Palestinians try to find usable belongings among the ruins of their destroyed buildings during the 72-hour humanitarian truce in Gaza City on Tuesday.
I first arrived in Gaza on July 27 with a crew from Channel 4 News in London and it didn't take long before I experienced a vivid close-up of the reality of death.
We were at Shifa Hospital, and the bodies of six children had been brought in; they had been hit by an explosive, and there was absolute mayhem and chaos on the ward. The grounds of the hospital itself had been settled by people who had fled the Israeli bombings, so you had people around who were already very upset. Seeing children who'd been blown apart really made everyone panic.
That night, the Israelis bombed Gaza City, a big sprawling city in the northern half of the strip, in what I would describe as a post-modern blitzkrieg. There were constant, once-a-minute explosions and what seemed like systematic precision bombings of mosques and office buildings. To my mind, there’s no doubt that Israel was trying to collectively frighten the whole of Gaza.
To the children, especially, the shelling was frightening. You can't explain six hours of explosions to a child. Even if nothing hits them, it's a terrifying sound. And explosion after explosion after explosion hit the city.
If you were a Western soldier serving in Iraq, you probably experienced some horrible combat. But you probably never sat through a night of precision-guided bombs, wondering if you were going to get hit. Five-year-old children in Gaza have lived through that. Indeed, those children have probably lived through more airstrikes than most soldiers anywhere have ever experienced.
Beyond the bombing and the violence, the other thing that struck me was how mixed the society seemed compared to places like Yemen where the interpretation of Islam is more conservative. Gaza seems just as mixed as Cairo. Cairo has hip-hop and raves. So does Gaza. It's not a backward, conservative society. It is actually full of defiance and hope, especially when you speak to young people.
Another thing I noticed during my time in Gaza was how people become fatalistic about death. The Israeli military will warn Palestinians in Gaza that they're about to strike their homes, by calling them on their cellphones. But if the strike is targeting a Hamas militant, there is no warning — even if the family is there. The family is expendable in the larger war.
When there's a strike and you hear the explosion, your first thought might be, "Those poor people." Your second, more subconscious thought is, "Lucky me — this time I didn't get hit."
Paul Mason on leaving Gaza by Tranganhnam88
If you live long enough in a place like that, where death is random, you begin to feel fatalistic. Even though I knew I could leave, I started to feel the same way: "If it hits me, it hits me; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t."
There’s no point wandering around frightened. You can't control what happens so you accept the constant possibility of death, and get on with it. That’s what this constant bombing does to you: It turns you into a fatalist whose only concern is to live to see another day.
Young man caught in the blast when drone struck motorbike at gate of UNWRA school, Rafah. >7 dead pic.twitter.com/bCQRXcVg2l
— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) August 3, 2014
If I were to make a list of the most vivid memories of Gaza as I leave, they seem like hyper-reality — a kind of Instagram photo with too many tweaks, colors, effects....
The thin layer of skull between a guy's face and his brain after a tank shell hit him; the amount of dust that gets in the curly hair of a four-year-old when she's been blown up. The wind blowing constantly off the sea, fighting the buzz of the drones, in a kind of soothing and calming way.
Girl from Rafah came into Khan Yunis ICU with shrapnel from Israeli bomb. 9 of family reported dead. Town cut off. pic.twitter.com/orPLtJWa5z
— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) August 3, 2014
Singing nursery rhymes to a kid while Israeli tank shells land nearby. Yes, that's the most systematic lying you can ever do: sing nursery rhymes to a kid to try to convince them that what they're smelling is not the panic and fear of adults.
But above all, the yellow shadows creeping up the wall as each flare and bomb hits Gaza City. For six hours in total blackness, in a place with no water, and only flashlights. A horror movie designed to scare children couldn't possibly replicate the true terror they are living through in real life.
Tags: ISRAEL, ISRAEL AND GAZA, PAUL MASON, US & World, WORLD