I live not far from the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam. I'm often stopped by Israeli families coming to Amsterdam as tourists who ask for directions to the museum. After showing them which street to follow, I ask which city they are from and they tell me. I then say I'm from Gaza and walk away. Their shocked eyes follow me for a while, before they take their maps and walk towards the museum.
Today I walked by the museum I visited three years ago and a thought came to my mind. While the causes are different, at its most fundamental, Anne Frank's story was about a little girl who lived the fear of war and who left to us a very powerful diary about these feelings of fear and death.
In Gaza today there are thousands of Anne Franks, but their words are rarely seen by Americans. The most painful feeling is when your life is not counted as fully human, is not valued as much as the lives of those who are trying to kill you. When your feelings and your soul mean nothing. When you know the world is watching and yet there are those who escape the realities by turning their heads away -- or need not turn their head at all because your story of dispossession and subjugation is not even being told. The worst is when people start by saying, "It's too complicated to understand or it will never be resolved."
I covered the war on Gaza in 2008-2009 for The New York Times. I refuse to give it the name that Israel gave and that the media and world politicians follow: "Operation Cast Lead."
During that "war," Hamas fighters were very weak and they were hidden. Israel, frustrated, intentionally killed many civilians. I witnessed the crimes Israel committed. All these crimes are hard to forget and the smell of the dead comes back even stronger whenever Israel decides to return to its vengeful policy of killing civilians and weakening Hamas. During 2008, Israeli military forces killed civilians hoping for Palestinians to turn against Hamas. Some did, but others did not, and Hamas continued to control the Gaza Strip.
This time Hamas fighters were stronger during the Israeli ground operation and have brought to the people the pride and dignity they seek as people living under siege and under cruel military occupation. "After the war, we will kiss their feet," a mother told me over a Skype interview from Gaza. She added, "We want peace but not without Hamas." If Hamas has proven something, it is that they exist and can't be marginalized, period.
Another mother said Hamas invested its money in the noble cause to end Palestinian suffering living under siege. "Seven years of our lives went in vain and here is Hamas proving that they don't steal the money as the others did."
Israel believes if it squeezes hard it will win. Israel's intention is clear: weaken Hamas and never give them the credit of ending the siege. To pursue this goal, Israel is killing more children, women, and elderly, completely destroying whole parts of Gaza and its infrastructure.
The 2008-2009 war was cruel but this one is worse. Israel is intentionally and randomly bombing schools where people are sheltered (and no weapons are located) and a terrifying number of apartments with families inside. Families that have nothing to do with politics.
One of them is my sister's family. They are guilty of owning an ice-cream company. The whole family, including her father-in-law who suffers from cancer, managed to escape the bombings. They all hid together with the children in the biggest ice-cream fridge on the ground floor from midnight till 8 am. My nephew, Riyad Abu Alouf, says he counted 12 bombs. "We were," he said, "all afraid and thirsty." That is a memory of terror he will never forget.
Unlike 2008, all the international media are present.
All my family lives in Gaza city and my grandparents were born in Shajae'ah, one of the oldest neighborhoods Israel has destroyed during this round. I'm watching live coverage all the time and Facebook has been the tool for Gazans to describe their fear and what they are going through.
My daughter caught me crying recently while watching Israel bombing my neighborhood. She asked, "Mama, why are you crying?" I answered, "Israel is hitting Gaza." Sophia knows Gaza, Falasteen, but not Israel. "Mama, I will call the police and they will stop. Don't cry, Mama." She ran to the phone and asked the police to help. That's how Israel was introduced to my daughter in Amsterdam.
The war is crueler this time because Israel implemented a policy of punishing Palestinian fighters by killing their wives, children, and parents without any exceptions and by bombing whole neighborhoods if fighters happen to be around in one of the streets.
Israel wanted this round of war. It pushed the then-weakened Hamas too far by threatening the banks with sanctions if they transferred money to Hamas civil service employees. Israel wanted to derail the reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas. It arrested hundreds of Hamas members in the West Bank after the killing of three Jewish settlers. After all the provocations, Hamas finally responded on June 30 as Israel must have predicted it would with rockets and angry statements.
Israel keeps justifying its action by talking about the tunnels but will this policy stop the tunnels? Israel succeeded in killing leaders within the military wing of Hamas but Israel has been implementing this policy since the second Intifada. The killing of leaders has not ended the movement. New ones replaced the dead of the second Intifada and new leaders will replace those just killed.
Punished with a cruel siege, Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza share one demand: an end to the siege.
Israel's military plan is aimed at weakening Hamas. Israel set the trap and is fully backed by its allies -- with the US rearming it for further massacres. Despite the pain this policy is causing, and despite destroying the memories of childhood by erasing important parts of Gaza city, people will not turn against Hamas. Israel's plan in that regard is not working. Hamas has been strengthened by this war. More than ever, Palestinians are reminded of the horrors Israel has inflicted on them in the past and is willing to continue inflicting in the present. The saddest discussion in Jerusalem and Cairo since cease-fire talks is how to avoid giving credit to Hamas for ending the siege.
By weakening the moderate Mahmoud Abbas and not offering the release of Palestinian prisoners or a freeze on exclusivist Jewish settlements, Israel's intention is clear: a diversion from the two-state option by separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. But can Israel afford a third Intifada that leads to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, let alone the PA security apparatus in the West Bank that cooperates with Israel?
Israel, with its current policy, killed the option of the two-state solution. Palestinians right now need protection of their children and homes.
Yet when this is over, Israel can still decide to kill Palestinians any time it wishes. To avoid that, the International Criminal Court is the way out to stop the massacres and to insist we are respected even if most Americans have not yet heard Palestinian accounts of life under Israeli bombardment, occupation, and siege. The ICC is the only option that remains. Strong international condemnation of the crimes Israel is committing is the only way to show Gaza's young Anne Franks that the world does in fact value Palestinian lives and humanity.
Taghreed El-Khodary is editor at www.fanack.com, a chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa (both in Arabic and English). Before that she was the principal correspondent for The New York Times in Gaza from 2001-2009.