“What do you want to do?” my friend asked me. We were talking about my experience in Gaza (September 2012 – May 2013). She was behind the wheel, driving me around a community in California that I lived in 30 years ago and haven’t visited since. There were mansions to the right of us, vineyards to the left, and neat, orderly neighborhoods and streets everywhere with many, many trees. This community received an award for having a progressive street tree planting policy when I was a city planner here. It’s certainly paid off.
Trees — especially olive trees — are very special in Gaza too, there just aren’t very many of them. The Israeli Army routinely bulldozes trees in the 300-foot “buffer zone” because they obstruct the view. Israel unilaterally declared the buffer zone, ostensibly for “security” reasons, on the Palestinian side of the border. Now, there are no trees, strawberry fields, farms or buildings in the “buffer zone”. It’s a dead man’s zone – literally. (More about that in a future post.)
I find myself getting agitated when I talk about Gaza with my family and friends. I want them to understand, to care enough to do something, to pick up a pen and write a letter to their member of Congress. But I feel like a failure. I stumble searching for the right words to express my indignation. I raise my voice and wave my arms. I can’t speak calmly or rationally about Gaza. Can’t imagine what I might do in an audience of strangers.
The conditions in Gaza are so outrageously unbelievable, I can’t find words up to the task. And so I think I come across as a one-sided, hysterical, brain-washed stooge supporting terrorism.
“What do you want to do?” my friend wants to know.
“I want to share my story about Gaza so that Americans will understand the facts, empathize with the people, and take action.”
“Oh! You want to be a storyteller!”
“Hmmmm. Yes, I want to be a motivational storyteller – clear, rational and factual.”
“Well, then you can’t take sides. Americans will tune you out if you sound like you are taking sides with the Palestinians against the Israelis.”
That’s one of the many land mines I’m walking through since I returned to the USA.
- Don’t take sides … especially the side of the Palestinians
- Don’t make Americans feel guilty by comparing the hardships in Gaza with the comforts in the USA
- Don’t talk politics … or religion for that matter
- Don’t make Americans feel stupid (even though a recent poll showed that a majority of American adults cannot find Syria on a map. Hint! Palestine is nearby)
- Don’t bother with history that disputes the history Americans have been fed, no matter how misguided their history lessons might have been
- Don’t blame the US government for the conflict in the Middle East
- Don’t question the wisdom of current US foreign policy in the Middle East
- Don’t forget that most Americans have a limited attention span; avoid dragging on too long.
So I’m spending some time learning how to be an engaging, guilt-free, “fair and balanced” storyteller who can share an honest and factual account of life in Gaza without touching on politics, history or religion. NOT!
The real world intrudes and shakes us up. Americans are just going to have to ‘get over it!’