6.26.2011

alice walker: why i'm sailing to gaza

Alice Walker has written a long, thoughtful essay about her experiences in the Palestinian territories, and her decision to participate in Freedom Flotilla II - Stay Human, the international convoy of ships bringing hope and humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Gaza.

Perhaps some of the people visiting wmtc from a link in a National Post column (short version: Canadian Boat to Gaza is full of anti-Semites, there is no siege of Gaza) will read it. Not likely, I know, but worth a try.

You can read it Walker's excellent piece on Rabble's Canadian Boat to Gaza blog or on Walker's own blog, Alice Walker's Garden.
Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even though the answer is: What else would I do? I am in my sixty-seventh year, having lived already a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content. It seems to me that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one's understanding of what is important, and to share this, especially with the young. How are they to learn, otherwise?

Some of this narrative I have written before, but in the interest of completion, I will reiterate here: On December 27, 2008, one of my two sisters died, just as the Israeli military began massively bombing the Gaza strip, an assault that would continue for 22 days and nights. She was older than me, and had been sick practically all her life. Stress of many kinds had separated our spirits, though love remained. Even with so much distance between us I felt, when she died, as if I'd lost part of myself. It was amazing, the grief. And then I learned, that same day, of a woman in Gaza who had lost five of her daughters to the bombing; she herself was unconscious. Immediately I felt: I must go to her and tell her that even though I am an American and paid with my taxes for some of the grotesque weapons of mass destruction rained on her family, I did not sanction devastation of her life, or, if she survived, her grief.

That was my first trip to the Israeli dominated territories of Palestine.

What I found left me speechless and helped inspire a small book: OVERCOMING SPEECHLESSNESS: A POET ENCOUNTERS THE HORROR IN RWANDA, EASTERN CONGO, AND PALESTINE/ISRAEL. For months I found it impossible to talk about what it had felt like to walk among the rubble of what had been people's homes, hospitals, libraries, and schools. I found old people sitting in the pulverized remains of homes they'd sacrificed generations of labor and love to create, and was told of people wounded so badly they were rotting (from the tungsten DIME contained in the bombs) from the inside out. The water system had been destroyed, the sewer system also. What remained of The American School was a mountain of rubble. I sat there in its ruins, in despair. Five things besides people and animals one must never assault, I believe, are: water, homes, schools, hospitals and the land. The Israeli military had deliberately destroyed or made impossible for the Palestinian people to use, all of these.

About a year later, I was on my way to Gaza a second time. In Cairo I accompanied Jodie Evans of CODE PINK to talk to an official of the Red Crescent. We begged this official to permit entry to Gaza of the 1400 people who had come from all over the world to march for peace with the Palestinian people, who had been "put on a diet" by the Israeli government and denied food and medicine or the ability to escape their confinement on the tiny Gaza strip. The official was a nice man, a good man, I felt. I don't think it was easy for him to tell us we could send only a few dozen of the 1400 people into Gaza, one bus, and very little of the millions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid CODE PINK and other organizations had gathered. Though the children of Gaza are dangerously malnourished (those who haven't died) because of the years-long siege and blockade, we were not allowed to send much sustenance to them, including items such as milk or juices, "because" we were told "they are liquid."

This year, watching news of the Spring uprising at Tahrir square in downtown Cairo, I've often wondered if our man from the Red Crescent was there; whether he recalled our visit; Jodie Evans' relentless haggling to be permitted to help a sick and desperate people, whose children were being destroyed before their eyes, as well as before the eyes of the informed world. I hoped he was one of those who rallied in the street, and who testified later, after the deposition and arrest of Hosni Mubarak, that, yes, indeed, we must open the (Egyptian) Rafah gate (the only exit from Palestine not controlled by Israel) and let the people out.

How are the people to rebuild their bodies and their homes, their hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, ministries, water systems, sewerage system, their greenhouses, if they are denied materials sent to them from people outside their prison? That is the question. Illegally controlling the waters of the Mediterranean approaching the Gaza strip, the Israeli military, against all international law, unilaterally attacks boats and people trying to break the embargo of goods and materials.

My last visit to the Palestinian people was in April 2011, when I was invited to speak at a TEDxRamallah program that took place in Bethlehem. After this astonishing daylong event of meeting and listening to Palestinian activists and artists, available I believe on Youtube, I joined Palfest, the Palestine Literary Festival that takes place each year, bussing a caravan of writers, poets, musicians, artists, from town to town in the occupied West Bank to interact with whoever shows up. As I did this, I was almost returned to speechlessness by what I experienced there.

First of all, my partner, Kaleo Larson, and I entered Palestine (which one can only do by going through Israel) by way of Jordan. Already, in Amman, in our hotel, my computer mysteriously vanished: it would be returned to me later, while I was in Ramallah, with all references to future activity regarding Israel removed. Then there was the experience of the Allenby bridge border crossing. There, as we approached the first check-point with our Arab driver, we felt the change. He became more cautious and tense. Sure enough, he was coldly informed by one of the armed soldiers that he could not drive us, and our bags, to the bus waiting on the other side of the building that would take us hopefully into Palestine, but must put us out on the street. Which meant we had to drag quite heavy bags a good distance, without our driver's help or guidance. We had no idea where we were exactly or even what we were to do next. However we did know that if we ever visited Palestine again, and it was still not liberated from Israeli control, we would not bring suitcases but backpacks.

II

I have a niece who startled me once by saying: Auntie, I simply can't imagine what you all went through, under segregation. She and her husband live in the American South, apparently in peace, in an integrated neighborhood that would have been unthinkable only forty years ago. They are blissfully the parents of twins, recently born, and, with the exception of floods, droughts, tornadoes and windstorms, life appears to be vastly different and better for black people, now that Jim Crow laws are history, than it was when I was young.

However, beginning at the Allenby Bridge crossing, on our way into Occupied Palestine, I began to want my niece, bogged to the neck with her twins as she is, to observe the scene with me. Because it was tantamount to stepping back into our own past of segregation (United States apartheid) with its, for us people of color, rigidly enforced brutality and fifth class "citizenship."
Auntie, I simply Can’t Imagine It! Joining the Freedom Flotilla II To Gaza

1 comment:

johngoldfine said...

"...with little concern apparently that in the form of his present day compatriots, Jesus, a Palestinian – is still being crucified."

The Jews (not the Romans) are still crucifying Jesus? Except now he's a Muslim, not a Jew?

"I couldn’t bring myself to use the “N” word, but I did say: Don’t you think this behavior – insulting, threatening, humiliating – makes you all seem rather German-esque? I meant the old German-esque, of the late Thirties and Early Forties, not the current German-esque."

The problem after 1 September, 1939 was not that the Germans were insulting, threatening, and humiliating. If only! And if only Alice Walker had not gone here rhetorically.