Gaza Diary day 24: visiting the Samounis


We oscillate here between outrage and willed calm, “maneu­ver­ing between numbness and hyper­sen­si­tiv­ity,” as a friend put it. You cannot let the anger carry you off like a riptide. For learning how to do that, we have very good examples, almost everyone around us: every mourner’s tent we visit, every young man stonily reciting the details of the last minutes of his brother’s life, and especially the Samouni children, who, instead of roiling with justified rage, sing the words of Lutfi Yassini put to music, offer us tea and coffee, and eagerly soak up Adie’s English classes.

But that will to calmness becomes self-alien­at­ing when you try to absorb the sentiment behind the graffiti scrawled on the wall of the home of the Samouni family saying, “1 down, 999,999 to go,” or the tombstone drawn on the wall with the inscrip­tion: “Arabs, 1948–2009,” without cursing or letting any emotion seep out, at least in front of the families (There was more: one note saying “die you all,” and several bits in Hebrew. I also tried not to mouth the Hebrew letters and the words that the Israeli soldiers wrote; for some reason at that moment ‘proving’ to them that there are Jews who don’t hate them seemed tawdry). Israel has not yet committed genocide, but you see its seeds ger­mi­nat­ing in the minds of the Givati brigadiers who wrote those words on the walls of the Samouni home two years ago.

The gunner who rubbed out a hospital the pilot

Who burned a refugee camp…

the para­trooper

Who shot the third-time refugee the poet

Who lauded the nation on its finest hour and the nation

Who scented blood and blessed the MiG.

Faced with the inscrutability of evil, you erect a wall to protect yourself from what you see. What happens is that you wall yourself in. What I also saw is that the soldiers must have had a message for people other than the Arab-speaking Pales­tini­ans who would move back into that home after the war too—a message for the English-speaking jour­nal­ists and inves­ti­ga­tors who would record those words after the Israeli army retreated back behind the perimeter of the ghetto. Their message was understandable for a society that largely views Gaza as an “abscess, trou­ble­some pus,” as Matan Vilnai called it a few years ago.

The way to treat an abscess it to lance it, and that was the thinking behind the Cast Lead operation. Maybe part of the reason we benumb ourselves is because we cannot quite wrap our empathy around the emotive and human void that those sketch­ings symbolize, or at their human residue sitting on chairs across from us: Ahmed Samouni’s first-born baby sharing his birth-date with the death of Ahmed’s parents, the shrapnel slowly working its way out through his skin, the scars on his little siblings’ faces, his brother’s mangled breathing passages, all huffily dismissed as “operational errors” or “collateral damage”–if acknowledged at all–by addled propagandists in Tel-Aviv.

I don’t know why the Samouni family left those messages up on the raw concrete walls of their home. I’m not even sure they live in that section of the house anymore. An American psy­chol­o­gist was telling me two days ago that one of the purposes of murals and art-therapy is to share trauma: to create witnesses where they had been none before, so that the raw pain of murder and destruc­tion is softened or slightly dis­si­pated through broader exposure.

Maybe they keep the writing up so they don’t have to keep it as private knowledge that there were young men in their home ruining it, and who hate them in such an unalloyed ter­ri­fy­ing way, young men running around freely somewhere in the suburbs of Jerusalem, or carrying out training exercises in the Negev for the next round of hell, now feeling incipient as the muffled roar of F-16s is audible more and more frequently over Gaza City. They keep it up also so that they can tell people about it. The psy­chol­o­gist I was with wanted to hear the stories of the Samounis for her video doc­u­men­tary project. We spoke to Ahmed for about 40 minutes.

So another thing I learned was that many of the older men in the Samouni family spoke excellent Hebrew—Ahmed’s father had worked for 30 years in Israel. They had tried to use the Hebrew that in the past they had used to speak with their employers, co-workers, taxi-drivers, the Israelis whose economy they shared when Gaza was a bedroom community for Israeli construction companies, before Israel switched from Bantustan labor to Southeast Asian slave labor. During the incursion one of the Samouni men had gone outside, shown his hawiya, the Pales­tin­ian identity card, proved to the Israeli army that they were not ter­ror­ists, spoke in Hebrew to them, explained the number of women and children in the homes with them. The Israeli army confirmed that everyone there was a civilian. Then they killed 29 of them.

The person I was with asked Ahmed if he had a message for the outside world (she was aware that he had probably been asked that question before). Ahmed asked us, “Why do they do this to us? We are civilians, we had women and children with us—why do they destroy every­thing?” We glibly answer “Zionism,” but that’s an analytical, an intellectual, a polemical response. It doesn’t mean anything. Zionism names the ideological banner under which human beings did this to the Samouni families but it does not explain the corruption of the human beings who actually did it.

So another frequent reaction to the Israeli actions here is  befuddlement—maybe because they don’t see how the people abusing them have abjured their humanity, trading it for the tribal morality of the pogrom, another verbose intellectualism to explain the unexplainable. And so they merely describe it, with far more truth than intellectualisms: “they want to destroy every­thing about us,” as the owner of the Rafah zoo described its destruc­tion during the 2nd Intifada. I don’t see him as less baffled than Ahmed Samouni, just, sharp enough to describe the clear outlines of what was being done to him. And what continues to be done to them–as a group of lunatic rabbis just claimed, “the Torah compels the Jews to erase all trace of this age’s giants, referring to the Palestinians.”

They shall not be cleansed.

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