Last night in Gaza, 58 people did not return home to their families– 58 people who will never realize their dreams or ever walk among us again. They are already being memorialized, their faces put up on posters in their communities.
A few miles away the scene was very different.
While Palestinians in Gaza mourned and prepared to bury their dead, there was indifference, even jubilation in Jerusalem among political leaders and crowds celebrating the U.S. embassy move. Many news networks broadcast these dueling realities on split-screens for the whole world to see.
Watching these events unfold, I felt a civil war within me. Representatives of America, my adopted home, were schmoozing in Jerusalem with the very people who were besieging and targeting the land of my ancestors. It crushed my soul to see civilians caught in the moral blind spot of America.
With all these political pressures building, I felt immense sadness and loneliness, further separated from my family back home in Gaza – the family I have not seen in five years. And then one of my greatest fears came true: I recognized a name amongst the 58 fallen. A family member of mine had been killed.
Thirty-two-year-old Shaher Almadhoun, my father’s cousin, himself a father of a little boy who had just turned one the night before, killed by bullets fired by an Israeli army sniper. His loss is painful for me, but I can only imagine how much more devastating it is for his widow, young son, and grieving parents, who will be forever deprived of his presence.
A week earlier, my wife lost her cousin, Yaser Murtaja. He was a journalist and was attending the demonstrations wearing a PRESS vest when he was shot by Israeli soldiers. A day later, he died of his wounds. His friends and family mourn his loss, devastated by the loss of his beaming smile and cheerful demeanor.
Like many Palestinians, my extended family in Gaza has experienced death before. In 2009, my niece Amal was making tea in her apartment when she was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper. We still miss Amal dearly and will always remember her. Like Shaher, her death does not make any sense. Many of the deaths in Gaza do not make sense.
Aside from the more than 100 Palestinians killed by Israel since demonstrations began on March 30, there are thousands who will continue to live with missing body parts, scars, and injuries inflicted by soldiers who face little to no accountability for their actions. They are another reminder of the brutal realities we Palestinians face in Gaza and the catastrophes and wars that have befallen us over the past decade.
Seventy years after the Nakba, or “catastrophe,”the current status remains catastrophic. For people in Gaza, life is constantly getting harder, the land is shrinking, and resources are dwindling. Life is far too precarious.
I hate that this reality exists. It is especially tough on my mother. She feels for the other mothers who have lost children and grandchildren, which she knows are so precious. I imagine the prayers she says every night for her own children and grandchildren – grandchildren she has not yet met because of the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt. Aside from the extreme financial difficulties, the lack of food and sense of safety everyone in Gaza experiences on a daily basis, mothers, like my mother, must now keep tabs on their loved ones and do what they can to ensure they are safe.
In a few hours, the month of Ramadan begins—a month of forgiveness, redemption, charity, service, and good deeds. I am sending positive thoughts to the Palestinian people wherever they might be and whatever hardships and trials they are enduring. A friend recently reminded me of the MLK quote about how “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” How many more lives have to be lost for the arc to bend in Palestine?
May justice come to our people soon.