited upon them by the Nazis, but as we have explained in “The Balfour Declaration’s Bitter Fruit,” that was hardly the case, that the die for Palestine’s partition favoring the European interlopers had already been cast in 1937.

The author of the theUnholy Land is described on the book’s dustjacket this way:

Dr. A. C. Forrest is well known in Canada for his outspoken concern as a humanitarian on controversial issues, both secular and religious.  He has been the Editor of the United Church Observer for fifteen years, has for twenty years written a weekly column for several major newspapers, and has frequently published articles in Canadian magazines.

He was hardly prepared for the reception that his magazine reports from the Middle East would receive, though.  His chapter 8 is entitled, “What Happened When I Criticized Israel,” and it begins like this:

In the months that followed the publication of my reports on the refugee situation in the Middle East I was subjected to a barrage of innuendo and invective.

During one period of bitter attack on me I asked Pierre Berton, Canada’s ablest—and I suppose most controversial—author, editor, and television personality, about it.  Berton and fellow broadcaster, Charles Templeton, had come to my defense on a programme when I had been called anti-Semitic for criticizing Israel.  Berton had an impeccable record as a friend of the Jews and other minorities.  I thought I had, too.

“Why are they zeroing in on me?”  I asked him.  “Many have been more critical of Israel and less critical of the Arabs than I have.”

“It’s because you keep on the refugee problem,” he said.  “Every Jew in the world feels guilty about that.  It’s when you criticize people where their guilt complexes are that you get such a reaction.”

Berton was surely correct that the refugee problem was and is a particular sore point with the Zionists, but a more cynical person would hardly interpret the heavy-handed smear tactics and attempts to discredit and silence Forrest as being motivated primarily by guilt.  Forrest’s big sin in the eyes of the Zionists, one might conclude, was that he humanized the victims of Israeli brutality, and this is what they simply cannot tolerate.

The pressure that was brought to bear upon Forrest reached far beyond normal public criticism.  “The technique of the outright lie, the innuendo, the smear, the pressures on my friends, on editors who have published my stuff, have been a bitter revelation to me,” he writes.  “The crank stuff on the telephone had got so bad my family insisted I delist.  Another A.C. Forrest in the Toronto telephone directory had to delist, too.”

To impart more of the flavor of what was so intolerable in Forrest’s reports, I am reprinting here Forrest’s entire short chapter 5:

How Egypt Cared for the New Refugees

A little lad kept plucking at my arm and looking up, trying to get something said, while older men crowded round and talked excitedly.

“There was a lot of bombing and shooting, and people were getting killed; everybody was running, and I was afraid I was going to get killed too.  So I ran,’ an Arab of about twenty-five explained.

He was trying to make me understand why he was away over in an Egyptian village that had been converted into a refugee camp in the UAR Liberation province half-way between Cairo and Alexandria, and he didn’t know where his wife and children were.  He said he too had been a refugee for nineteen years, ever since his parents fled to Gaza in the 1948 war.

Finally the little boy had his chance.  He thought I was from the Red Cross, he said, and asked, “Are you going to Gaza?”  I said I might.  The interpreter explained.  “He wants you to please tell his mother if you get to Gaza that he didn’t get killed.  He’s here.”

So I had him write down his name and his mother’s name and address, and then others wrote down their names and the names of their families in Gaza.  And the camp director looked at his watch and said this was the first stop in the first camp and there were eight other camps.  He might have suggested that we didn’t have all day and there were a lot of other kids who had got separated from their mothers and I wasn’t working for the Red Cross anyway.

So I went on.

Two days later in Damascus I took that little boy’s name and address to the International Red Cross representative to discuss getting messages from lost little boys to their mothers.  He shook his head.  “We’ve got fourteen thousand letters piled up here from Syrian displaced persons and we can’t get censors to go through them.”  He was sympathetic, as I always find the Red Cross to be—and they would work on it.  But there were other things—food, medicine, shelter, politics—that had to come first.

I did get to Gaza.  But there were over four hundred thousand people jammed into Gaza inn that narrow strip between the desert and Israel and the sea, over three hundred thousand of them refugees.  It was and is the worst situation in the Middle East.

I was unable to let the lad’s mother know he hadn’t been killed.  I carried the address in my pocket and about fifteen months later I went back to the Liberation Province and returned to the same camp and the same hut.  Most of them were still there.  They remembered me and they remembered the boy.

He’s in Alexandria with his father,” I was told.  “His mother is in Gaza and it is unlikely they will get together, but she knows now he didn’t get killed.”

The Red Cross told me that Egyptian radio did a good job with this sort of thing, broadcasting lists of names of people who had disappeared but hadn’t been killed and had turned up as refugees in the UAR.  The problem was that there was no way to let the refugees know if the messages got through.

Although the UAR had suffered a disastrous and humiliating defeat and had lost the Gaza Strip (which was really not UAR territory but had been under her administration) and the whole of the Sinai, her refugee problem was less acute than that in Jordan and Syria.

About a hundred and thirty thousand Syrians and Palestinians had fled from the Golan Heights.  About two hundred and fifteen thousand at that time had crossed the Jordan.  About thirty-five thousand from Gaza and Sinai, most of them former Palestinian refugees, but a substantial number of Sinai Bedouins too, had become guests on the West side of Suez.

It was obvious Egypt was trying to do a good job, although the Palestinians didn’t like it and wanted to go back.  Many Egyptians weren’t very pleased at their presence.

“They won’t work,” the UAR camp director told me.  “There’s work here in the fields and we’ll pay them, but they are afraid if they start to work they will be kept here and never get back to their families.”  An angry Palestinian kept following us as he showed me about the camp.  “He keeps saying that he wants to go back to Gaza,” the director explained.

About ten thousand were crowded into new villages in the Liberation Province; the houses were all filled and so were the new schools.  At one time in Jordan there were as many as thirty families in a school-room.  In the UAR schools each family had a corner of a school-room.

Although UNRWA had made arrangements quickly to continue providing rations for the UNRWA refugees, the UAR was paying cash instead of distributing food.  Each person was given the equivalent of about twenty-five cents a day up to two and a half dollars for a large family.  A farm labourer was paid abut one dollar a day.  You could buy a dozen eggs for about twenty-five cents.

One of the ironies was that the new villages in the Province had been planned and built for young families from Upper Egypt.  The UAR has a vast reclamation project in the delta and had already reclaimed about one hundred thousand acres from the desert.  Eventually they will reclaim a million.  The fields were producing alfalfa, citruses, vegetables, and grains.

I was given an excellent lunch of both chicken and steak in the headquarters building dining room.  The good things were all grown right there, I was told with pride.  It was significant that there was a bowl of fresh roses on every dining room table.  The Egyptians make roses grow int eh desert too, and they have reclaimed approximately te same acreage that Israel has during recent years.

“But you didn’t know about it did you?” my host said.  “Why don’t your journalists write about this too?”

When the refugees flooded in after the June war the government postponed the movement of young families from the south to the new homes and fields they had been waiting for, and housed the refugees in the villages.  This was a matter of great disappointment and some resentment.  The overpopulation of Egypt is serious and young Egyptians have a lot of hope for their economic and social revolution.  The villages seemed well planned. Each had its Mosque and school and clinic.

Despite the problems of Egypt it seemed then that the refugee problem would be taken in stride.  Subsequently, arrangements were worked out with the Red Cross to reunite many of the families.  While Israel permitted no Syrians to return to their homes even for the most pressing compassionate reasons—except a few hundred Druses—most of the divided Sinai and Gaza families were reunited.  In time Egypt made arrangements with UNRWA to look after all the Palestinians for whom UNRWA had responsibility.

Not many would have predicted then that the UAR problem of displaced persons had just begun.  In the two years to follow over a half a million of their own people were to be driven from the West bank of the Suez Canal by Israeli shells and bombs, and the large cities of Suez and Ismailia were emptied of their residents scattered all over the crowded nation.

If this degree of humanization of the victims of Israeli policy at that time was felt to be so threatening that the man doing it had to be thoroughly demonized, how much less tolerable must be honest reporting on the current ongoing genocide?  Perhaps that’s why there has been an unprecedented killing of journalists, most of them Palestinians, in the current conflict.

For more background on what’s going on in Gaza go to Ifamericansknew.org.

David Martin

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