A year after Israel’s latest of many bloody massacres in Gaza, it may appear that much of the world has forgotten about the immense suffering caused by “Operation Protective Edge”. Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer hasn’t forgotten. He, along with 2 million other Palestinians, faced fifty-one days of hell, and the experience chronicled by him has just been published by OR Books.
Timely and filled with harrowing accounts of life on the ground during Israel’s brutal carnage in the tiny, besieged coastal enclave, Omer’s eyewitness dispatches make a profound contribution to our understanding of Gaza’s tragic plight. In 300 pages, Shell-Shocked bears testimony to Omer’s extraordinary professionalism and amazing tenacity to capture in words the horror unleashed by the occupying power, Israel.
It must be noted that, apart from his role as a journalist, Omer lives in Gaza. Along with his wife and three-month-old son, he had to endure the terror of the Zionist regime’s colossal ground, air and naval assault. “I am a resident of Gaza,” he explains, “and suffer through daily local attacks, as well as the major assaults every few years. This has been my experience of life, first as a child, then as a young man, and now as a father and husband: I was born a few years prior to the first intifada. Today four generations have lived under this occupation. The majority of us in Gaza have known nothing else.”
Shell-Shocked is a grim reminder that the July 2014 assault was the third, and to date the worst, waged by Israel against Gaza since 2008. Its compendium of reports reminds us too that the offensive was an outrageous act of premeditated aggression to which the right-wing Netanyahu regime gave the Orwellian name “Operation Protective Edge”.
Nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed; about a quarter of them were children, many of whom were targeted deliberately and viciously. One hundred and forty-two families lost three or more members; about 11,000 were injured, maimed or permanently disfigured; 18,000 housing units were destroyed or severely damaged, displacing nearly 20,000 families made up of around 108,000 men, women and children. Seventeen thousand hectares of crops were flattened and the agricultural infrastructure that sustained life was almost entirely decimated.
Omer’s analytical reports illuminate how relentless and utterly merciless the Israeli war machine was. For instance in one report, “Our bodies are spent, but our spirit endures”, the author captures the human drama thus: “The days flow from one into the next, punctuated by breaking stories, covering one massacre to the next. Each day another home is bombed. Homes with children sleeping inside.”
He laments the fact that very few in the mainstream media ever talk about the right of the people of Gaza to defend themselves or even just to exist. After all, Palestinians don’t possess an air force, navy, army and nuclear weapons; they don’t set up checkpoints; don’t bulldoze Israeli homes; don’t build walls around Israeli cities; don’t uproot Israeli crops; and don’t withhold their taxes.
Shell-Shocked not only contains reports of the terror visited upon Omer’s people; the stories reported also reveal the extent of the dehumanisation of the Palestinians that has taken place, allowing most of Israel’s allies to look away from the immense suffering that the people of Gaza have had to endure.
His book is a remarkable testimony to the professionalism and serious commitment to accuracy of Mohammed Omer. “This great reporter and his family were under fire day after day,” comments John Pilger. Despite bombs raining around him, “…he produced eyewitness dispatches of such clarity and brilliance that, almost single-handed, he reclaimed the honour of real journalism.”
Jon Snow of Britain’s Channel 4 TV News, describes Omer’s testimony as journalism of the highest order. According to Rashid Khalidi, the book is, “Written with painful immediacy, these are more than dispatches from a war zone: they convey the human reality of people who manage to survive and endure in conditions that have grown grimmer and more inhumane over the years.”
Mohammed Omer is a professional journalist determined to create a precise record of events occurring in front of him, affirms Sara Roy. Having read the heart-wrenching accounts of fifty-one terror filled days and nights, I share Roy’s amazement that such horror can be visited on a trapped and helpless population.
This book will ensure that Israel’s war crimes in Gaza will never be allowed to be swept under the carpet. Indeed, the testimony of survivors as captured by the author will certainly have a role in determining justice for the Gaza Strip and its besieged people.
Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of Media Review Network, Johannesburg
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.