Gaza: Living and Dying with Drones

While U.S. political leaders claim to uphold universal human rights, nearly all are selective in sympathizing with Israel in its lopsided war against the Palestinians as reflected in the 2014 slaughter in Gaza, recalls Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright

Two years ago, on July 7, 2014, the Israeli government launched a horrific 51-day air, land and sea attack on the people of Gaza. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fired missiles, rockets, artillery and tank shells relentlessly on 1.8 million Palestinians squashed by Israeli land and sea blockades into a narrow strip 25 miles long and 5 miles wide, one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Of the 2,219 or so Palestinians killed (estimates vary), some 1,545 were civilians and nearly 500 of them were slaughtered by Israeli assassin drones, a style of warfare that has become the norm for both the United States and Israel. Drones fly above Gaza 24 hours a day watching the movements of every Palestinian and ready to fire rockets at those chosen to die by the Israeli Defense Force and its political masters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a security meeting with senior Israeli Defense Forces commanders near Gaza on July 21, 2014. (Israel government photo)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a security meeting with senior Israeli Defense Forces commanders near Gaza on July 21, 2014. (Israel government photo)

This pattern goes back well before 2014. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights documents that, from 2008 until October 2013, out of 2,269 Palestinians killed by Israel, 911 were killed by drones, most during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead. In the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, 143 out of 171 Palestinians killed by Israel were by drone attack.

In the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights documents 497 Palestinian civilians killed by drones. At the end of the 51 days, besides the 2,219 overall death toll, 1,545 were civilians, including 556 children. Among the 10,600 or so wounded were 2,647 children, according to the Mezan Center.

There was devastation, too, to Gaza’s infrastructure. The Mezan Center listed 8,381 houses destroyed and more than 23,000 damaged. The devastation extended to schools (138 damaged or destroyed) and hospitals and health facilities (26 damaged). According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 273,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had been displaced of whom 236,375 (over 11 percent of the Gazan population) were taking shelter in 88 United Nations schools.

On the other side, Palestinian militias shot homemade rockets killing 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians, including one child, and one Thai citizen in Israel.

The 51-day Israeli attack on Gaza should not be characterized as a war between opposing forces but rather as a massive one-sided attack on Palestinians made at the choosing of Israel with its overwhelming military air, sea and land forces backed up with endless military supplies and equipment from the United States, including the missile system called the “Iron Dome.”

Now two years after the Israeli attack on Gaza, the tensions in the West Bank are exploding. Beginning in October 2015, a few West Bank Palestinian youth have forsaken non-violent confrontation with Israeli military and have taken up knives instead of rocks in the latest intifada against Israeli occupation and oppression, against the continued building of illegal settlements on Palestinian lands and against the imprisonment of hundreds of Palestinian youth.

The use of knives against IDF soldiers has expanded to deaths of Israeli civilians as well, including a 13-year-old girl in her home. Thirty-four Israelis, two U.S. citizens, an Eritrean and a Sudanese have been killed in the knife, gun or car ramming attacks. Meanwhile, 214 Palestinians have been killed by IDF soldiers during this period.

The potential for Israeli response/revenge to these knife attacks is great and would probably not be directed to just the West Bank but also toward Gaza.

As with other conflicts, the stories of death and of survival of civilians trapped in merciless bombings and fighting should compel leaders to work to end conflicts, but seldom do.

Drones at Dinner

A new book, published on July 5, chronicles the 2014 IDF attack on Gaza and focuses on the psychological and physical destruction suffered by the people of Gaza by one particular weapon system — the assassin drone that killed 497 civilians during the 2014 attack.

The MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)

The MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)

Palestinian writer Atef Abu Saif recounts the day-by-day life of a family and a community under fire from an enemy in the sky, beginning on July 7, 2014. The book entitled Drone Eats With Me — A Gaza Diary is a graphic description of life under fire and particularly with the assassin drone lurking in the sky 24 hours a day waiting for its next victim.

“The drone keeps us company all night long. It’s whirring, whirring, whirring, whirring is incessant — as if it wants to remind us it’s there, it’s not going anywhere. It hangs just a little way above our heads.”

After the drone crosses off another victim, “the noise of this new explosion subsides it’s replaced by the inevitable whir of a drone, sounding so close it could be right beside us. It’s like it wants to join us for the evening and has pulled up an invisible chair.”

Atef describes his life during the 51-day attack: “Our fates are all in the hands of a drone operator in a military base somewhere just over the Israeli border. The operator looks at Gaza the way an unruly boy looks at the screen of a video game. He presses a button and might destroy an entire street. He might decide to terminate the life of someone walking along the pavement, or he might uproot a tree in an orchard that hasn’t yet borne fruit. The operator practices his aim at his own discretion, energized by the trust and power that has been put in his hands by his superiors.”

Atef says many entities known and unknown join his family at mealtime: “The food is ready. I wake the children and bring them in. We all sit around five dishes: white cheese, hummus, orange jam, yellow cheese, and olives.

“Darkness eats with us.

“Fear and anxiety eat with us.

“The unknown eats with us.

“The F16 eats with us.

“The drone, and its operator somewhere out in Israel, eats with us.

“Our hands shiver, our eyes stare at the plates on the floor.”

While the Israeli drone eats with the families in Gaza, U.S. drones eat with the families in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army and retired as a Colonel.  She also served as a US diplomat for 16 years and resigned in March 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq.  She is a coordinator for the US campaign for the Women’s Boat to Gaza. She is the co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.

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8 comments for “Gaza: Living and Dying with Drones

  1. Bart Gruzalski
    July 11, 2016 at 07:01

    Dear Ann Wright,

    Thank you for yet another great piece.

    Mr. Smith razzes you for being in the military air for 29 years and failing to recommend that the Gazans activate jamming equipment to block the drones and MANPADS for the F-16s. Nobody who knows these technical details can miss the counterproductive character of such a recommendation. Activating any of that equipment would motivate Netanyahu to come to the US Congress, ask for a joint session, beat the podium like Khrushchev beat the table at the UN, and then go home and flatten Palestinian houses, cut down their ancient Olive tree groves, and push against them to make room for more Israelis that are being invited to come to settle in Israel. That’s a little like having a huge antiwar rally adjacent to a major thoroughfare knowing that stirring up the issues will leave the streets filled with That’s where the similarity between Netanyahu and Khrushchev ends.

    Netanyahu is an international criminal, widely known for both his hatred and his murder of Palestinians. The only way he gets by with his continual violations of international law is that the United States not only protects him from UN Security Council Sanctions, not only sends at least three billion a year to support Netanyahu’s apartheid policies, but even sent over cruise missiles when the Netanyahu asked for an emergency shipment because they had used most of their stockpile in killing children, women, and men (think: these men are only protecting their vineyards and olive groves from being bulldozed by Israel so they can build more luxury aparemets on stole Palestinian land. So we have Netanyahu, a bully, a murderer, and a spewer of hate who steals land that had belonged to Palestinians for eons.

    Compare this to Khrushchev. What was Khrsushchev’s complaint? Was he banging his shoe because, like Netyanyahu, he wanted the US Congress to rally to his cause? No, according to what we know Khrushchev wanted to be “the independent voice of the people, the voice of truth that sounds and will continue to sound. And the end – the grave – to colonial slavery! Off with it, and bury it – the deeper the better!”

    What American politician could not agree? Even pathological liar Hillary would have to.

    But would it be politically costly to support Khrushchev’s criticisms of the US and our “huggingly close” war criminal allies against the Establishment team?

    On the 12th of October, Khrushchev wished to speak, but it seemed that he was being ignored by Frederick Henry Boland, president of the UN session. As related in the Appendix of the Soviet leader’s book—Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev: Statesman, 1953-1964—the following events took place:

    [Khrushchev] resolved to ask the president of the session to give him leave to speak on a point of order – a right provided for under the official procedure. Nikita Sergeyevich raised his hand, but Boland either did not see it or pretended not to see it. Khrushchev became infuriated by a statement of the Filipino delegate Lorenzo Sumulong which charged the Soviets with employing a double standard by decrying colonialism while dominating Eastern Europe.

    Khrushchev demanded the right to reply immediately, and accused Sumulong of being “a fawning lackey of the American imperialists.” Sumulong resumed his speech, and accused the Soviets of hypocrisy.

    Khrushchev stood up and raised his hand. Now it was simply impossible not to notice Nikita Sergeyevich standing there with his hand raised. But the speaker continued to hold forth, while the head of the Soviet delegation continued to stand with his hand raised. It seemed that the chair was simply ignoring him.

    Then Khrushchev took off one of the light boots he was wearing and began to bang it on the table. That was the moment that entered world history as Khrushchev’s famous shoe. The conference hall of the United Nations had never seen its like before. (Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev: Statesman, 1953-1964, by N.S. Khrushchev, et al., page 892.)

    What led to the ruckus at the UN? Senator Lorenzo Sumulong, head of the Philippine delegation, had expressed astonishment that Khrushchev was concerned about Western imperialism when the Soviet Union had so forcefully exerted its own influence over the whole of Eastern Europe.

    Nikita Sergeyevich was furious. When he finally had a chance to speak, he called the Filipino a few choice names. Translated from the Russian, the language which he spoke during the incident, he referred to Sumulong as “a jerk, a stooge and a lackey of imperialism.” It was a sensational moment, still talked-about decades later.
    How different from the hypothetical banging of his shoe on the podium of the US Congress in order to demand that the US keep protecting Israel from the valid criticisms of apartheid, mass murder, and terrorism—the JDF continued and continues to terrify the Palestinians, and almost always with the active participation of the US.

    You wrote that “drones fly above Gaza 24 hours a day watching the movements of every Palestinian and ready to fire rockets at those chosen to die by the Israeli Defense Force and its political masters.
    … In the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights documented
    at the end of the 51 days, besides the 2,219 overall death toll, 1,545 were civilians, including 556 children. Among the 10,600 or so wounded were 2,647 children, according to the Mezan Center.
    There was devastation, too, to Gaza’s infrastructure. The Mezan Center listed 8,381 houses destroyed and more than 23,000 damaged. The devastation extended to schools, hospitals and health facilities. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 273,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had been displaced as well as 236,375 (over 11 percent of the Gazan population) were taking shelter in 88 United Nations schools.
    On the other side, Palestinian militias shot homemade rockets killing 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians, including one child, and one Thai citizen in Israel. Notice that killing a soldier is NOT terrorism. Terrorism is inflicting suffering and death on a civilian population in order to force them to change whatever policy the terrorists wanted changed. In addition, as Ann Wright points out, “the 51-day Israeli attack on Gaza should not be characterized as a war between opposing forces but rather as a massive one-sided attack on Palestinians made [at the time and place chosen] by Israel with its overwhelming military air, sea and land forces backed up with endless military supplies and equipment from the United States, including the missile system called the “Iron Dome.”
    As Ann Wright continues, “Palestinian writer Atef Abu Saif recounts the day-by-day life of a family and a community under fire from an enemy in the sky, beginning on July 7, 2014. The book entitled Drone Eats With Me — A Gaza Diary is a graphic description of life under fire and particularly with the assassin drone lurking in the sky 24 hours a day waiting for its next victim.

    “The drone keeps us company all night long. It’s whirring, whirring, whirring, whirring is incessant — as if it wants to remind us it’s there, it’s not going anywhere. It hangs just a little way above our heads.”

    These killing machines are called “drones” because the people on the ground can hear them and they sound like a family of bees. Ann Wright continues:

    “After the drone crosses off another victim, ‘the noise of this new explosion subsides it’s replaced by the inevitable whir of a drone, sounding so close it could be right beside us’….

    Atef describes his life during the 51-day attack: ‘Our fates are all in the hands of a drone operator in a military base somewhere just over the Israeli border. The operator looks at Gaza the way an unruly boy looks at the screen of a video game. He presses a button and might destroy an entire street. He might decide to terminate the life of someone walking along the pavement, or he might uproot a tree in an orchard that hasn’t yet borne fruit.

    The operator practices his aim at his own discretion, energized by the trust and power that has been put in his hands by his superiors.”

    Atef says many entities known and unknown join his family at mealtime: ‘The food is ready. I wake the children and bring them in. We all sit around five dishes: white cheese, hummus, orange jam, yellow cheese, and olives.
    ‘Darkness eats with us.
    ‘Fear and anxiety eat with us.
    ‘The unknown eats with us.
    ‘The F16 eats with us.
    ‘The drone, and its operator somewhere out in Israel, eats with us.
    ‘Our hands shiver, our eyes stare at the plates on the floor.’

    While the Israeli drone eats with the families in Gaza, U.S. drones eat with the families in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya.”

    That is the state terrorism of Israel and the United States, foisted upon primarily innocent people who don’t have white skin, don’t have Ipads, and typically don’t understand why these people from hundreds to thousands of miles away are terrorizing them and their children. Their children will never recover from the fear of being torn to pieces while sleeping in bed at night.

    That’s what US droning produces: terror, terror, hatred, and more fear and dread. “What,” the children ask who can hear the bees buzzing above and had already seen their children friends and grandparents blown into hunks of flesh hanging on the trees. “What, daddy, what did we do wrong to deserve this?” What’s the daddy to say? What a base skkkkkkddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss???????

    • Fergus Hashimoto
      July 11, 2016 at 21:52

      Yeah, that Netanyahu guy really gives them Palestinians hell. They must really hate his guts. On the other hand Netanyahu doesn’t screw around much with us atheists.
      So I’m not really so motivated to detest Netanyahu, especially since the Palestinians are now 99% Muslim, and 89% of them want sharia law. Which they already have, as a matter of fact. They have sharia courts, which have jurisdiction over atheists as well as Muslims and Christians.
      I don’t think a political system of that sort should be given any encouragement, to tell the truth.
      So actually the issue of who has legal claim to the land is not very important for me. Do we really need a twenty-fourth Muslim Arab state and a 58th member of the Organisation of Islamic Unity? I’m not so sure.

  2. Fergus Hashimoto
    July 9, 2016 at 10:21

    Let me see now, you got me all confused. If Gazans are so afraid of Israeli drones, then how come they support Hamas, which has officially proclaimed:
    “WE LOVE DEATH LIKE OUR ENEMIES LOVE LIFE! We love Martyrdom, the way in which [Hamas] leaders died.” [Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), July 30, 2014
    Two of the most senior Hamas leaders appeared on Hamas TV yesterday saying that Hamas loves death like Israelis love life.
    http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=12235

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      July 10, 2016 at 14:15

      Because they seek protection from Israel, idiot!

      • Kingpin
        July 11, 2016 at 07:49

        @Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen that’s bullshit, because Israel only attacks when it is attacked first, as we can see ourselves with 2 years of no war…
        What she didn’t say is that hamas refused 5 cease fires before it surrendered, and that it called his people to act as human shields! which accounts for a lot of the civilian casualties.

      • Fergus Hashimoto
        July 13, 2016 at 12:47

        Please explain: loving death protects Hamas or Gazans against what, exactly?
        Both Hamas’ words and its acts show that it has no desire to protect Gazans’ lives.
        Saying they love death is an act of defiance that is likely to cause more deaths. This defiance, together with Hamas’ habit of firing rockets from densely populated residential areas, shows that Hamas actually strives to increase the death toll.
        Therefore Hamas is just as guilty as Israel for Gazans’ deaths.

  3. M.
    July 9, 2016 at 01:20

    Drones should be illegal.

  4. George Collins
    July 8, 2016 at 10:36

    Great articles yesterday. Ann Wright’s is particularly gripping for me given the “unique” collaboration between the US and Israel and these countries’ anomalously shared propensity for unaccountable “kills”.

    William Blum recently circulated some faux empathy for those who recoil at the savagery that “Mr. Trump” ocassionaly exhibits. Blum provided a long litany of the death practices winked at during the Obama error. Obama and Hillary, Ebony & Ivory, as the Capital Steps cutely say, exchange compliments for one another’s barbaric ways.. Obama praises Hill’s blood trails in Honduras, Libya, Syria and so on. and Hill has high fives for the purported “assassination” of Osama in 2011.

    Arguably, we deserve better from our pretend leaders. Do we really? It’s a strange, strange world we live in…

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