GAZA, REMEMBER?

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 24 Apr 2009

Gideon Levy - Haaretz

Alyan Abu-Aun is lying in his tent, his crutches beside him. He smokes cigarettes and stares into the tiny tent’s empty space. His young son sits on his lap. Ten people are crammed into the tent, about the size of a small room. It has been their home for three months. Nothing remains of their previous home, which the Israel Defense Forces shelled during Operation Cast Lead. They are refugees for a second time; Abu-Aun’s mother still remembers her home in Sumsum, a town that once stood near Ashkelon.

Abu-Aun, 53, was wounded while trying to flee when his home in the Gaza town of Beit Lahia was bombed. He has been on crutches ever since. His wife gave birth during the height of the war, and now the baby is with them in the cold tent. The tent was sent flying during the storm that devoured the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, so the family had to put it back up. They receive water only occasionally in a container, and a tiny tin shack serves as a bathroom for the 100 families in this new refugee camp, ‘Camp Gaza,’ in Beit Lahia’s Al-Atatra neighborhood.

Abu-Aun sounded particularly bitter this past weekend; the Red Cross refused his family a bigger tent. He has also had enough of eating beans.

For three months, the Abu-Aun family and thousands of others have been living in five tent encampments built after the war. They have not begun clearing away the ruins of their homes, let alone build new ones. Thousands live in the shadow of the ruins of their homes, thousands in tents, thousands crowded together with their relatives, tens of thousands who are newly homeless and whom the world has lost interest in. After the conference of donor countries, which convened to great fanfare in Sharm el-Sheikh a month and a half ago, which included 75 countries and agreed to transfer $1 billion to rebuild Gaza, nothing happened.

Gaza is besieged. There are no building materials. Israel and the world are setting conditions, the Palestinians are incapable of forming a unity government, as is needed, the money and concrete are nowhere to be seen and the Abu-Aun family continues to live in a tent. Even the $900 million promised by the United States is stuck in the cash register. It’s doubtful whether it will ever be taken out. America’s word.

It’s exactly three months since the much-talked-about war, and Gaza is once again forgotten. Israel has never taken an interest in the welfare of its victims. Now the world has forgotten, too. Two weeks with hardly a Qassam rocket has taken Gaza completely off the agenda. If the Gazans don’t hurry up and resume firing, nobody will take an interest in their welfare again. Although not new, this is an especially grievous and saddening message liable to spark the next cycle of violence. And then it will be certain they won’t get aid because they will be shooting.

Somebody must assume responsibility for the fate of the Abu-Aun family and other victims like them. If they had been injured in an earthquake, the world probably would have helped them recover long ago. Even Israel would have quickly dispatched aid convoys from ZAKA, Magen David Adom, even the IDF. But the Abu-Aun family was not injured by a natural disaster, but by hands and flesh and blood, made in Israel, and not for the first time. The response: no compensation, no aid, no rehabilitation. Israel and the world are too preoccupied to rebuild Gaza. They have become speechless. Gaza, remember?

From the ruins of the Abu-Aun family sprouts a new desperation. It will be more bitter than its predecessor. A decent family of eight has been destroyed, physically and psychologically, and the world stands aloof. We should not expect Israel to compensate its victims or rebuild the ruins it caused, even though this would clearly be in its interest, not to mention its moral obligation, a topic not even talked about.

The world once again has to clean up Israel’s mess. But Israel is setting more and more political conditions for providing emergency humanitarian aid ? empty excuses to leave Gaza in ruins and not offer aid that Gaza deserves and desperately needs. Gaza has once again been left to its own devices, the Abu-Aun family has been left in its tent, and when the hostilities resume we will be told once again about the cruelty and brutality of … the Palestinians.

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