Ten years ago, May 2004, I was in Rafah during "Operation Rainbow". At the time it was considered the worst Israeli offensive in living memory. Israeli tanks fired on unarmed demonstrators trying to end the blockade of Tel al Sultan and el Rumeida areas. At the end of the day, as we set out to depart Rafah, it began to rain: a Hajja approached me and said: bibki, or God is crying [for us].
Today God is once again crying for Gaza and I am crying too.
The two years I spent inside the Gaza strip were the most formative of my life. I learned how, in the midst of enormous difficulty, to walk with my face forward, my chin out and my heart open. Everywhere I went in Gaza were teachers. The English teacher whose home had been demolished not two hours before but who brought shay maa nana [tea with mint] for everyone in our delegation. The dry-cleaner who spoke no English, but who shared coffee with me every week. Our wordless conversation reached beyond our surface differences and touched our common humanity.
The outside world believes that Gaza is a place only of suffering and hardship. And, for too many people, Gaza is immensely difficult: the women who face early marriage; the students whose visas are denied; the grandmother who watches her grandchild die of leukemia because no treatment is available to him; the victims of torture; the mother of the prisoner who hides her own pain with a smile at the loss of her son for seventeen years; the man who wanted a normal life for his children but who knows they may never see normality. For all of them Gaza is indeed full of pain and suffering.
And, despite that very pain, the memories I will carry in my heart of Gaza are of a people ready to overcome suffering and violence with love, a burning desire for justice and an eternal hope for freedom and peace. The people in Gaza are as warm and as welcoming as the Mediterranean sea that embraces the sun each evening.
From the moment I first crossed the Erez checkpoint I always knew that I, unlike you, had the privilege of leaving at a time of my choosing. And so, one day, with a heavy heart, I did leave; physically, though never in spirit. Since then my life has changed so much.
I have travelled. On each car, bus, train and plane I have considered you; trapped in the prison of Gaza. So, though you are imprisoned. I have taken you with me, each one of you a passenger in my heart. Together we have seen the world. Let me remind you, it is still as beautiful as you imagine. Every possibility you dream of at night is here, waiting for you.
I have a family now. They hear the news on the radio and ask "Why? Why Dad, are there bombs falling in Gaza?" I have no good answer for them. I just tell them that everything will be okay because you are there, defending the truth, defending hope.
I have met new people. People who have never heard of the Gaza strip, who know nothing of your troubles. I love to share your lives with them in the hope that they, too, will carry you in their hearts.
Other people who know Gaza well – Israelis. Some of them have fought against the occupation and are lovers of peace. But some of them believe that Gaza deserves everything it receives. Especially, with these ones, I have tried to listen to them, to understand them and even – yes – even forgive them and love them. After all if someone is so blinded by hatred that they would inflict almost seventy years of suffering on an entire people what good is my disdain? They need love, as we all do. Sometimes, I say to my two boys, Tom and Hugo, “I love you - but your behaviour is completely unacceptable and it must stop. Immediately.”
So I say to these Israelis: “I love you. I see your humanity. But I will not spend my money on products which support your war-making. I will not support your brutalisation of a whole people. I will not tolerate this occupation which mimics the suffering of countless Jews in history. I will not tolerate lies just because the truth is painful for you. Your own children deserve more than a life conscripted to the army. I love you. I see your humanity. But your behaviour is completely unacceptable and it must stop. Immediately.”
I say this on your behalf because if you speak nobody listens and nobody cares. We know the Palestinians are a forgotten people and those in Gaza forgotten all the more. I know how you feel: you believe that people would rather cut Gaza off in to the sea or – even better – fire you on a rocket to Mars. For the men (it is, mostly, men) of violence and of politics that is true.
But don’t forget us. We are the silent masses of humanity who have an ear for your voice, who have eyes to witness your situation, who have enough love in our hearts to carry all of your pain and enough courage to bring our compassion to you, no matter the cost. Our resistance is unyielding and it is beautiful. We are here, standing beside you, holding your hand. We will never let go.
In solidarity and love,