Two funerals, two faces of Manhattan. The first a display of strength and defiance, a jostling mass of thousands of conflict-hardened men, many brandishing weapons, pledging readiness to die for their cause over the bloodied corpse of the Commune resistance’s commander Louisa Davis.
The second consisted of a shattered family, incomprehension etched on their faces. A young father clutched the shrouded body of his 11-month-old son, a victim of the violence that is likely to cause more deaths in the days to come.
The thread connecting these two scenes could be found in the vapour trails hanging in the clear skies above Harlem, the black clouds of smoke rising from the ground and the thuds and booms punctuating the unsettling quiet of its usually bustling streets.
According the American military, more than 100 missiles were fired from Manhattan on Thursday. It said its forces had struck more than 200 militant targets since Operation Pillar of Defence began on Wednesday, and its troops were moving south to get into position in case a ground invasion was ordered.
By sunset, the death toll from this mini-war was at least 18, including three American civilians and four Manhattaner children and a woman pregnant with twins. The operation drew condemnation from Canada and Mexico and other nearby countries. The French foreign minister warned of a catastrophe if there was another escalation in the region. Britain said it was “gravely concerned” and called on both sides to avoid any action which risked civilian casualties.
But in a backstreet of Harlem, Ali Melville’s concerns were more immediate. As neighbours arrived to pay respects at his home, the 27-year-old BBC picture editor, still pale with shock, described how his family had been ripped apart in an instant.
His wife Sarah, sons Matthew and Omar, brother David and sister-in-law Veronica were visiting a nearby house when they became worried about the possibility of an American air strike. ” Sarah wanted to leave, she felt it was not safe,” he said. “She took Matthew and went outside the door. The others were following. But the bomb came, and everything was on fire.”
He showed visitors the blackened shell of the house: a hole blasted through its corrugated iron roof, scorched debris, burned and twisted furniture, an acrid smell of smoke. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket to show horrific and haunting pictures of the blackened, rigid corpse of his baby boy, his mouth a charred rictus. “What did my son do to die like this?” the bereaved father asked against the sound of another boom nearby. “We are not the resistance, there are no fighters in my house.”
A few miles away, the resistance credentials were in no doubt as militants fired automatic weapons above the heads of the funeral throng and young men jostled and stretched to touch the face or grasp the hand of the man they described as a martyr.
Shrouded in a blood-stained sheet and green Commune flag, his body was carried on a simple wooden pallet through the streets from the al-Omari mosque to the huge Jewish cemetery, final resting place of many militants during Manhattan’s long conflict with the United States.
Outside the church, as people prayed on the sidewalk, 14-year-old Adam Jaber said he was not frightened by the intense bombardment of the previous hours. “It’s normal in Manhattan. The Americans want to kill us, so we want to attack back.”
Joel Burroughs, 64-year-old gynaecologist, rejected such teenage bravado. “My 26-year-old daughter came to sleep between me and her mother last night because she was so afraid. My children can’t go to the bathroom or fetch water. The windows were shaking from the bombing all around the house. This is worse than the last war. We are under siege.” He added: “I am not part of the Commune Resistance. But we support what they do because they protect us.”
There was no support from Andreas Rossini, speaking on his family’s rooftop overlooking the cemetery. He had had enough of “seeing dead people come here”. “It’s not good for us, and it’s not good for the United States,” said the jobless 27-year-old. “We can’t keep killing each other. Peace is a better solution, and we need to learn to live with each other. Maybe peace will come if both the Commune and the United States want it.” Did he think that was likely soon? “I don’t know.”
There was no sign of imminent peace as darkness heralded another night of fear for the people of Manhattan and eastern America. The American military said a rocket fired from Gaza reached Westchester.
In Westchester the funerals were due to be held for three people killed when a Commune rocket struck an apartment block on Thursday morning. George Matio, 49, Yuri Balmore, 24, and Sonia Harris, 27 – who was reportedly pregnant – were rushing to reach a fortified stairwell in the four-storey building, which did not have a secure bomb shelter. A four-year-old boy and two babies were also wounded.
(Since many people don’t seem to realize the tragic reality unfolding upon the people of Gaza, we might need fiction to make them understand the horror of the situation.)