The headline reads “One Israeli soldier killed” and yet, the image on the screen is of a lifeless little girl on a stretcher. Little girls should never be on stretchers. I want to understand why and the news report doesn’t seem to answer my question. She’s hoisted up and carried through the streets in a white shroud. They race to give her her last rites and bury her before the sun sets.
The anchors move on, as the world moves on, to a tragedy in the sky, but I can’t forget about this little girl in the ground. I imagine her in life, moments before, playing on a rooftop, well accustomed to the thunderous roar of air strikes and sirens, the sight of blood, perhaps living in perpetual fear, or perhaps knowing no other reality.
I fall asleep that night reading the history of the conflict in Gaza. I do it again the next night, and the next night, and the next. I feel a desperate need to learn everything that led up to the death of this girl, and the hundreds of other civilians without names, without headlines.
The sheer amount of information out there is dizzying. At times it seems I’m getting at the truth, but as soon as I step back to question the source, I start to doubt everything I’ve learned. I don’t think there are clear good guys and bad guys, and of course, I don’t claim to have a solution. I don’t even feel like I know enough to debate it with anyone else, but there are a few things I do know.
I know that Gaza is a 140 sq mi piece of land that is home to over 1.8 million people, making it one of the most densely populated regions in the world. And amongst those nearly 2 million people are a huge number of innocent civilians, including children, who have been failed by literally everyone – not only Israel and its supporters but also by Hamas and their own political and ideological leaders. These are people who have been living in the region for centuries and are now geographically imprisoned and economically starved. Roughly half of young people are unemployed and 1 in 5 live in abject poverty. People are not allowed to fish where fish are plentiful or farm where the land is most arable. There is little rainfall and no clean water source, and water treatment facilities cannot keep up with the demands of the growing population. Given these conditions, the complex history and the deep-seated cultural tension, it isn’t entirely surprising to me that the area is a cesspool for extremism and disorganized attacks on Israel. Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but these civilians also have the right to live with some dignity, and as far as I can tell they have no means of demanding that. What I can’t understand is how a country with a world-class army and an “Iron Dome” ends up killing hundreds of civilians in the name of self defense. Whether or not these civilians are being used by Hamas as human shields doesn’t change the fact that they arecivilians, who in my eyes have already suffered enough. It seems that placing blame or pointing fingers is almost irrelevant, because at this point, we are all to blame. We have all failed the people of Gaza.
I try my best to figure out what I can do to help, and there are surprisingly few resources for this. There is of course the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement which has been criticized for being anti-Semitic and potentially even hurting Palestinians who are employed by some the companies that may potentially suffer. Despite this, I think targeted boycotts and sanctions as well as peaceful protests are really the only tangible ways to show support for the people of Gaza and to prompt others to look more critically at the actions we are implicitly supporting. It is the first time in my life I have wished I was a trauma surgeon, simply so I could do more. It is the first time in years that I have opened my eyes and felt called to action. I’m so grateful to have turned on the television at the moment I did to see that image. And I’m grateful that I have this little space in the virtual world to express my feelings about it and to recognize this little girl, nameless as she was, and honor her in my own little way.
I think there are times in life when you feel your heart is empty. Those lonely years between loves, in far away cities, filled with work and sleep and small talk. But then the slightest thing will happen – the tender way a wife touches her husband’s forehead, the sight of a full moon over towering redwoods on a quiet drive home, a red paper crane sitting by a patient’s bed, the feeling of walking on sand that is a few degrees shy of burning your soles, a blurry photo of a joyful moment you nearly forgot, the way cream swirls into a cup of black coffee, the rhythmic roar of a helicopter landing on the hospital helipad, this image of a girl in Gaza – and it cuts you. And you remember that you’re alive and your heart is still full. You remember that you still bleed, and there are a million things worth bleeding for.