Last month a bass drum beat out across Wellington’s Civic Square the death toll of (then) more than 800 people killed in the so-called ‘22-day war’ launched by the Israeli military against the people of Gaza on December 27.
Shocked into action over the killing of so many innocent civilians—children as well as adults—trapped in their homes and unable to escape the shelling and bombing, Christians for Justice in Palestine organised a ‘counting the dead’.
Demonstrators lay on the ground wrapped in red painted ‘blood soaked’ bandages as the bass drum continued on and on with its tolling of the dead.
Our demonstration was directed at the New Zealand Government which had taken a weak ‘watching brief’ as so many trapped and helpless civilians were being killed and maimed.
Even after the Israeli invasion ended on January 17, television pictures have continued to show some of the suffering of the people of Gaza. Every day now more reports are coming out—in fact reports of war crimes—young girls executed by a soldier who shot them where they stood with their grandmother outside their home; the herding of whole families into their homes only to be killed as their houses were destroyed by tank shells; white phosphorus ‘smokescreen’ shells causing terrible, smoking, untreatable burns; ambulances prevented from reaching the dying—these are some of the individuals for whom our drum was beating.
Many have suffered white phosphorus burns from both the US and the Israeli military in violation of international law. Both the US and Israel are guilty of war crimes—the US in Iraq, and Israel—backed by the US—in Gaza.
In 2006 I was one of a small delegation—with Wellington priest Fr Gerard Burns—to protest to the US ambassador in Wellington. This followed the US military’s use of white phosphorus shells causing severe burns and deaths among the civilian population of Fallujah in Iraq in 2005.
A week before last month’s Wellington demonstration Fr Gerard smeared a drop of his own blood mixed with soluble paint on a civic memorial stone in honour of former Prime Minister, Yitshak Rabin in protest against the Israeli Government.
This was not the first time Fr Gerard had been prepared to offer his own blood. While working as a United Nations election observer in East Timor in 1999 he had been prepared to shed a great deal more blood. Stepping into the roadway, he successfully stopped a ute-load of machete-wielding militia from attacking civilians. (For this action the New Zealand Herald has included Fr Gerard in its list of ‘100 New Zealand heroes’.)
If, as in Civic Square, we can hear the drum beats of the loss of lives of so many of our brothers and sisters, then we, like Fr Gerard Burns, may also feel the responsibility to ‘step out into the roadway’ more often ourselves.