Israel: Answer Me
This morning, I wept.
Awakening to news of the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla, a sense of outrage I’d tried to forget welled up inside me, and reminded me of a good friend, also senselessly targeted by Israeli forces.
I wept for Abu Sahla. A young father with a gift for insight into people and one of the gentlest men i've known.
Like much of the Palestinian diaspora, he was bright, urbane and cultured. A chemist by training, he studied in Switzerland and Australia, where I came to know him.
In 2008, his mother – stranded in Gaza – became ill. At the end of her productive life, and a stateless, politically toxic Palestinian, she could not escape the territories to live out her remaining years in the comfort and dignity we all hope for ourselves, and our loved ones in their old age. Her utilitarian benefit as a citizen spent, she could not afford our “decency,” as a refugee, and so Abu Sahla returned to Gaza to care for her.
Escaping the territories is an extraordinarily difficult task – akin to breaking out of prison. The fact that he was ready to forfeit his own freedom for his mother’s wellbeing spoke volumes about the type of man he was.
We still don’t know what the soldiers at the checkpoint were looking for the day when they removed Abu Sahla from the hopelessly long queue. Maybe they were looking for the same answers that the rest of us were searching for. The answer to the absurdity of a situation that puts automatic weapons in the hands of 18 year old Israeli soldiers, and asks the people who they point them at to be mindful – first and foremost – of the Israeli’s security.
Maybe his beard marked him as an Islamist. Maybe his background as a professional chemist had marked him as a potential bomb-maker. Maybe the interrogation became physical and escalated beyond the “standard” level of physicality. We will never know.
Whatever the soldiers were looking for that day, he did not have it, and they did not find it. The last anyone ever saw of Abu Sahla was as he was removed to the checkpoint for what we assume was questioning.
He was a good, humanitarian man. He was my friend. He did not deserve to disappear. His family deserved answers.
I wept for Sahla – apple of her father’s eye – the small daughter he left behind. I wept for the hope she had for a better future that disappeared with him inside that answerless, concrete box at the checkpoint.
I wept for Amina, his wife. In the poverty and fear of Gaza, the world’s largest open air prison, they were happier than most couples with everything – and for that, I envied them.
He was a good man. He escaped. He had a future.
He cared too much. He came back. And now he is dead.
I wept for the logic of a conflict that inverts the traits we normally consider blessings – love, loyalty, kindness and intelligence – and turns them into liabilities.
I wept for the peace his death will not bring closer. For, in death, he joins the ranks of the martyrs – mute testimony to the senselessness of the conflict, but used like political currency by which ever faction-du-jour has decided that red is the new black.
And then to wake up to these events most recently…
I want to scream. I want to scream until the skin on my face boils and my lungs collapse.
I want to scream at the waste of it all. At the insanity of a conflict which takes good, decent, honourable men and makes them more useful dead than alive.
I want to scream at a conflict that hides the obscene truth of that insanity behind maps and graphs and lobby groups and UN Resolutions and press releases.
I want to scream at the senseless fixation with the past that is so single-minded in its obsession that it chews up great chunks of the future before it has even happened.
I want to scream at the hate I feel for myself for wanting to tune out from the outrage, to forget the faces and the names and the tiny, empty shoes. I want to scream at the hate that is so overpowering it affects even those who observe it.
I want to scream every four-letter, single-syllable word ever conceived to express the obscenity of it all, and it doesn’t even come close.
And in the end, it doesn’t even matter. There’s only one three-letter word that matters anymore:
To those who support Israel, justify yourself.
Find me the words that will make all of this better. Find me the words to tell the families of those whose greatest crime was to give a damn about their fellow human being. Find me the words that will make up for what you have taken away. Find me the words that will replace a son for his mother.
This is not rhetorical. Tell me.
All of you armchair generals and part-time Zionists: tell me about the price of freedom and the cost of war while kinder, gentler and better men, pay them.
Tell me WHY so I can tell myself.
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