I know about pain, and I know when other people are in pain. I have seen it, felt it and lived it many times. Ever since I was born, the Gaza Strip has witnessed Israeli military offensives and incursions. Scenes of death and destruction are the backdrop to my life.
Last Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut was, therefore, a shocking reminder of this. A different place, for sure; and a different reason, but the victims, the destruction and the blood were identical.
Like the Gaza Strip, Lebanon has had more of its share of violence; both have been or are occupied by Israel, with all that it entails. Palestinian and Lebanese mothers alike have seen their children grow into fine young men and women only to have them taken away in an explosive instant. Can there be any greater pain in this life? They too have seen their homes, built painstakingly stone by stone, destroyed before their eyes.
In terms of death and destruction, therefore, Gaza is on a par with Lebanon; it doesn’t have much to learn from it, nor much to offer it. The tiny territory has been besieged by Israel and its allies since 2007 and is one of the most densely-populated places in the world, as well as one of the poorest.
Nevertheless, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are not only standing in solidarity with the people of Beirut and Lebanon, but they are also sending them much-needed blood for those injured in Tuesday’s blast. Dozens of Palestinians have answered the call for blood donations made by the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Ministry of Health and the Khan Younis Municipality in the south of the Gaza Strip.
“Our blood is probably the most valuable transferrable asset that we have,” explained the Mayor of Khan Younis, All Al-Batta, “so we decided to donate for our people in Lebanon with the most important thing we have.”
Moreover, this blood is sent as a reminder of the loyalty that they have shown to us in the past. The people of Lebanon have stood with Palestine and the people of Palestine many, many times.
Due to the Israeli-led blockade, it is unclear whether the blood donations will actually get to Lebanon, the mayor told me. “We have already contacted the International Red Cross but there are some difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic, the closure of the borders and the Israeli occupation, but we are striving to get it there.”
Al-Batta added that the Palestinians in Gaza are ready to help the victims of the massive explosion in Beirut, despite being deprived of their rights and resources. Despite everything, he pointed out, the people of Gaza have the inner strength and determination to express their solidarity with Lebanon.
Such solidarity was also demonstrated by Palestinian children in Gaza lighting candles at a special programme in Gaza City. Palestinian and Lebanese flags were displayed side by side.
After the explosion, a number of countries have responded by sending field hospitals and medical aid to Lebanon; a major appeal for funds has been made, and charities from around the world are working to help as much as they can. Some famous landmarks have been lit up with the Lebanese flag and, in an unusual act of solidarity, the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, did the same with the Israeli capital’s City Hall.
Given that Israel has rained death and destruction across Lebanon, including Beirut, over many years, this was unexpected. “Humanity comes before any conflict,” said Huldai “and our hearts are with the Lebanese people following this terrible disaster.”
Where was this “humanity” when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978, 1982 and 2006? Or when Israel launched massive military offensives against the largely civilian population in Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014? More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the 2014 offensive, most of them civilians, of whom 551 were children and 299 were women. Around 11,000 more were wounded. Half a million Palestinians were displaced at that time.
Like many other people, I find it hard not to believe that such gestures as that made in Tel Aviv last week are just propaganda, and that Israel has no heart at all, never mind one which is capable of showing compassion and mercy to vulnerable people. The people of Lebanon certainly feel this way and have reacted angrily to Mayor Huldai’s move.
The UN predicted that Gaza would be “unliveable” by 2020, yet the population of this tiny strip of land continues to extend a helping hand to others in need. Today they are in Lebanon; who knows where they will be tomorrow? What doesn’t kill Gaza makes it stronger, more connected and more conscious of others.
“Lebanon has faced severe crises before — its civil war as well as Israeli aggression – but it has always bounced back,” concluded Alaa Al-Batta. “Through donating blood for the people of Lebanon, the message we are sending from Gaza is ‘Keep hope alive’.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.