She Sits in a Room that is Dark


She sits in a room that is dark. There are no lights, there is no gas or oil. There is no heat, there is no electricity. Those were rare luxuries even before the bombs fell because she is in prison. A place of blockades cut off from the rest of the world for over a year. But now there is no heat at all, and it is freezing cold at night. And, more importantly, she must keep all the windows open for if not they will all shatter from the vibrations of buildings exploding nearby and the glass will explode onto her children.

So she huddles with her children under ten blankets. The children cannot drink milk nor find any meat because she cannot afford these luxuries. She was brought up by a Sufi sheikh, and she was taught so many times that hate is not a part of one’s vocabulary.

That is what her father tells me in his East Jerusalem home, with riot troops down the street waiting for action, where he thinks of how he can get his daughter some food, and how he can get food for everyone there, as he has done since the blockade. He wonders aloud to me, “We are human beings….The rockets against Israel, they are terrible. I understand. 18 people died in three years. Terrible. But 300 people in a few hours? A thousand people wounded? They are not targeting civilians? What does this mean, I do not understand. They are human beings. I do not want to hate, but we are human beings. I love all people, how can I distinguish between those who died from rockets and those who died from bombs in Gaza? We are one family.”

I look at the father and I listen, as I always have, but I cannot stay in his presence. The words are too piercing, too haunting. His daughter’s shadow is too strong. Night is falling, the troops may enter Gaza at any moment and maybe East Jerusalem will burst from the anger of a thousand cousins glued to the TV going mad with hurt. But we insist they be quiet. Like asking Jews in Queens to be quiet when their cousins and brothers and daughters in Brooklyn are being killed and living in hell.

Gaza is a total of about thirty miles, twice the size of Washington DC. It houses about a million and a half people, twice the population of Washington, DC. They are all related by family to Palestinians everywhere. At least 100 tons of explosives have dropped on these thirty miles. I will not begin to discuss with the father that Israel is sending in tons of food at the same time, and tons of medical supplies. He would not understand. I could explain that the nightmare scenario for Israeli strategy is a collapse of all life in Gaza so that they then will be burdened with administering the place. And that is why they are sending supplies. But he would not understand. I try to hope in my heart that Olmert and others are also giving these supplies because they earnestly want to attack Hamas for years of rockets, not the population. But then I cannot understand the years of blockade which only harmed the population and made them side with Hamas.

I try and try and I do not understand the logic of this and previous wars. They are about smashing things and smashing people. It is the final straw of the Bush years and the neoconservative nightmare. It is the nightmare that I have watched overtake significant portions of my own community. It is the nightmare of addiction to violent, brutal punishment as a way to make the world and its people be the way you want them to be. It is worse than criminality because it comes with a sincere delusion of moral righteousness. Someday, after negotiations are well underway and the bombs have been silenced, after there are reliable tables of bargaining set up for Iran, for Syria, for Palestine, after sane leaders in the United States once again join the universe of rational, interest-seeking states, their people will look back and ask themselves how they could have been so barbaric.

We find repeatedly everywhere that abuse is a poverty of alternatives, that people hit their spouses and children because they feel they have no alternative, that there is no other way to quell their anger or get what they want and need, or when they have simply inherited this habit as the only way to live. And right after they hit and permanently do damage they wonder why they hit. Because they only got hatred in return, the last thing they wanted and needed from family. I could try to explain these things to the father but he would not understand. He is too distracted. His eyes betray him, as they look far away into the distance, seeking a glimpse of his daughter who he loves as life itself.

© Marc Gopin