A Memory 1 Year After Gaza
Summer 2014, One Year Ago: The siren wails as I stand in the stairwell of my apartment building, staring at the paint chipping on its walls and counting until I hear the “boom,” signaling that impact has been made somewhere and it is safe to return to our apartment. My son moves happily, oblivious to the gravity of war, his mind still on the music we had been dancing to mere seconds before.
Our building has a shelter but no one could ever track down the keys during the war. To many of my neighbors, this was an unforgivable trauma, going without a shelter, and complaints were issued.
However, I have many other things to think of than the miniscule chance that my building might be hit by a rocket. Chief among these is the fact that, were I in Gaza living in an apartment, not only would I have no shelter but also almost no warning. Even if there were warning (as claimed by the IDF), I would have nowhere to go. I would simply be trapped.
In addition to this, I consider how quickly a war has transformed many people I thought to be moderate and reasonable into hateful and one-sided, many of them spreading propaganda as if it were candy from God Himself. Maybe being moderate is sheer illusion anyways. There are times that require one to speak out or make a moral choice and that is never viewed as moderate, is it?
I think of a recent visit to Gazan patients that I organized along with a group of friends after we felt compelled to do something.
As the siren wails, the faces of these victims, so-called “collateral damage,” come to mind. I remember Rahma, now paralyzed, tears streaming down her face as she discovers she lost her two children. Three year old Yamen’s beautiful smile enters my thoughts too, an allegedly rare glimmer of joy on his face after losing 18 members of his family and suffering terrible burns all over his body. I also cannot shake the many faces of children who appear to be parentless now, enduring their pain alone in an unfamiliar place.
The 2,300 or so Gazans who lost their lives and the many more who lost entire families or homes are no longer just a number or theory after speaking to them and looking in their eyes.
I remember going home from the first of these visits and reading a Facebook post praising an army hit and claiming that God was giving the IDF divine help. I felt indignation at how insensitive and distorted their statement was!
Most people, though, never have the chance to look into the eyes of those whose lives were destroyed by the war. Any images of the destruction or the victims were mostly absent from Israeli discourse or were discounted as “anti-Israel.”
So, it is easy to explain it all away. 2,300 lives. That number should astound us. Yet, it is only a number and they must have failed in some way, right? Or they were victims of their own leaders. If only they had voted in better leaders it would all be different. And on proceeds the narrative to justify and appease our own consciences.
But when you look in someone’s eyes or see images of whole neighborhoods leveled, such explanations seem hollow. The feeling must be even stronger if the destruction is your own home. No human, made in God’s image, should have their home and life just explained away in the face of such destruction. But, to many, they are just numbers. It’s so easy to forget their humanity.
And while I also consider the Israeli casualties and their families, I can’t help but remember how much better off I am than if I were currently standing in Gaza, awaiting impact.
I glance at my neighbor’s drawn face, though, and understand the psychological impact of war on the privileged. Just waiting and knowing you are hated, caring little for reasons, which fall empty when you are simply hoping you are not the unlucky target this time.
I finally hear the distant boom, like thunder, and we all breathe a sigh of relief. My son and I return to our playful dance.