Guest contribution by Sanah Yassin
We brought what we thought were all the necessary preparations: granola bars, hand sanitizer, journals, and over-priced brand-name luxury outdoor wear. But nothing could possibly prepare me and my comrades for the challenges, struggles, and experiences we were to face on our journey to deliver medical aid to the Gaza Strip last December. It would take volumes to share with you the full extent of our experiences, but I hope to share one invaluable lesson learned.
Speaking for the handful of young American students that attended the convoy, we came to understand what the term “international solidarity” actually signifies. For us Americans, this term is more than just vague, it’s nonexistent. Unless we take a critical look at society around us, it can be difficult to relate ourselves to people not as “privileged” as we are. Even as we drove through the deserts of the Middle East to reach the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza, meeting with ordinary people along the road initially led to feelings of apprehension between all of us. It wasn’t until we struck up conversations and told them about our goal that their looks of intimidation and our looks of discomfort went away, a wide-smile filling its place, and an unbreakable bond called “solidarity” forming.
They called us heroes. Some cried, some hugged us and gave us gifts for the children of Gaza, some asked to go with, willing to walk away from their entire lives and join this effort. As word spread about which town we would be passing through next, the people of Turkey, Syria, and Jordan would line up along the road awaiting our convoy of 200 vehicles just to say hello, smile, wave a flag, and send us wishes of wellness. Above all, they would ask us for one thing: to send their love to the children of Gaza. To let them know that the world stands with them. For this, we felt humbled. What have we possibly done, how can we be called heroes?
Once, as we were browsing one of the many tourist shops in Amman, a man called to us and welcomed us into his quaint fragrance shop. They were cleaning up the shop after a low-level earthquake hit that part of town, and as we explained what we were doing, he insisted that he go with us. Though it didn’t work out, he sent with us a box of perfumes as a gift for the children of Gaza. He shared with us some of his thoughts as he meticulously prepared the bottles of fragrance, “They don’t only need food, they need perfume, they need toys, they need this like other kids of the world. This is their right. The children of Gaza are the children of the world.”
We saw international solidarity in action as we stood at a deadlock in Aqaba, Jordan and then in Al Arish, Egypt as we heard that people all over the world were calling their embassies, informing media outlets about our situation, urging their governments to demand that the Egyptian government stop delaying us, and help us continue towards Gaza. We were at a loss for words when we heard that the Malaysian government was in direct contact with the Egyptian government, demanding that it remove the bureaucratic and nonsensical obstacles deliberately put in our path.
We experienced the generosity that comes with international solidarity as we laid imprisoned and starved at an abandoned Egyptian seaport, with no source of food (we had run out of granola bars weeks ago), and our better-prepared Turkish comrades not only worked to make tea for the entire convoy, but also shared with me a plate of boiled spaghetti and tuna out of a can. At that point, we were so starved that we ate it all up, and happily.
The people of Turkey displayed so many acts of kindness, their intentions and efforts alone exemplify the true meaning of international solidarity. To stand with complete strangers, to show deep concern for them, to sacrifice some of your rights and freedoms in order to ensure others have the same rights and freedoms, and in the words of Frida Kahlo, to “love you more than my own skin.”
Through countless acts of generosity like the instances above, we quickly came to grasp what it means to stand together as a people. We were challenged us to ask ourselves, who are our people? Who truly stands in solidarity with us? Surpassing nationalism, religion, race, and ethnicity, the human element is what our convoy was fighting to keep alive. Although the siege has yet to cease, humanity lives on. And humanity will not give up on Gaza the same way it hasn’t in Haiti, Kashmir, or even Arizona.
We left Gaza having made a promise to our fellow members of the convoy and, more importantly, to the people of Gaza. We promised that we would return to our home countries and use our first-hand eyewitness experiences to inform our fellow citizens, to stand on the side of truth, and to work towards ending the siege and bringing justice to this small strip of land that, for too long now, has been shamefully robbed of justice.
So, we must ask ourselves, are we living up to our promise? Are we doing all we can to bring an end to this unjust siege, to work so that the people of Gaza are able to have even the most basic necessities required to live? This burden is not an individualized one; it is a shared burden among all those who are privileged enough to understand oppression and the need to fight it. Do not wait for more bombs to drop, more people to die, or more grand jury subpoenas against pro-peace activists, to feel obligated to act. You know your duty. Speak out against crimes to humanity. Do not be an accessory to oppression. This is what Viva Palestina 3 taught me.
Sanah Yassin is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently teaching history at a private school where she hopes not only to teach her students but also to learn from them.