Saturday, January 10

How Do We Let This Happen?

There's a war in Sri Lanka. Something about Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government.

In Zimbabwe, the man in power rigged an election through power and violence. People were beaten on the premise that they might vote the wrong way.

In Gaza, a military is flying airplanes and helicopters over populated areas and dropping bombs and firing missiles.

All three of these things are wrong. I try to make sense of how we (the world, people in general, North America, anywhere that's a center of power) let these things happen. And I kind of understand. I don't know anyone from Sri Lanka and don't know the ins and outs of what's happening there. I don't come across Zimbabweans in my daily life, so I tend to think of the situation there when it comes across the news, or occasionally when something randomly reminds me of that part of the world. So I understand why the people with power let these things happen; they're not 'on our radar' on a daily basis. MCC has people in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and I'm sure they confront some of the same questions about why the world watches while injustice continues.

For me, though, and the rest of the people here in Palestine, what's happening in Gaza is a part of our day. Two nights ago we went out for coffee with some international friends, intentionally looking for a break from the news of the killing and destruction being rained down on Gaza. Our favorite place, one we go to often, had the news on instead of the usual Arabic television show or the latest football game. Over coffee we kept hearing updates about how many dead, how many wounded, and the latest on the Israeli military's plans.

Last night I went to a Palestinian friend's house for dinner. He's a single guy and lives with two of his brothers. We had the news on and were watching updates about Gaza and what's happening there. His brother mentioned that there had been a protest in Bethlehem against the airstrikes in Gaza. Palestinian security forces showed up to disperse the crowds and children started throwing stones at them. "It's sport," the brother said. "They're just getting in some exercise." I don't think he was emotionally ready to talk about why people would gather in protest, or why they feel frustrated and helpless and choose to express that through throwing stones. It was easier to make a joke.

I went to a barber here in Bethlehem. He's from Gaza and lives in the West Bank as an undocumented resident. The Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, doesn't mind that he's here. If Israel caught him living in the West Bank with a Gaza ID they would send him back. His extended family still lives in Gaza. I asked how his family was. "Ok, thank God. Ok." Nothing else. I wonder if he's worried to say more since he doesn't know what could happen tomorrow, or even tonight.

We were talking with a close friend from home in the United States. "Israel has a right to defend itself." What to say? If she could see what we saw, I don't think this would be the first reaction. I read a book that talked about the end of civilization being when the Allied powers during WWII decided to bomb German cities, full of people. The premise doesn't seem wrong to me: watching helicopters and airplanes launch missiles into populated areas seems barbaric to me. What is Israel defending? Hamas firing rockets at Israeli towns isn't ok; it's even less justifiable that a state that calls itself Western, progressive, and democratic forces a closure on an entire geographical area and launches a military campaign there. Israeli leaders say they've been forced into this war and that they're not targeting civilians. It sounds right to North American ears, but I don't think it's any comfort when buildings are exploding around you. Can a bomb or missile tell the difference between a militant and a civilian?

I'm glad I don't live in Gaza. I'm glad I was born in the United States into a position of privilege. But with that privilege there is a haunting responsibility. People often ask us why we're here, and depending on who's asking the answer is slightly different. I explain to other Christians that this is what I think Jesus meant when he talked about loving our enemies and caring for the poor. I tell other people who work for humanitarian aid organizations that I like what MCC does and how they do it. For people that I can't find much common ground with, I answer that we don't choose where we're born, and that if I was born in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, or the Gaza Strip, I'm sure I would want others to understand my situation and help me change it. I'd want her or him to care about the fact that I had never left the Gaza Strip, never carried a weapon, and wanted a good life for me and my children. I'd want her to care that there were airplanes flying over my house dropping ordinance designed to kill, maim, and destroy.

Trey Hulsey is a Peace Development Worker in Palestine for MCC. He has been married to his wife, Jessica for 4 years. They plan to live in Palestine for 3 years.

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