My life turned around five years ago and I found my voice. What began as a typical winter morning in Chicago quickly turned into a day of mourning, a day of rage, and a day of commitment.
On 27 December 2008, Israel launched a wave of air strikes that pounded the Gaza Strip and killed well over one hundred Palestinians in less than an hour. By the end of the day, more than two hundred Palestinian men, women, and children were killed. Approximately 1.5 million more wondered if they would be next.
Like many other Palestinians who had gathered at a national Islamic conference in Rosemont just outside of Chicago, I learned about the invasion through CNN broadcasts on televisions hanging from walls in a hotel lobby. Plumes of smoke masked Gaza’s clear sky. It was a Saturday. Families were relaxing. Children were in the streets playing. All of the sudden, glass was shattering.
It was virtually impossible to get a hold of my family in Gaza City. It would take two and a half years, I would come to find out, to finally hear them share their experience under missile, bullet, and bomb. But on that Saturday morning with everyone’s fate in the air, we prayed. All five thousand of us at the conference — we prayed.
It is amazing to see how drastically the human body can adapt to stress. We are naturally equipped with reflexive and fail-safe mechanisms that shunt vital nutrients and blood supplies to the parts of our bodies under duress. It is even more amazing to see how drastically communities of individuals can come together to overcome the crimes that violate the very essence of humanity. What began as a typical winter morning in Chicago quickly turned into a day of passion, a day of organizing, and a day of action.
Within twenty-four hours, rallies and city-wide actions in Chicago were prepared. The conference atmosphere had changed to accommodate the activism that would consume the lives of Palestinians and their allies until this day.
By the time Israel had unleashed its ground assault on Gaza one week after its surprise aerial assault, cities and towns around the world had protested in city squares, in front of Israeli embassies, and on the front steps of government buildings. The international call to stop Israel’s ruthless bombardment of the Gaza Strip was deafening.
This was my introduction to activism. I’m disappointed that it had to come under such dire circumstances but I am honored to have served with so many brilliant and passionate minds.
I remember the day my school newspaper ran a story on the invasion, calling it a “war” that Palestinians had brought upon themselves. Together with similarly outraged students, we raised hell, organized a school-wide petition, and forced the paper into publishing a corrective op-ed which, to my knowledge, was the first time something like that ever happened.
The next year I started college and joined my campus Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter. The year after that I watched a national umbrella structure for SJPs develop into one of the most active and game-changing student bodies in the nation. Not a single week would pass without news of a campus walkout on Israeli soldiers who led the assault on Gaza or news of a boycott campaign grabbing national attention or news of major cultural and religious groups pledging their support for Palestinian human rights.
In the summer of 2011, I finally reconnected with my family in Gaza City. Fortunately none had died during the twenty-two days of bombings, but their lives were changed. Homes were damaged beyond repair, electricity and warm running water became a rare luxury, children woke up with nightmares.
One cousin, Fahd, still flinched and ducked whenever he heard a pop or a bang. He said that others had it far worse.
Something that stuck with me since my time in Gaza was how staunchly opposed to monetary aid the people were. Their main concern was whether or not people abroad had even heard about Palestine. What they wanted more than anything else was for the citizens of the world to put pressure on their governments to condemn the occupation and to recognize the invasion of Gaza as a crime against humanity.
For the last five years, we have all been delivering them that wish.
The boycotts are growing in number and in strength. Israel’s leaders are running out of excuses to justify the indiscriminate killing of three- and four-year-old “demographic threats”. The public is becoming more and more aware of Israel’s human rights abuses and international law violations. The discourse has shifted and people are becoming more resistant to the propaganda and intimidation tactics once leveraged by pro-Israel organizations. The occupation infrastructure is growing weaker and the movement for a liberated Palestine grows stronger day by day, hour by hour.
I wonder if Israel regrets invading Gaza. I bet they do.
Photo credit: Mark Pearson