I’m preparing to leave Gaza on Saturday.
In the past 6-7 months, I’ve met many new friends who have taught me a lot, each in their own way. I’m going to share what I’ve learned with my family and friends in the US, with my US Senators Udall and Heinrich, and with any Americans who want to hear an unfiltered account of life in Gaza.
I don’t say “unbiased” because I know that every bit of information comes with a point of view or bias, including mine. But given the paucity of news from Palestine reaching Americans, and the strident pro-Israeli slant, I think my personal experience will be helpful.
The US government doesn’t want Americans traveling to Gaza. Embassy officials actively discourage Americans from going and, until recently, required Americans to pay $50 for a notarized warning that each American traveling to Gaza proceeds at their own risk. Imagine that!
The Egyptians don’t want Americans traveling to Gaza either. I know! I spent two months in Cairo talking with many different people before I finally got permission.
And certainly Israelis don’t want Americans (or anyone else) traveling to Gaza. Israel has hermetically sealed Gaza from the outside world — going on now six years — with an economic, political and social boycott that has devastated the 1.7 million Palestinians living here. (Much more about that later!)
When I first used the phrase “open air prison” to describe Gaza before arriving to this coastal enclave, I was accused by friends of exaggeration and talking about something that I knew nothing about.
Now I’m returning to the US fully confident that “open air prison” is an accurate description of the situation in Gaza and I can provide the facts and figures and personal experiences to support it.
Will Americans listen to me?
I suspect there are hard-core Israeli supporters who can’t (or won’t) have an open mind to hear my account of life in Gaza. I will ignore them.
There is another segment of American society who are ardent Palestinian supporters, and bash Israel at every opportunity. I will ignore them too.
The Americans I hope to connect with when I return to the US are those who are searching for answers to the intractable conflict in the Middle East. They are curious and have questions. They haven’t taken sides.
I hope there are many Americans like this. I hope I can connect with them.