When I was a senior in high school I participated in a 24-hour dance marathon to raise money for Israel.
Eager for something both spiritual and social, I joined the United Synagogue Youth (USY) that year, learning a little bit about Judaism but spending much more time socializing.
I considered converting to Judaism but in the end decided against it because it seemed too exclusive. It was very much about the Jewish people and about Jewish history. Judaism also seemed anchored in the idea that Jews must always be wary of a world that had for thousands of years mistreated them in one way or another. In 1978, when I joined the USY, Judaism felt to me like a sad club informed by the missing voices of parents and grandparents who had fallen to the Nazis. Israel was the antidote, an unquestioned birthright.
I was taught that Israel was besieged by Palestinians, people who hijacked planes and killed Israelis and were just the latest group intent on harming and killing Jews.
I thought “Palestinian” was not a person but an ideology focused on the destruction of Israel. I didn’t know that Palestine was a country, that Palestinians were the citizens of that country, and that the paradigm of the conflict as injustice against Jews was false.
And so I danced, with my USY friends, through a day and a night, to raise a few hundred dollars to help protect Israel and the Jewish people from harm.
Ironically, when I was 21 I met a Palestinian and through him learned the truth about Palestine and Palestinians. I heard the story of a man born the year before Israel officially became a nation, a man who turned 18 the year the Six-Day War was fought, and who had left for America with the psychological baggage of a besieged people. Despite what I had been taught as a teenager, I married him.
That fall the Sabra and Shatila massacres were committed, and now knowing who Palestinians were, I felt fully the sorrow and rage the crime evoked.
Sorrow and rage. Sorrow and rage.
It hasn’t ended in decades, as Israel has unjustly forced Palestinians from their homes, from their livelihood, from their lives. And today there is sorrow and rage in the open-air prison of Gaza, where families struggle for water, food and medical care, with nowhere to run and, for the last 12 days, nowhere to hide, as building after building is destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Child after child has died, running through the rubble or across the sand, terror in their eyes, witnesses to the massacre all around them. I have seen the macabre photos on Twitter, but the most tragic account I have read of the horror of Gaza is from today’s New York Times:
At Shifa Hospital, a girl who looked about 9 was brought into the emergency room and laid on a gurney, blood soaking the shoulder of her shirt. Motionless and barely alive, she stared at the ceiling, her mouth open. There was no relative with her to give her name. The medical staff stood quietly around her. Every now and then, they checked her vital signs, until it was time. They covered her with a white sheet, and she was gone. A few moments later, a new patient lay on the gurney.
At one point in the dying girl’s final moments, a half-dozen journalists with television cameras crowded around the gurney. In the next bed, a small girl smudged with blood cried, “Mama! Mama!”
Throughout my year with the USY a world was described to me in which Jews suffered for centuries at the hands of oppressors, with a horrifying climax in the concentration camps. The holidays I celebrated were about Jewish history. Ironically the best-known Jewish holiday, Chanukah, celebrates Jewish victory in a war against its oppressors – a war for justice to restore a historical right to freedom.
There is no celebration of victory in Gaza, a middle eastern Warsaw Ghetto. There is smoke, the sounds of missiles, the wails of parents and the prayers of funeral after funeral.
I no longer celebrate Chanukah, because I practice Islam, a faith which opens its arms to all humanity and not only a select group. I celebrate Ramadan, a time to cleanse our souls and honor our revealed book, the Quran, and to give charity to the needy.
There is no 24-hour dance marathon that will save the people of Gaza. Our tools are protests, and letters to elected officials, and sharing the work of journalists who shine a light on the horror the IDF has wrought. And there is prayer.
Pray for our brothers and sisters in Gaza, who suffer more than death. They suffer lives in which their children have no history to celebrate, only the hope that this hour will not be the hour when they die.
Today’s post was authored by Ruth Nasrullah, CAIR-TX Communications Coordinator.