All I Have to Offer Are Stories: Thinking about Gaza

by Kohleun

My kid brother is in his early twenties and he has a job that involves driving eight hours a day, which means lots of time for talk radio. He confessed to me last night that he doesn’t know what to think about Hamas and Israel and Gaza, and if anyone can offer a solution–something he can do to stop the aggression on both sides–he wants in. I was first reminded of how much I love my brother, and how grateful I am that he’s listening to the polarized talking heads and feeling frustrated and confused. That is an appropriate response. His question got everyone in the room talking, as it does. People debating the political/religious viewpoints and bible stuff, and making inappropriate parallels with the Holocaust and the Jews’ alleged ability to defend themselves against Nazis if they had just banded together. At the end of half an hour of man-splaining, which I admit I participated in too, my brother was still frustrated.

Many of us are frustrated, and angry and broken-hearted and confused and torn and vindicated and feeling helpless. Because we want the killing to stop. We want peace, lasting peace. But I honestly don’t think there is an ideological solution except for everyone involved to decide to stop. All together. All at once. To give up the centuries’ old score board that no one reads anyway. And there is nothing I can do to bring that about, not directly. I can’t convince religious extremists that their faith can be lived out quietly and peacefully and coexist alongside other faith traditions. I can’t convince Israel that recent history does not afford them many Palestinian sympathies on a nationalistic level. Those are things I say from the outside. From my heart, which is not a Gazan heart or an Israeli heart, but just a human heart.

I’ve given up on the statistics and quantifiable data. Not because the numbers are meaningless; they are not. But they are staggering. I don’t know what any of us can “do” about Gaza. As humans clamor to hillsides overlooking the Gaza Strip as other humans without documentation to leave are bombed, I don’t care who fired first or who’s firing next. And it doesn’t matter if I care, frankly, not pragmatically. Or protest, or write to the president. Been there, done that. I wrote letters to George W. Bush and Barrack Obama, pleading with them to be more responsible and careful in funding international allies like Israel. And did they listen to me? Hell, no. Did a human being even bother to read what I wrote? I doubt it. And my writing style is fucking delightful.

Without the numbers, what do I have left to offer? Because I feel like I do have a responsibility to do or be or say something. Well, I have the stories, my own stories of encountering others’ humanity, and the stories Muslims, Jews, and Arab Christians have shared with me. I have carried them around the world in my belly where they rumble, as Naomi Shihab Nye would say. And I need to be open to more. I told my brother last night: “I think what we can do right now is listen and see.” If I were a Gazan or Israeli sister, I would want people in the U.S. to be aware of my loss and my fear and my inheritance of anger. I would want someone far away, who has the documentation to travel and the freedom to speak, to listen to me and to share my story. I would want them to recognize that I am human and I am not being seen with the dignity I inherently possess, and I don’t have the resources to change that for myself. I don’t get to stand up and protest or leave. What a luxury.

So, here you have it.

I saw children on the news missing skin. Skin. I’m obsessed with having healthy skin. It’s our largest organ and our stronghold in this world. But it’s vulnerable. And children were missing some. Their skin was peeled back at their shoulders and the remains of their tiny faces.

A young Muslim man slept curled up between the benches in a Christian church, because that was the nearest Sanctuary.

I have friends–real, human, personal friends–who fall asleep to the sounds of rockets.

And I met a Palestinian man in a silver shop in Bethlehem who had been in a near-fatal car accident. Israeli paramedics were not required to treat him, but one did. An Israeli man held the Palestinian man’s gashed neck together for over an hour while they waited and transported him to safety. He said to me, “And now I believe that we are all people. Palestinian, Israeli, Christian, Muslim, Jew. And we have got to love each other.”