By Hatim Kanaaneh
Like Obama in Hawaii I was vacationing when Israel first unleashed its violence against Gaza’s imprisoned Palestinians. I didn’t want my peace disturbed by bad news from a faraway place. I should have understood the ample clues and listened to radio or sought a place with a TV.
We were in Morocco’s desert. Fossil hunting is a hobby of mine and the wild environs of Erfoud are full of black marble inundated with fossils. Malaika, my third-grader granddaughter, was excited about viewing star constellations in the clear desert sky. We had a fantastic experience.
But when the locals, Berber tribesmen or citified tourist guides, learned I was Palestinian they spilled their hearts in welcome, sympathy and prayers for Palestine.
I took it as the standard expression of solidarity with Palestinians’ historic suffering and maltreatment. I cannot recall ever meeting an Arab man or women who didn’t express solidarity with my people, discontent with Arab rulers for their cooptation by the West and abandonment of Palestine, and anger at American and European governments for their blind support of Israel.
But this time there was a touch of sadness mixed with admiration in the eyes of my interlocutors. Still I credited it to a special infatuation of Moroccans with Palestine.
Right after the New Year, in a small Berber town I saw high school students emonstrating with Palestinian flags. At the outskirts of Fez we stopped to ask directions. One man identified me as Palestinian and the group burst out into a mini demonstration shouting pro-Gaza slogans. At the hotel I reconnected with the world and saw the flood of emails condemning the slaughter.
For the remaining week I suffered the images of death and destruction. Gaza was constantly on my mind.
I felt guilty for having enjoyed myself as they suffered. I had recently undergone a medical procedure. I stopped taking my painkillers. Each discomfort I felt triggered guilt for having access to medications when the children of Gaza with their mangled limbs didn’t. Gaza, whose name was immortalized in ‘gauze’, the invention of its weavers of old, has now run out of gauze to dress the wounds of its children.
I guarded my granddaughter like a hawk; when she climbed the steep stairs of the hotel I followed her. When we walked in the market I held her hand tight. All I could imagine was her falling down the stairs or tripping on something and suffering a massive injury to her pretty face or losing a limb.
Does such despair make people face the prospect of death calmly? Gazans say they do. The images of the children with bloodied heads and mangled limbs with that blank look in their empty eyes, both hope and fear having been wiped out of them by shock, mesmerized me; I screamed because they didn’t.
Stripped of the propaganda this crisis starts with conflicting claims by two peoples to the same piece of land, the weaker party having been on it for centuries and the stronger one intent on dislodging them off it. The latter bases its claim on a special deal with its own deity several millennia ago. Both parties have fallen back on stupidity and stubbornness and on their not unrelated dependence on their faiths. But my own simplistic analysis equates between aggressor and victim.
What is missing is the fact that Israel is out to diminish the number of Palestinians in any way it can, to eliminate as many claimants in the ongoing land dispute as possible. And also missing is this analysis, though bits and pieces of it are on every one’s mind: By its bloody trampling on the human rights, institutions, infrastructure, property, and lives of Palestinians Israel hopes to draw Hezbollah into the fray, to take revenge on it for having withstood its aggression in 2006, and simultaneously to strike at Iran.
Finally back in New York, I emptied my bags of our exotic souvenirs. My wife had bought ceramic dishes from Fes. I shuddered; I had just read the news: Israel had hit the UN school in Al-Fakhora (Arabic for ‘ceramic factory’) neighborhood of Jabalia Refugee Camp killing 43 civilians, mostly children. I spread out the traditional Berber rug I had purchased: My God! It is blood red!
I sought comfort in emails from friends. Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple ends her message with wishes for peace and justice from Hawaii, saying she had spent the day in fasting and prayer. I am not a religious person. But that statement touched me to the core; that is what my late mother, an illiterate Palestinian villager, would do every time she lost a child.
– Hatim Kanaaneh, MD, MPH is the author of ‘A Doctor in Galilee: the Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel’, Pluto Press, 2008. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his blog: http://a-doctor-in-galilee.blogspot.com.