I have here in my office a little bit of beauty and goodness from a region currently in the grip of violence and despair. Next to me as I write are two paintings from Gaza. Along with them is the memory of “Gaza Child,” (Photo 1), a lovely painting which has already been sold. They are part of a group of paintings by teenage art students from Gaza which Common Humanity has brought to the U.S. and exhibited and sold in the past few years to help provide support for the young people of Gaza and to help Americans appreciate the humanity of the people there.
“Gaza Child” by Essam Khaled Zurb somehow captures the beauty, kindness and dignity of the people there who have survived in spite of the misery of being forced to live in what is essentially an open air prison. Essam says, “I want to travel abroad to publish my art work and increase my potential as a professional artist.” “Oranges,” by Dalia Emad Abu Diab, shows an orange tree, a very common part of the life of Palestinians living near the Mediterranean Sea before the State of Israel was formed. However, orange trees are not so common now in the tiny, densely-crowded strip of land they were forced to flee to during the “Nakba" or Catastrophe that was perpetrated against them when the State of Israel was formed in 1948. The third painting, “Keys,” by Madiha Nasser El Majaidu, depicts house keys which have become the symbol of displaced Palestinians’ simple wish to return to their ancestral homes.
Let’s remind ourselves of the basics of the situation of Gaza. How would you feel if armed men entered your neighborhood and began shooting, killing a number of people, then came to your house and told you to leave? Imagine that you ran out the door, terrified, remembering only to grab your keys because you assumed that you would return home as soon as this madness was over. And imagine that after you walked for several days you had found safe refuge along with a lot of other very frightened people. Along with your neighbors, you waited and waited for news that for the armed men who had done the shooting had left your village, but that news never came. Decades later the strangers who did the shooting are still occupying your house and you now still live in poverty just a few miles from where your ancestors lived for centuries. The strangers have your house, but all you have left are your memories and the keys to your home.
That, essentially, is what has happened 70 years ago to most of the people now living in Gaza along with their parents and grandparents. It is the reason people there are so upset. This very fundamental historical fact is something which American news reports often neglect to mention: the people crammed into the Gaza strip are refugees, forced to flee their ancestral homes as a result of “ethnic cleansing” and the Israelis who forced them to flee are now living in their homes and on their land.
These lovely student paintings stand in simple, stark contrast to the utter barbarism of the recent shootings by Israeli snipers. According to Aljazeera.com, (May 22,) “Between March 30 and May 16, the Israeli army cold-bloodedly and in full view of the world murdered more than 110 Palestinians, including 12 children, two journalists and a paramedic. More than 12,700 Palestinians have been injured during the protests, most of them requiring hospitalization.”
We Americans should be ashamed of ourselves for our unending, unquestioning support for whatever Israel does and for our failure to condemn these actions as rest of the international community has. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley’s remarks to the Security Council were particularly deplorable and embarrassing. Of course there alternative non-lethal ways of responding to this situation. High-pressure water hoses, for example, would have saved lives. Instead, Israel chose violence, with weapons paid for in part by your American tax dollars.
Seldom has there been a clearer example of America’s inability to think for itself instead of obediently following whatever Israeli propaganda tells us. And seldom has there been a clearer answer to the question, Why are so many people in the world angry at the U.S. and why are so many Muslims afraid of the “Christian” West?
Are you interested in having an exhibit of Gaza art at your church? I couldn’t promise, but it’s a possibility.
The terrible thought occurs to me: what if the students who painted these paintings were wounded or killed in the recent shootings? I pray that that hasn’t happened.
New York City
May 26, 2018