How do I tell Americans about Gaza?
Having just arrived in New York City, returning from 8 months in Gaza, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how to answer the question everyone has asked. “What do you think of Gaza?”
The first person to ask was the American woman standing in front of me in line at JFK Airport as we were waiting to pass through Customs. She had been on a two-week tour of Turkey and expressed surprise when I said I was returning from Gaza. She was interested in what Palestinians think about climate change.
The second person was the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport. He was a Greek who had immigrated to the US twenty years ago for a job. When he learned I had lived in Gaza, he was curious about why I would spend so much time there.
Then nieces and nephews started asking me about Gaza, but Gaza defies soundbites.
Do I tell them about the people I met? The difficulty traveling into Gaza? The serious environmental challenges with the water? Or the frustrating challenges with the electricity? Or that there are zilch jobs in Gaza for the new university graduates? Or the drones buzzing overhead, the F-16s in the sky and bombs exploding during the 8-day assault last November?
Would they even believe me?
A part of me wants to focus on the daily injustices and humiliation that Palestinians are enduring as a consequence of Israel’s 65-year occupation and the 6-year siege, but that requires a basic understanding on the part of the listener about the history which I can’t assume most Americans know.
One well-educated American friend told me she doesn’t understand my use of the term “Occupation” since the Israelis evacuated their settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005, reminding me that the US media never, ever places the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the context of the Occupation.
This absence of any discourse about the Occupation explains why most Americans simply believe there are two sides — one legitimate and the other illegitimate — fighting in the Middle East. One side is concerned about its security and defending itself against the other side’s maniacal obsession to destroy the “only democracy in the Middle East.”
I think I have answered my question.
The first words out of my mouth when someone asks me about Gaza will be about the Occupation. By waiting for their reaction to that word, I should be able to gauge how much they know and if they are capable of digesting more information.
But then, of course, there are people for whom the subject of Gaza is too sensitive and they “don’t want to go there.” I’m not going to shove it in their face, but I hope they will want to talk about it with me someday. Until then, there are many others who are curious and want to learn.