Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Lost Letter from Gaza

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

Amidst Tea and Candlelight

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.