Wednesday, January 14

Lost in the numbers

"My message is simple, direct and to the point: the fighting must stop. To both sides, I say: Just stop, now. Too many people have died. There has been too much civilian suffering. Too many people, Israelis and Palestinians, live in daily fear of their lives. And in Gaza, the very foundation of society is being destroyed: people's homes; civic infrastructure; public health facilities; and schools."

-Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, January 12, 2009

Other contributors to this blog have noted how pervasive news coverage of Gaza is within Palestine. On buses, the radio seems to constantly be tuned to the latest update from Gaza. At the grocery store, the TV behind the counter shows clips of rubble and mangled limbs and IDF spokespersons. At the internet cafe, computers display Facebook groups announcing the next demonstration. In this whirlwind of images and sounds and information, we wait for the numbers. The numbers of the dead, the numbers of the injured, the number of days that this catastrophe has continued. These numbers are always changing---always growing.

These are the numbers that I am encountering today (unless otherwise noted, figures are from the United Nations):

19 days of death and destruction

971 Palestinians dead

----311 children

----76 women

4,418 Palestinians injured

----1,549 children

----652 women

9 Israeli soldiers dead

4 Israeli civilians dead

58 Israeli civilians injured

4 UN staffers killed

6 UN staffers injured

49 UN buildings damaged or destroyed

4 aid convoys attacked

3 rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel this morning

8 shells fired back at Lebanon from Israel this morning

35,520 Gazans are displaced due to the fighting

6 pieces of bread given to each displaced person each day by the UN

38 of 47 bakeries have been closed due to shelling

28 of 58 Palestinian Ministry of Health healthcare centers have been closed due to shelling

1 Christian health clinic completely destroyed by an air strike

½ million Gazans do not have running water

170 babies born in Gaza every day

56% of Gazans are children under age 18

100,000 Spanish demonstrators demanding an end to attacks in Gaza

1.5 million people live in Gaza (similar to the population of Idaho)

139 sq. miles--the size of Gaza (twice the size of Washington, D.C.)

I have a hard time keeping track of these numbers. After a while they start to lose their strength and their meaning. After 19 days of tallies and analysis, it is easy for me to forget that every number has incalculable meaning to someone else.

The difference between 5 pieces of bread and 6 pieces of bread means something to someone in Gaza. Healthcare center number 32 used to be just down the street from a family in Gaza and now they have to take their sick and injured elsewhere. The fourth Israeli soldier killed in this conflict has a mother who's life will never be the same. The 170th baby born later today—if she survives the coming weeks—will grow up in a devastated society. Protestor number 87,312 believed that he should skip work to march through the streets of Madrid as an act of solidarity with Gazans.

These numbers matter.

Behind every number is a story and a person.

-Peter Miller is an MCC SALT worker based in East Jerusalem. He is a recent graduate of Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas.

No comments: