The Zionists claim that Pope Pius XII was "silent" about the Nazi "Holocaust" and this is a major issue in the western media confronting the Catholic Church. But how much of an issue is the silence regarding the Israeli holocaust ~ a holocaust which continues to this day? Are you silent about ~ and therefore complicit in ~ Israeli mass murder of the Palestinian people?
The force of the explosion that destroyed Shifa Salman's house in the northern Gaza district of Jabal al-Rayas folded floor into floor as easily as pastry. It pushed pillars through concrete, reconfiguring her home into a bristling dome. The tail-fin of one of the Israeli bombs responsible still sits on top of the rubble, innocuous as a child's discarded toy. These days, pigeons and sparrows nest in the cave-like space carved out by the detonation inside the ruins where mattresses and bags of flour are stored, the latter stencilled with the initials of the World Food Programme. Sleek, aggressive cockerels patrol the floor, flying at intruders.
Six months after Israel's war against Gaza, Shifa, a 20-year-old student, sleeps with her family behind the fallen house. A trodden path leads through the rubble to a row of cramped, ramshackle shelters open to the elements and roofed with hessian sacks. They are identical to the cattle pens that stand beside them.
On closer examination I can see that the frames have been constructed out of cast-off sections of wood and metal lashed together. What walls that exist are fashioned out of old pallets and branches woven into crude wicker. Or more sacking, staked into the soil to make rudimentary windbreaks.
Inside Shifa's own tiny, dirt-floored "compound" a fire pit has been scooped out of the earth and filled with twigs. On it sits the blackened pan in which Shifa and her mother make stews of molokhiya ~ spinach-like greens ~ with chicken, garlic and onions. "This is my kitchen," says Shifa shyly, in English. A piece of broken board is propped on two drums to function as table. Here a jam jar sits, holding a pestle and a solitary sharp knife.
I first came to this house in January, in the immediate aftermath of Israel's war against Gaza, visiting the Salman family almost every day. The family were sleeping in the ruins to shelter from the rain, surrounded by the stinking bodies of their sheep, killed during the assault. Then, Shifa complained that the frightened younger children were kept awake at night by the sound of packs of dogs scavenging among the carrion outside.
A slight and pretty woman with dark brows, Shifa is walking along a road where the ruined houses of her neighbourhood stand on each side like stone-piled graves in a desert. It is 7am and she is on her way to meet the bus that will take her to university. She is wearing a black abaya, the head-to-ankle veil that is the uniform of the university, and carrying a pile of her books. Both books and the veil were donated by the college after Shifa's family lost most of what it owned. "There used to be a factory here," says Shifa, pointing at a collapsed, blue-painted metal structure. I am reminded of the last time I saw this building. A herd of cows lay slaughtered in the field outside.
"My life used to be so good when we had a home. Now it is awful." She wipes a tear away, trying to hide what she is doing. "This street used to be full of cars," Shifa explains. "It was easy to get to university. Now I have to walk for half an hour before I can get a ride. There used to be houses here, but everyone fled after the F-16s attacked. After the tanks attacked. Only a few of us have stayed."
So few, in fact, I quickly learn their names. There is the Khader family, who have built a complex cloth-walled shelter on top of the ruins of one of their houses, a structure that has expanded over the months as new rooms have been added. One day I find the men of the family crawling into a dark hole beneath the house to chip out tiles from what was once their ground floor to sell for food, disturbing a nest of pinkly squirming newborn mice.
There is the owner of the dairy parlor, Mohammed al-Fayoun, whose cattle were killed. He has set up business again beneath the bent and twisted rafters of his metal roof, where he sits daily in a plastic chair. He complains his customers are still too scared to visit him this close to the border with Israel.
While her fathers and uncles work the land, Shifa is representative of a new generation ~ the first from her family to go to university. She says she wants to be a geography teacher and has an exam today. "I used to have a television in my room," she says, passing the house of Nabil Nasser Hassan, once one of her neighbours, whose demolished home is now surrounded by a stockade of corrugated metal sheeting to keep out looters hunting for pipes and wire to recycle.
"At the beginning, people came to give us coupons and blankets. But no one has come to see us for a long time. No one has spoken to us about rebuilding our home. I'm scared living where we live. All of the family is, especially my sister Safa when she hears the Israeli jets."
It is not only Shifa's daily walk at 7am through the ruins to reach the Islamic University that is a mark of her changed life. Before the destruction visited by the bombs, tanks and bulldozers, Shifa says, she would sit up after dark, reading her books in her own room, which was decorated with posters of animals. Now when the light fades, she must cease her studying. "I used to spend all night working. I'm good," she says with confidence. "But now I'm struggling. And I know if I can succeed, I can make life better for my family."
Israel's Operation Cast Lead began on 27 December 2008. By the time of its conclusion on 18 January, with the declaration by both Israel and Hamas ~ which governs Gaza ~ of their own unilateral ceasefires, more than 1,300 Palestinians had been killed, many of them civilians. They had perished under an Israeli rain of bombs, bullets, missiles and artillery fire, including white phosphorous munitions.
While Israel insisted the war was designed to bring a halt to the launching of home-made missiles out of the Gaza Strip, its targets suggested wider aims, not least the dismantling of Palestinian institutions. Police stations, ministries, schools and hospitals were hit. Orange groves and tunnel tents for growing strawberries and vegetables were uprooted. And thousands of houses were damaged.
On my return, I scour Gaza for evidence that anything has changed for the better in the months since the war ended. But houses and other buildings destroyed during the conflict remain as hollowed-out and dusty monuments to violence. In places, some owners have experimented with repairing buildings with an adobe made of mud and straw baked in the sun. But it is a very temporary solution.
In the office of Dr Ibrahim Radwan, the man appointed by the Hamas government to record the damage done in Israel's three-week war, I jot down the numbers that describe what happened. Some 3,800 homes and businesses badly damaged in one way or another - although he admits this includes some damaged in previous Israeli attacks. In addition, 80 government buildings were hit.
Radwan has his own categories to describe the degrees of destruction, but after a week driving around Gaza, the damage conforms to its own types. The big metal walls of the workshops on Salahadeen Road, where the heaviest fighting took place, now leak light through hundreds of bullet perforations; other walls are splashed with the shrapnel of missiles fired from drones; blocks of flats hit by artillery fire show scorched holes. And across the north of the Gaza Strip stand the weird igloos of the bomb-flattened houses.
There are changes that I do register in the six months since the war ended. The bodies of dead animals have been removed and cleared away; the ruins have been sifted for human remains. It has expunged the odour of decay that was once tangy with the chemical flavour of explosives and spent phosphorous. The tangled remnants of an orange grove I drove past every day, tipped over and torn by military bulldozers, has disappeared, razed for firewood.
And without concrete and steel, aluminum and glass, without tiles for roofs and cladding for stairs and bathrooms ~ all prevented from entering Gaza by Israel's continuing economic blockade ~ no rebuilding has begun. For those who suffered most, the war continues.
I run into Shifa's father by chance one day at Gaza City's flea market, in the Yarmouk district. He tells me he comes once every fortnight to look through stalls selling broken and unwanted things in the hope of finding something that might alleviate their circumstances. He shows me the contents of his white plastic shopping bag: two plastic joints for connecting water pipes. Bought in the hope that he might one day have a use for them.
Missing are pictures of her 18-year-old sister, Fida, and her brother's wife, Iman, who also perished. In a room decorated with gold curtains and floor cushions, Malak, the youngest surviving child, plays on the carpet, in a T-shirt printed with the slogan "Daddy's Little Tiger". But Daddy is gone.
But sitting on a bed in a cold, bare basement room, she had been withdrawn behind a wall of grief, managing to speak barely a handful of words. Instead, it was the other relatives who had crowded the room who supplied answers to my questions. The only thing I learned was that she liked to paint, and so I had bought her pens and paper, since all of hers were lost.