Thursday, November 23, 2006

Up on the Roof/ All over the Road

Much has been made of the latest tactic of the Palestinians-- summoning a human shield of civilians to perch up on the roof and defy the renewed Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. Flapping Palestinian banners make it all the easier for the IDF pilots to spot them, but these die-hard supporters keep turning up in record numbers.

A nun with the swashbuckling name of Mary Ellen Gundeck arrived with Father Peter Dougherty, and these two greying American peace activists from Michigan claim they were sent by the Almighty to squat on the roof terrace of the alleged rocketeer Mohammed Baroud. They cuddled babies and joined the non-violent protest in Jabaliya Refugee Camp until sundown.

Barouk, a commander of the Popular Resistance Committee, was unfazed by the IDF’s telephoned warning to evacuate his house last weekend just 20 minutes before it was to be pounded, and he responded with some desperate dialling of his own. His neighbours hustled over and soon a big block party had assembled around his yard and up on his roof.

Under the glare of publicity, the thwarted military planes stopped buzzing overhead and eventually fired on vehicles instead, but the rooftop standoff still continues.

Similar demos, dubbed resistance cluster-f*cks by some profane pilots, have assembled atop the home of a chief Hamas militant, Wael Rajab, and four other houses. All night long, people endure 12 hour shifts by huddling around small campfires that blaze like signal flares on the housetops of suspected militants. Muttering that the Israeli air force is planning to swoop down and snatch the rebel targets from among the crowd has not dissuaded this practice, although Human Rights Watch condemned the use of civilians to ward off aerial shelling as “a war crime”. The group also questioned whether Israel violates humanitarian law by destroying property in Gaza which is not used for military purposes.

What is troubling is the sudden revival of Hamas suicide bombers after nearly a 2 year hiatus. Martyrdom is not exclusively for revenge-obsessed Muslim males. Today, according to wire reports, a granny blew herself up in Jabaliya, not far from the roofsitters, shortly after suspicious Israeli soldiers tossed a stun grenade her way.

Aged 57 (or 64, or 68...depending on who is telling the tale), Fatima Omar Mahmud al-Najar now is hailed as the eldest martyr in Gaza and her final video is doing the rounds. Her family said she recently had taken part in a mass rescue when wives and mothers shielded militants who had holed up in a Beit Hanoun mosque , giving cover so they could escape under fire.

As a mother of nine and grandmother of 41, Najar leaves many family mourners. Her relatives said she strapped on the explosive belt for glory, and to protest against the Israelis' infamous dawn shelling of a family house in Beit Hanoun which left 19 people dead earlier this month. Her daughter recounted how Israeli forces also had levelled their home, killed one grandson, and maimed another. And Najar is the second female suicide bomber this month.

Such desperate and senseless acts look likely to increase. The IDF's heavy military response to scatter-shot rockets that continue to be launched into Israel --1201 at last count-- has become a goad rather than a deterrent. The situation in Gaza is deteriorating daily.

Since the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit in late June, more than 350 Palestinians have been killed in military blitzes inside Gaza. Crude Kassam rockets have killed 10 people inside Israel since August 2005, and two of these deaths happened this month. Israelity bites.

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