Displaced Palestinians inspect their destroyed homes after fleeing from Rafah, in central Khan Younis, Gaza, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024 Image Credit: Bloomberg

“Do not judge me by my success”, Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid and faced harsh conditions meant to break his resolve, once said. “Judge me instead by how many times I fell and got back up again”.

Israel’s not-so-secret and utterly cruel plan for Gaza is not just to knock it down but to deliver it a knockout blow so final that it would no longer be fit for human habitation, leaving its 2.4 million inhabitants no choice but to emigrate out of their ancestral strip of land, driven as they would be by their instinct for survival.

Human resolve to stand up to adversity, a noble expression of the human spirit exemplified by the likes of Nelson Mandela, is one thing, but human survival is another.

Human survival, from the earliest days of civilisation to modern times, has been dependent on several unassailable needs, most notably safe shelter, potable water, nutritional food, basic health care and constructive education. In short, destroy peoples’ homes, power grids, farms, hospitals and schools and you deny them the means to that end.

Look, no one can, or should, forget the devastation Israel wreaked on this little strip of land during the wars it launched there in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2022, wars that caused massive destruction to infrastructure, agriculture, office buildings, businesses, homes, schools and cultural facilities — each a blow from which Gazans managed to “get back up again” — but this war is of a different order.

This is a war of annihilation meant to pulverise the land and numb the soul of Gazans, an asymmetrical war between militants smuggling their weapons through tunnels and a military force reputed to be (thanks to its lethal, US-supplied armaments) the most technologically advanced military machine in the world.

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To date, seven months into this war, Israeli air strikes and bulldozers have levelled virtually the entirety of Gaza’s agricultural land and food infrastructure, destroying crops, livestock, sheds, greenhouses, olive and fruit trees and storage facilities, demolishing Gazans’ ability to grow their own food.

An illustrated report published by the Washington Post last week, detailing the significance of satellite images taken of Gaza before and after the war, shows how pre-war, green agricultural land all over the strip has turned brown from north to south and how entire farms and orchards have been razed to the ground. Crops abandoned by farmers seeking “safety” from the ferocious bombardment had withered and cattle were left to die.

Farms everywhere across the strip, but more devastatingly in the north, where Israel is reportedly preparing space for a projected “demilitarised zone”, are now ploughed under, along with their greenhouses and solar energy projects. One farmer, Omar Al-Akhras, reflecting on pre-war days, was quoted in the report as saying proudly, “Our family grew oranges, lemons, potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes and cucumbers”. That farm is now a wasteland.

The Al-Akhrases story is the story of virtually every farming family in Gaza — families warned by Israel’s military forces to abandon their farms and seek refuge in designated “safe havens” where they bitterly knew that survival there was akin — given the fact that everyone knew Israel bombed these havens the moment the refugees arrived there — to trying to survive Russian roulette with all the chambers filled.

Two decades to fully recover

And the less said about the destruction of homes, hospitals, campuses and power grids (the latter the Strip’s source of water and electricity), all representing those unassailable needs for human survival, the better.

Agreed, pre-war Gaza was no Edenic strip of land enjoying a high standard of living and, also agreed, its ability to feed its people was limited, seeing that it was under a rigid blockade, but Gazans still found ingenious ways to ensure their human survival. They farmed and fished where they could farm and fish, building

greenhouses on rooftops, harvesting rainwater for irrigation and jury-rigging fishing boats to run on cooking oil or car engines. And small farms, olive groves, orchards and fruit trees flourished across the tormented strip of land.

Gaza, whose total area is a mere 141 miles, has accumulated 37 million tons of rubble — under which the UN estimates roughly 10,000 people are buried — and witnessed the death and injury of 5 per cent of its 2.4 population (equivalent to 15 million Americans), and will need, we are told, two decades to fully recover.

Given my age, I will not be around to see the project completed. But my children will. And their generation, I’m convinced, will have something to say and something to do about the unspeakable havoc inflicted on ours. Their words, rest assured, will not be minced nor will their actions be shadowed by doubt.

— Fawaz Turki is a noted academic, journalist and author based in Washington DC. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile