Guest contribution by Dina Elmuti
A teacher in Gaza’s University College of Applied Sciences corrects an exam belonging to one of their students who was massacred earlier this month during Israel’s onslaught of the coastal enclave. “Dear Martyr: I apologize for not correcting your exam papers. We do not correct martyrs; it is they who correct us.”
When I saw this photo today and read the haunting words written by this teacher, my heart was overcome by overwhelming heaviness and a feeling of shame and inescapable guilt. It was a caustic reminder of the piercing and devastating struggles that students in Gaza face daily. A walloping and humbling slap in the face, I needed to be reminded.
Earlier this morning, I felt worried about completing another assignment for class on time and “surviving” finals week. I didn’t worry about whether U.S.-manufactured bombs would be dropped over my head to decimate my home. The drumming of jet fighters didn’t keep me awake and AK-47 bullets didn’t riddle my home or the bodies of innocent children who are stripped of their childhoods. I wasn’t concerned with crossing another illegal checkpoint on my way to work or whether I’d have a home and a warm bed to return to on this cold night. No, I worried about completing an assignment.
The concerns of traumatically bereaved students in Gaza put mine to shame, making them seem so infinitesimally small in comparison. Like other students in the world, the students of Gaza experience the apprehension of final exams and term papers but their qualms extend far beyond the confines of a classroom or assignment deadlines. Their fears are behemoths in contrast. Children and adults alike fear whether or not they will wake up the next morning and have the luxury of attending school or receiving a higher education, a privilege so many take for granted and lose sight of in the midst of their own worlds and toxic loads of unalloyed self-interest.
Images like these and the untold stories of the oppressed in Gaza remind the prideful and complacent among us of humility with a healthy dose of perspective. The surmounting struggles and enduring hardships of the oppressed humanize a world full of cowardly, malignant minds and teach us. While we write about their suffering and the chronicity of stress they face half a world away, they end up teaching us what life is all about. Despotic regimes that siphon away humanity and survive on blood lust assume they can teach the people of Gaza about life but it will always be the steadfast resilience and determination of Gaza that continue to teach the world about life.
The tenacious students who climb over of piles of rubble burying an avalanche of human rights violations to get to school teach us. The ones who face insidious systems of sadistic torture with unwavering determination teach us. The ones who sacrifice everything for what we receive with such ease here and the ones who refuse to ever bow to thin facades of human rights and pusillanimous bids teach and enlighten us about resistance beyond torrents of empty rhetoric.
Their unshakable conviction reminds us that staying on the sidelines of struggle is not and never will be an option. They have endured the most horrific realities and witnessed the worst of humanity, and still they smile with unparalleled resilience. They dream of life with the inalienable and indivisible rights to health and happiness as every human being deserves. They dream of learning, falling in love and rejoicing like all human beings and despite bearing the most catastrophic injustice, they do just that. I dream that the pangs of their suffering subside, and that through their ongoing struggle they will continue to teach us lessons about real struggles so we never tolerate a passive or active role in the oppression of others, not only on this day of solidarity but every day.
Dina Elmuti is currently finishing a Masters degree in social work with a concentration in health and mental health clinical work, conflict resolution, and social and relief services. In Dina’s own words, “I’m defined by who I’m not — by the very things that I oppose — and my story lies between what I see and what I say, between what I say and what I keep silent, between what I keep silent and what I dream. I dream of a free Palestine and justice for all.”