By Joharah Baker
RAMALLAH (MIFTAH) – Nothing could be worse than the murder of a child, except perhaps the murder of three. As we, as a society, attempt to fathom the unthinkable act of violence that transpired in the early morning hours of December 11 in Gaza we are also forced to take a long hard look at ourselves and ponder on how we could possibly have drifted so far from our goal.
Three small children, on their way to second and first grade, one – sitting on the lap of a bodyguard – on his way to preschool. Just minutes after pulling away from their home in the Rimal quarter of Gaza city, they were intercepted by three cars. A group of masked and armed men jumped out and opened fire, spraying the vehicle and those inside it with more than 60 bullets. After escaping, the men left a bloodbath behind – three children and one bodyguard dead, another passenger – the children’s small cousin – injured, and four bystanders also on their way to school wounded and lying terrified on the Gaza street.
The attackers, widely believed to have been targeting Palestinian intelligence officer Baha’ Balousha, have yet to be apprehended although the interior ministry announced on December 13 that they had made several arrests of people suspected of involvement in the crime.
Immediately, condemnations were abundant. From the presidency, the government, the factions and shocked individuals, everyone expressed their horror that such a crime could be committed among Palestinians, who have always prided themselves in drawing the line at “spilling Palestinian blood.”
These days, it is not just Palestinian blood that is being spilt but the blood of innocents. It is irrelevant whether the target was their father, a well-known Fateh loyalist, or not. The fact remains that a mother is now bewailing the loss of her three beloved children – Osama, Ahmad and Salam – taken from her in a pointless act of violence, and our society is facing a perilous threat of unprecedented magnitude.
The perpetrators of this heinous act may or may not have been tied to a certain political faction. It would not be the first time hard-line loyalists of this or that faction took shots at each other. Just the other day, the convoy of Hamas-affiliated interior minister Said Siyam was shot at in Gaza city. Armed clashes have become the common mode of dispute lately between the rivaling Hamas and Fateh parties. It has even gotten to the point where firearms are drawn for the sake of a parking lot, a suspicious look or a heated argument.
What has our society been reduced to when parents cannot feel safe in sending their children off to school in the morning and not because they fear an Israeli tank shell? Isn’t it enough that we still must face the oppression of an Israeli occupation that has proven its ruthlessness time and again? Did we not raise our voices in rage when our children were pulled lifeless from their beds after Israeli tanks shells ripped them from their sleep?
Those who opened fire on the children have been called collaborators, mercenaries and traitors by various Palestinian personalities and factions, who are all scrambling to clear their own names of the unforgivable crime. It is a heavy load to have the blood of babies on your hands and each and every Palestinian faction involved in the current state of disunity knows that if they were found responsible for the children’s deaths, they would suffer dearly among the people.
Still, whether factional loyalties are behind the killings, the assassin was guilty of mistaken identity or the culprits were indeed “collaborators” intent on driving even deeper wedges between our people, what rings poignantly true is that the current state of chaos and lawlessness in our society has provided a breeding ground for such crimes.
Our leaders are good at “talking the talk,” eloquently praising our people’s steadfastness and their own commitment to national unity and forwarding our noble cause. But behind the scenes, our leaders are setting a poor and potentially disastrous example for the masses. While they have not lowered themselves to actually shooting at one another, the verbal sparring and the flying insults and accusations are creating an atmosphere of hatred and contempt between a people who cannot afford such discord.
The perpetrators must be brought to justice; that is indisputable. Then, after they are settled in their prison cells for what should be the rest of their lives and the babies are nestled into their final resting place, our leaders, our factions and our people must reflect on how we allowed ourselves to reach this point.
National unity must never be merely a slogan on a wall or flowing words from an otherwise cunning politician. We must live it, breathe it and embrace it if we are ever to survive and continue on the path from which we have long gone astray. It does not matter whether the prime minister is loyal to Fateh, to Hamas or to either for that matter. What matters is that we have a strong, responsible leadership comprised of competent, qualified people who love their country and are willing to show calculated flexibility in their own stances for the benefit of Palestine and the Palestinians.
If this society does not rescue itself from this treacherous abyss, our dream will be gone, drowned in the blood of our children.
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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