Harry Vassallo | Sunday, 18 January 2009

Silent guilt

Perhaps the most poignant comment of very many I have heard on the fighting in Gaza was made by Fr Gwann Xerri, something to the effect that his mother had learnt of the Holocaust long after it was over.
We are all watching genocide live on TV, ritual combat which has already claimed over 1,000 lives, overwhelmingly Palestinian and to a horrifying extent women and children. We may be exhausted by the interminable war or we may believe that this violence may lead to a settlement of the quarrel. We may be convinced that mutual inhumanity will lead to no good. Whatever the case, we are tainted by the fact of being witnesses.
None of us are Fr Gwann’s mother. None of us can ever claim that we did not know. We are all intimately acquainted with the horror, the slaughter, the bloodshed calculated for political effect.
There have been protests against Israel around the world as there has been at least one in Malta. Only a tiny fraction of the population attends any of them.
The rest of us, even if we are moved by the scenes, may feel that it is pointless to protest. Perhaps we have never been to any protest and feel shy about showing up. Perhaps we were not properly informed about the event. Would we have been there?
In June 1989, a protest against the suppression of protests in Tiananmen Square was very well attended by Maltese people from every walk of life and of every political persuasion. It must have been the shock of witnessing the courage of the protestors live on our new colour televisions. Perhaps it was because we were still fresh from attending similar protests ourselves.

We have had it drained out of us. By a long process of political distillation, our ability to protest, to show our faces when expressing our concerns, has evaporated. With some exceptions, most young people tend to smirk if invited to attend a protest. They have been brought up under the illusion that everything can be dealt with through proper channels, through institutions, by filing paper objections and awaiting results.
Or have we come to believe that everything is virtual? Are those virtual children being exposed to incessant bombing? Are the virtually wounded being denied access to hospitals because the ambulances cannot get through? Are we unable to relate directly and personally to these events? Right, do it the 2009 way: click on for a quick education.
In the first 19 days of shelling, 1,001 people were killed in Gaza. That is a third of all the civilians killed in Malta in the Second World War when for a while these islands became the most heavily bombed place on Earth. Is there nobody who recalls the terror of being bombed? Are there no grandmothers left to tell of their nights in rock-cut bomb shelters praying for survival and expecting to be blown to bits or buried alive at any moment? There seem to be no such effective bomb shelters in Gaza. It makes me retch.
It is not only Gaza that is being blown to bits. Israel’s chance ever to live in peace is becoming ever more remote. Barack Obama’s status as the great hope in the global gloom has been given a lethal blow. Who buys that stuff about leaving it all to George W. to deal with when Obama was so smart with the financial crisis when still a candidate? The EU which should be a major player in this matter seems to have no clout. Its impotence is exposed for all to see.

Travel Advice
And Malta? God bless us, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised “against all travel to Gaza” Those who travel there anyway “will be doing so on their own responsibility as the consular assistance that Malta’s Embassy may provide in the circumstances is very limited” It makes us seem a virtual country.
Have we taken any action at all? Does our government feel under any pressure to do something, anything? Nobody expects Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to end the fighting by stepping between the combatants but he does happen to be the Head of Government of an EU Member State. Has he pulled all the stops at the UN, at every EU forum?
OK Let’s allow our government to take a backseat on this one and only vote for peace when asked. Could we not do other things too? How about forking out some money for essential medical supplies and their shipment to Gaza? Does it have to be left to the private initiative of those with relatives under fire? How about preparing for the aftermath, offering to fly just some of the injured for treatment in our hospital, something to prevent us feeling that we are impotent and violated voyeurs?


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