by Anna Baltzer
I am sitting in an internet cafe in Beirut trying to concentrate, but I just can’t. There are hundreds of heartbreaking emails to read through, each one worse than the last. The carnage did not stop with the so-called “ceasefire” (I use quotations because the slow massacre of starving an entire population of basic human necessities — sufficient food, water, medical supplies, heat — continues). Everyday on television we watch new bodies being dug out of the rubble. And now that a few international reporters and humanitarian workers have been allowed into Gaza, we hear more of the stories that had previously been left untold.
I received the following letter written by my friend Barbara Lubin, a Jewish American woman who founded the Middle East Children’s Alliance, (a great organization to contribute to if you can). Her account turned my stomach:
January 23, 2009
I entered the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night with my friend and fellow activist Sharon Wallace after waiting ten hours at the Egypt/Gaza border. The destruction and trauma is even greater than I expected.
Out of all the devastation I have seen so far, there is one story in particular that I think the world needs to hear. I met a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children to “give as a gift to Israel.” As she screamed in horror they repeated the demand and told her she could choose or they would choose for her. Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her. The concept of “Jewish morality” is truly dead. We can be fascists, terrorists, and Nazis just like everybody else.
In Zaytoun, I saw families gathering wood from charred trees. The almost two-year blockade of Gaza has deprived people cooking gas, so these terrified families build fires to keep warm and cook the little food they can get. I talked to people on the street who told stories of wild dogs coming to eat their dead neighbors, relatives bleeding to death because Israel would not allow emergency workers into the area,
and Israeli soldiers entering homes to beat and kill.
But despite the immense mourning and devastation, people are starting to put their lives back together. Sabreen, a young woman from Rafah, told me, “We are a strong people. No matter how many times Israel bombs us we are not leaving. We will keep trying to live as normal a life as possible.”
Gaza City, Gaza, Palestine
I was invited for dinner tonight by the president of a theological school here in Beirut, who offered me a place to stay. She didn’t seem to want to talk about politics, but when I showed her my book she looked at me and said “As a person of the scriptures, I was convinced that the Jewish state must have some ethical grounding, for all its faults… Until 2006. Until that summer when Israel bombed everything in sight, and dropped 1,200,000 cluster bombs (authorized by Condoleezza Rice) after — AFTER! — the ceasefire agreement. Just yesterday a young man’s leg was blown off by one of them, one of millions that remain. And after watching the massacres in Gaza, I have no more faith in the morality I so closely tied with Judaism.”
I came to Syria and Lebanon worried that anyone I told I was Jewish would be resentful, or even violent. But each person I tell seems almost relieved to meet a Jewish person opposed to what Israel is doing, wanting to revive their hope that Jews, Muslims, and Christians can coexist. The problem is not that people here hate Jews; the problem is the army of fighter jets bearing Jewish stars, claiming it represents Judaism, repeatedly devastating children, families, an entire nation, decade after decade, while most Jews (and others) in the world let it happen without a peep. The problem is that I myself am starting to wonder what it even means to be Jewish if the morality and memory (“Never again”) that tied me to it is now gone.
Something has happened since my last trip less than two years ago. In the West Bank last month, formerly active friends told me to go home, get a new job, start a family, forget about Palestine because there’s no hope. People seemed so tired, at the end of their rope, and this was before the Gaza bombing started. People in Gaza were at the end of their rope 18 months before, when their most basic needs were cut off and they were encaged, left to waste away and fight amongst themselves. How much can a person take?
I do not have the resilience to even bear one more month here. I am so drained, so pained, and of course I have the luxury of being able to buy a ticket and leave whenever I want. It’s fitting that Beirut will be one of my last stops. Here a city, devastated by war after war, continues to rebuild itself, like the rest of Lebanon and like Gaza. Beirut nightlife buzzes around me as I write, and I have to believe that if the millions of Lebanese and Palestinian people repeatedly traumatized in this war-torn land have pulled themselves together to rebuild and look to a better future, then I’ll manage to as well.
In solidarity with those who have lost their homes and families,
Anna Baltzer is a 29-year-old Jewish American Columbia graduate, Fulbright scholar, author, and the granddaughter of Holocaust refugees. As a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service, Baltzer documents human rights abuses in the West Bank and supports Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to the Occupation. When not in Palestine, Baltzer spends most of her time on tour with her acclaimed presentation, “Life in Occupied Palestine: Eyewitness Stories & Photos,” and her popular full-color book, ‘Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories.’ For more information about Baltzer’s book, DVD, speaking tours, and reports from Palestine, visit www.AnnaInTheMiddleEast.com.