On March 11 2012, I sent this message home. Re-reading it three months later, it stirs up troubling memories. In the hope it can galvanize us to push for much needed change, I am passing it along for those who may have missed it earlier.
My dear Friends,
In the past two days we have seen repeated vicious air strikes by the
Israeli military. Fighter jets broke the calm with horrific noise
resulting in 12 deaths. One such attack came very close to my hotel
causing the building to shake as if we were in an earthquake. Thank God I
and the people I have met, are all OK.
Aside from the immediate profound suffering this military strike has
caused, I find it especially worrying that the people have over the
years become habituated to this type of catastrophic bombing. I am jumpy
and find myself reacting to ambient noises, whereas the repeated
message I hear - said in an oddly calm and removed voice is " this is
normal in Gaza". A kind of acceptance of the inevitability of this
extreme violence is very troubling.
The other outrage, is that our Harper Government is at least partly
to blame for this deadly assault. Harper and Company's completely
uncritical support of Israeli policy emboldens them to act above the
law with total disregard for life. Standing "shoulder to shoulder" with
the Netanyahu administration gives tacit support for the misery I am
witnessing all around me. This is one message I feel we must convey, as
it is lost in all the hyperbole about "security, terrorists, Middle
East's only democracy, world's most ethical army, etc."
I am essentially well. May the same be with you.
In Peace, Max
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Outside Gaza City's Al-Mataf Hotel I wait an hour for a taxi. There is very limited fuel I am told. Eventually a car arrives and I am dropped off at my friend's home. As there is another power cut, it is by now pitch black in the street. I grope my way towards a group of people standing in what appears to be a doorway. Mobile phones light up faces. A few of us awkwardly shake hands and exchange Hellos and Marhabas. I recognize no one. "Is this where Abdel lives?" Our limited grasp of one another's language leaves me uncertain as to how to proceed. Am I in the right neighbourhood? How do I find my way back? An uneasiness slips into my mind amidst these estranged surroundings.
I recall my recent visit at the Canadian Embassy in Cairo where the diplomat handed me The Official Warning. "Foreign Affaires and International Trade advises against all travel to the Gaza Strip, as it continues to be affected by serious violence. There has been an increase in the level of military activity in the area recently. Attacks have occurred and have resulted in multiple casualties. The situation could deteriorate further due to inter- factional violence, along with possible military operations in the area. There is a high risk of kidnapping in the Gaza Strip and foreigners may be targeted."
Increased vigilance to my surroundings. Escalation in heart rate. What am I actually doing here? Am I in danger?
"John, are you there?" Abdel's deep and comforting voice suddenly and happily lifts me out of this agony of mind.
Soon two psychologists and a psychiatrist are sipping tea, enjoying sweets - by candlelight - as the power has yet to be restored. It's natural that we begin to discuss the psychological effects of living not only under an increasingly brutal military occupation but also the hardship associated with the punishing economic and territorial blockade that touches all aspects of life in Gaza.
Suddenly, as if on cue, a deafening, menacing boom thunders by outside the living room window. The building and it's inhabitants tremble. "Israeli fighter jets", says the psychiatrist. “They killed four people earlier today.” I am stunned speechless.
Abdel fills my cup and hands me an almond cookie. I find myself once again in the presence of suffering. Palestine is that kind of place. It doesn’t have to be.