The question was like an electric shock to the six or so Palestine solidarity activists, including myself, as we were standing inside a classroom at a school in Gaza City.
“Why the Palestinians? Why are we the only ones suffering?” asked a Palestinian girl who was probably about nine or ten-years-old. And then the enormity of what the people of Gaza go through every day hit me.
Most of us were Americans and one was Canadian, and we were delivering some of the $17,000 in school supplies that Jessica Campbell and Julia Hurley, two members of the Gaza Freedom March student delegation, had brought and raised on their own.
Campbell and Hurley had hauled the aid and supplies in across the Rafah crossing late Dec. 30, all the way from the United States, and the stuffed animals and stickers we brought were a tiny portion of the total.
We didn’t quite know how to react to that question.
“I don’t know how to describe it. I’m still feeling in shock from it. I’ve known about this so long and it’s now kind of becoming real to me that our government is complicit with doing these terrible things to these children, and there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do to make up for it. And realizing that is really painful for me,” Campbell, a student in Oregon, said.
Hurley, who graduated from Seton Hall University, said, “It feels really good to be able to give toys and school supplies to these children, but I really don’t feel like I’m doing enough. I feel like this is such a tiny little thing and it might make them happy for a moment and think about Americans a little bit differently, but I wish I could give them more. I wish I could fix everything. I wish I could rebuild the schools.”
Although I didn’t have this reaction to the question of “why the Palestinians” right away, and I wouldn’t have said it out loud in front of a classroom of young Palestinian girls, I thought back to a story a professor at school told me.
He is a Holocaust survivor, and was teaching a course I took on the culture and politics of Nazi Germany. One story that remains with me from that professor is when he described a scene in Hungary, where an Austrian friend, who came to stay with his family in Hungary after the Nazi invasion in 1938, repeatedly asked, “What have we done?” And someone in my professor’s family responded, “Your only crime is that you were born a Jew.”
The only reason why these innocent girls, and all the innocent children and people of Palestine are suffering, is because they committed the “crime” of being born Palestinian. Had they been born Israeli, or in the United States, the crippling siege on Gaza would not be a reality for them. But it is. The Zionist movement had looked to Palestine as a place where Jews could create an state where only Jews would reside, and the children of Gaza continue to live with the indescribable effects of occupation, war, and death that came as a direct result of the Zionist move to establish a state in Palestine.
Realizing this fact is heartbreaking and disgusting to think about. This memory will only make me fight harder back in the States to do my best to break the siege on Gaza from there. I must, and I promised this to all of the wonderful Palestinians I have met so far. But will that be enough?
The United States, Egypt and the whole international community have turned their backs on the people of Gaza, denying them the simple right to live in dignity. I have hope, of course; if I didn’t I wouldn’t be fighting for Palestine. But I’m also realistic, and unless the political situation drastically changes in the United States or Egypt, this God awful, criminal siege will continue, because Israel has no interest in a Palestinian state, and clearly no interest in the human rights of Gazans. This, of course, is why a strong boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is badly needed.
Throughout the day, discussions of the logistics of getting out of the border, and whether people could stay longer than the Egyptian government wanted them to, went on. We foreigners are worried about being stuck in Rafah for a couple of days and possibly missing our flights home because of the Egyptians and all of the trouble they have put the Gaza Freedom March through.
That concern is a joke compared to some of the stories I have heard from people my age in Gaza. One college student had a scholarship to study in Egypt, and couldn’t get out because of the siege on her land. Others expressed hope of visiting New York and other places around the world, only to lament that they were stuck here indefinitely, until the Israeli government lifts the siege.
Saying that the Gaza Strip is the world’s biggest open-air prison is a good characterization. But even most prisoners have a set date of when they will get out, and have guarantees of where their food is coming from. Gazans can’t look to a set date when the siege will be lifted. And now the Egyptian government, once they’re done building their iron wall to compliment all of the Israeli walls and fences around Gaza, have set out to destroy the tunnels that are literally the main source of food, medicine and fuel for the Palestinians of Gaza. I worry for my new friends in Palestine. How will they eat? How will they live?
Gaza is worse than a prison. I don’t know if there are words to describe how Gazans live.
The more people come to Gaza, especially Americans, the better. I visited the site of the American school in Gaza, which was blown up by Israel during the massacres in Gaza one year ago. Massive amounts of rubble remain, and it has not been rebuilt because Israel refuses to allow in materials to rebuild the schools and homes they demolished last year.
The phrase the Palestinian teacher kept repeating was the appalling irony that the American school in Gaza City was “built by USAID [and by U.S. tax dollars], and destroyed by the US Army.”
After seeing and understanding that sad fact, I believe people must be determined, creative, and brave in confronting the crimes of the United States and Israel. Whether that means demanding the Goldstone Report’s recommendations be implemented, initiating a boycott of a company that profits off the illegal occupation of Palestine, or shutting down weapons shipments that go to Israel, it must be done. This slow suffocation of our brothers and sisters in Gaza must stop, and it must stop now.
Alex Kane is a junior at Marymount Manhattan College, and a reporter and writer with the Indypendent. He is part of the student delegation to the Gaza Freedom March, where he joined over 1,300 delegates in a historic march in Gaza on December 31.
Follow his Twitter account at http://www.twitter.com/alexbkane.