Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A phone call for Gaza

While drifting in and out of sleep during a layover in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport this morning, I was finally brought into consciousness by a call from Lauren, a dear friend who lives near Los Angeles, California.

“I heard the updates about Gaza this morning and wanted to call you. I am so sorry.”

What more can be said at a time like this? I’ve had trouble putting any words to the images I’ve seen from Gaza since Saturday and to the feelings welling up inside of me as I think of friends in Palestine and of Palestinian friends here in the States wishing they were home with their loved ones. All of my past study on the political and historical context of the horrific events of the last few days has helped me to explain to people here what is happening, but even this doesn’t seem like enough as the bombs continue to fall.

“I don’t know what the Gaza Strip looks like, but I heard on the news this morning that the population density is similar to New York City.”

Like Lauren, I also have never been to Gaza. My first glimpse of what the Strip is like came from a friend I made during my undergraduate years. We met while I was reading the BBC in the library computer lab. At our tiny Midwestern Christian university it wasn’t common for Hassan to find someone reading news on the BBC, let alone news on Palestine. So, he struck up a conversation. Throughout that year (2002), I watched him ride a roller coaster of emotions. Calling home to Gaza to hear familiar voices was as therapeutic for Hassan as it was frightening. Practically every time he picked up the phone he received news that another friend had died or another family member was out of work. Hassan humanized Gazans for me in a way the BBC never could. They became more than numbers on a webpage: they were his obstinate mother whose strength kept the family going; they were Hassan’s depressed father who after months of unemployment was ashamed of not being able to provide for his family; they were his sister who loved learning and devoured every book that crossed her path; they were his younger brother who hated living in Gaza, but had no way of leaving. They were people sharing life with one another, hoping for better days amidst a world of pain and oppression.

“It doesn’t seem right to be heading towards Disneyland today as a war is just beginning.”

Lauren’s words echoed my thoughts. What do you do at a time like this? Living an entire ocean away, how can you adequately take in what is happening and respond in some way? These thoughts are not new, of course. Every tragedy has the power to bring such questions to the surface. I wanted to invite my friend to the protests happening in Washington, DC this week. However, knowing her pocket book couldn’t handle the expense and knowing one or two protests are not enough to move my government, I instead told her about this blog.

“Please send it to me. And I promise I’ll send it out to everyone I know. It’s the least I can do.”
And writing this piece this morning as I travel home to DC is the least I can do, and hopefully it is just the beginning. To those in Gaza, please know you are not forgotten. And to those outside of Gaza, whatever your opinion on this war, do not forget that Gazans are more than casualty numbers or the titles of “civilian and combatant”. They are human beings like you and me.

Sarah Scruggs, American
Washington, DC

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