We had all expected it and, shortly after Christmas, it began. On Dec. 27, 2008, the Gaza Strip witnessed the beginning of a barrage of bombs. I had come back from studying abroad in Cairo five days prior; I had been in Palestine some two weeks before, traveling to Bethlehem and Ramallah with a friend at Hebrew University. The quasi-apartheid of the West Bank, exemplified by the hulking concrete wall – or, in the words of a Palestinian friend, “big gray piece of shit” – that hermetically seals most of the West Bank was something quite striking; the spiritual impact of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land was superseded by the unsettling nature of travel in the occupied West Bank. That symbolic violence, however, paled in comparison to what the Strip soon witnessed.
I responded to the assault on Gaza in the only ways I truly knew: I joined a few Facebook groups, read voraciously, started wearing a keffiyeh (the Palestinian national scarf) all the time and followed my Gazan friend’s status the way my grandmother followed Guiding Light. I thought about praying the rosary or going to Mass or something, but didn’t because those activities seemed self-indulgent.
On Dec. 28, the bombs continued to fall and the death toll quickly rose over 400. Some people in Egypt protested, I remember, while most leaders of Arab nations issued lukewarm condemnations of Israel’s actions. In America, President Bush said something I didn’t listen to, and the president-elect said something that probably sounded nice but which I can’t recall. Talking heads pontificated on television sets about the legitimacy of Israel’s assault, ironically comparing the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) acts to preventative action against an armed thief. “You don’t exercise caution when a gun-toting man is at your house threatening your children,” the politicos persistently waxed. As the corpses of six-year-olds were being pulled out of buildings, people on my television screen dismissed the innocent deaths as propagandistic posturing. Tired, inebriated and enraged, I shouted the f-word during a 2 a.m. repeat of the O’Reilly Factor and accidentally woke my parents.
On Dec. 30, I went down to D.C. to visit some friends and celebrate the new year. There was a protest that I had heard about, but my bourgeois sensibilities prevented me from actually contemplating going and I went shopping with a friend instead. As we were leaving Saks, I remember, a woman asked me if I knew that my scarf signified support for “Muslim terrorists.” I mumbled something offensive in Italian and then went to Nordstrom and bought a pair of shoes.
I rang in the new year wearing a keffiyeh in my friend’s frat house in College Park in Maryland. The next day, Israeli planes bombed Gaza’s American International School, my friend Yasmeen’s high school, into oblivion. When I angrily reposted the images of its destruction onto my Facebook, a friend from home confusedly asked when I became radicalized, saying, “Since when do you care?” I seethed, and accidentally slipped into the first person despite my lack of Palestinian blood: “They’re slaughtering us by the hundreds, how can you not care?” And the bombing continued.
By Jan. 12, 2009, some 750 Palestinians had been killed, the majority of whom were simply civilians. That same day a bipartisan collection of congressmen appeared at a rally supporting the actions of the Israeli army – Norm Coleman and Al Franken, I remember, put aside their recount battle to stand in unified supportive solidarity with Israel. A week later, Ehud Olmert quixotically announced that Israel’s “goals had been met” and the Israeli army began to pull out of the Strip. I interrupted my Winter Study with an hour or two of Al Jazeera’s coverage of the pullout, but by this point I had grown numb to bombed buildings and dead Arabs and, God knows, those around me had grown tired of listening to me preach.
One year later, the smoldering ashes of Gaza still burn metaphorically. A report condemning the Israeli army’s actions as war crimes was issued by a United Nations-sponsored fact finding group led by Richard Goldstone, a South African Jew. In turn, Goldstone – a committed Zionist – was reviled as a traitor to the Jewish people, and his report was condemned by a near-unanimous vote of the House of Representatives. Meanwhile in Palestine, little has changed. Under the right-wing regime of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli occupation continues in the most offensive way.
To all of this, though, we have been anesthetized. In our responses to the slaughter – in our perceptions of the conflict – we couch our arguments in neutered political terms, discussing international law and UN resolutions and the Geneva Convention. But in Palestine, the personal overwhelms the political. Beneath the posturing about combating terrorism, the hermeneutics of being “Pro-Israel” and that black and white scarf that Chairman Yasser Arafat and the hipsters love so much, there is a simple reality: between Dec. 27, 2008, and Jan. 21, 2009, many innocent people were bombed into oblivion with the open approbation of our government and we didn’t care. As dead children were pulled out of the rubble we defended and deflected rather than denouncing, at best viewing footage of the actions of the IDF with a numb fascination akin to watching an episode of Jersey Shore. And then when it was over, rather than confronting our complicity and breaking our silence, we averted our eyes and treated those four weeks like a distant, unimportant memory.
Adam Baron ’10 is from Baltimore, Md.. He lives in Morgan.