By Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad
This essay is the Introduction to Gaza Unsilenced, an anthology co-edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad and published by Just World Books to mark the anniversary of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. The essay is reproduced here by permission of Just World Books to whom requests for further republication should be addressed.
Gaza Unsilenced was launched July 8. Copies of the book can be ordered at justworldbooks.com/gaza-unsilenced.
On July 7, 2014, Israel launched a colossal ground, air, and naval assault on the Gaza Strip, the tiny Palestinian coastal enclave Israel controls. This was the third, and to date the worst, such assault waged by Israel against Gaza since 2008. It was an outrageous act of premeditated aggression to which the Israeli government gave the Orwellian name “Operation Protective Edge.”
In the course of fifty-one dark days, nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed; about a quarter of them were children, many of whom were deliberately targeted.  One hundred and forty-two families lost three or more members. About 11,000 Gaza Palestinians were injured, maimed, or permanently disfigured. Israeli bombardment destroyed or severely damaged 18,000 housing units, displacing nearly 20,000 Palestinian families comprised of about 108,000 men, women, and children. It also flattened about 17,000 hectares of crops, and decimated the agricultural infrastructure that sustains life: irrigations systems, animal farms, and greenhouses. 
This relentless pummeling was directed at a population still recovering from the two preceding Israeli attacks—Operation “Cast Lead” in 2008–2009, and Operation “Pillar of Cloud” in 2012—and reeling from an illegal and debilitating seven-year-long siege and blockade that shattered livelihoods and deliberately impoverished the residents (“put them on a diet,” in Israeli parlance ). Seventy-two percent of Gaza’s residents were described by UN bodies as food insecure or vulnerable—that is, lacking access to sufficient and nutritious food to feed their families—and nearly half unemployed.  This same population, along with their brethren in the rest of Palestine and abroad in diaspora, had already endured sixty-six years of displacement and dispossession, almost a half century of Israeli military occupation involving continuing settler colonialism, and decades of closures and movement restrictions.
And yet, if we are to believe the popular discourse in the mainstream Western media, Gaza “had it coming,” and by some perverse and morally vacuous logic, its residents “were to blame” for their own suffering. How do we make sense of all of this? Why would Israel see fit to pound Gaza over and over again, and more to the point, how can they get away with it? How can we truly understand the situation in Gaza, as a means to understanding the situation in Palestine more broadly? How can we understand a place that is encircled from every angle, continuously and systematically assailed to rally voters (in Israel), or to “teach a lesson,” or, in another obscene Israeli expression, to “mow the lawn” —to trim those unruly, defiant hedges? Whenever Gaza is hit, it is thrust anew into the media limelight, and its residents are recast into the double roles of both victim and villain. Gaza, we fear, has been reduced to an allegory and an abstraction. We are inundated with figures and numbers attempting to depict for us what life is like in this tiniest of places. How can words convey that which numbers and images and characters and online posts cannot, no matter how valiantly? How do you provide an accurate and humanistic—a real narration—of the Palestinian story that is Gaza?
In Gaza Unsilenced, we attempt to do just this. We set out to compile a compelling collection of some of the best writing, photography, tweets, art, and poems from that harrowing time and the year that followed, to depict as truthfully and inclusively as possible what was done to Gaza, what the impact has been on both the people and the land, and how they are coping under a still existent siege.
As Palestinians from Gaza who were watching the horror unfold from abroad, we were driven by a sense of urgency, despair, and obligation to curate and edit this book, to be a conduit for voices writing from and about Gaza, as a means for changing the narrative and thereby changing public opinions, which we hope can help push the long-standing U.S. policy of blind alliance with Israel in a different direction, and ultimately, let Gaza live.
Laila, an author, activist and mother of three, originally from Gaza City, was in the United States during the assault, where she makes her home along with her Palestinian husband, who is forbidden from returning to his native land, as are millions of other refugees. Refaat, a professor of English literature, was in the middle of his PhD program in Malaysia, where he had been obliged to travel alone because the remainder of his family was unable to leave Gaza as a result of its near hermetic closure. We first met during an early 2014 book tour of the United States for Gaza Writes Back, a volume of short stories written by Refaat’s students in Gaza.
Besides being native Gazans, we both had another stake in this latest assault. Refaat had a deeply personal loss: his younger brother, Mohammed Alareer, 31, was killed by an Israeli missile in the presumed safety of his own home, leaving behind two young children and a wife. In his life, Mohammed was known as a loveable and somewhat mischievous character Karkour on the local television children’s program Tomorrow’s Pioneers. Refaat writes a deeply moving account of his relationship, and his brother’s untimely death, in the first chapter of this book (“The Story of My Brother, Martyr Mohammed Alareer”). Refaat lost four other distant relatives (three of whom were shot at short range) and eight in-laws, and dozens of his relatives lost their houses in the battered neighborhood of Shija’ia. Laila, whose aunts and uncles reside in Gaza, learned that nine members of her extended family, including five children, had been killed in a targeted Israeli strike—on the same morning in early August 2014 on which she was scheduled to participate in a Congressional briefing. Laila’s relatives were asleep inside their home when the first warning missile hit, killing half the family. They were given eight seconds to leave the house. The rest only made it as far as the outside of their house before they too were mown down.
Despite our personal losses in this ongoing ethnocide, we have been careful to avoid portraying Palestinians in Gaza as passive victims to be pitied, starving, impoverished, silenced into submission. It is our way of opening up the conversation about Gaza, of countering an Israeli narrative that has proven deadly in its ability to justify atrocities like that committed in the summer of 2014, over and over again, and of providing a forum for Gaza to speak, unsilenced and without obstruction.
Many of the pieces are new to this volume, submitted in response to a call for content, while others have been previously published on blogs and in e-zines, newspapers, and social media outlets. (For space considerations, we had to omit hyperlinks in content that was originally published online.)
Where possible, we have included photography, graphic art, and writings by Palestinians from Gaza itself—people like Dr. Belal Dabour, whose live-tweets from inside Gaza’s busiest hospital kept us awake at night, or 36-year-old mother Ghadeer al Omari (“My Son Asks if We Are Going to Die Today”), who soberly concludes, “To be a Palestinian from Gaza means that you are just a postponed target, and all you can do is wait to face your destiny.”
The pieces we chose deconstruct the pretexts, the untruths, used to justify this unspeakable attack. We sought to highlight Palestinian voices, whether from within the confines of Gaza or outside of it, in historic Palestine or in diaspora. We wanted to look at not only the human and institutional impact of the attacks themselves, but also the context, the bigger picture, especially as it relates to the remainder of the Palestinian people. Gaza is just a part of the Palestinian equation, after all. We also sought to explore how Palestinians and other people of conscience responded, whether by digital and creative means or by way of analysis, and finally, to look carefully at the aftermath of the 2014 military attack, as the slow asphyxiation of Gaza by other means continues to this day. We felt it vital to explore not only the immediate impact of the Israeli assault, but to go in depth and analyze the effects of the siege and blockade beyond 2014 and continuing with no end in sight, as part of an overarching and systematic Israeli policy to strip Palestinians of freedoms, livelihoods, and land.
A Brief History (more…)