This is Gaza.
Tonight, Duke University held a vigil for Gaza. I was invited to speak, even after certain campus groups said they were displeased at the choice of speakers, saying they found my comments offensive last time I spoke.
Here is a rough copy of my speech:
Imagine if you will a land teeming with refugees; a land of the dispossessed, closed off from the outside world; where smuggling is often the only source of subsistence; where families who are not disappeared-are on the brink of starvation; surrounded by an army and bombarded by that army.
The year was 1943. The place: the Warsaw Ghetto.
The description is hauntingly familiar. But it is now 2009.
And this is Gaza.
As we speak tonight, more than 800 Palestinians have and 14 Israelis have lost their lives over the course of the past two weeks.
17 mosques have been destroyed, a church seriously damaged; Over 12 medics and a journalist killed; ambulances; schools; houses; women, men, children.
In fact-entire families-entire families have been eliminated from existence.
This is Gaza.
Roughly the size of this nation’s great capital, Washington DC, it is s closed in on all sides. There is no escape. There is not entry.
And it’s residents-already stateless after 40 years of occupation and a majority of them refugees - are at once being blockaded and bombarded by land, sea, and sky: it is a situation that is unprecedented in modern history.
Gaza-where acute malnutrition rates, after 3 years of Israeli blockade, are now on scale with the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, according to the UN; where half of all Palestinian families eat one meal a day; Where the siege has killed not only lives, but hopes and dreams and futures.
Today in Gaza, no where is safe. That is what friends and family have been repeating to me day after day after day for the past two weeks. They are trapped, terrorized, and traumatized.
The parliament building down the street from my parents’ home; the mosque around the corner; the university my cousin attends; the ambulance my friend drives; the pier where we get our fish; the playground my son used to play in; the farm my colleague's father grew; the restaurant I had my evening coffees at.
Everything living, beautiful, and ordinary has been a target.
"You don't know who is alive, you don’t know what is a target next; you feel you are in a trap, and where do you run to.. the Israeli navy is shelling from the sea, the F-16s from the sky, the tanks from the ground...where to?" my friend repeated again and again.
This is Gaza.
I have learned that my comments are considered offensive to some. For this, I do NOT apologize.
Sometimes, we need to be offended in order to wake up to the brutal realities around us; realities which we helped create-with our taxes, with our votes, with our silence;
And I say: Occupation is not only offensive; it is lethal;
The United Nations has described what is happening in Gaza as a Crime Against Humanity- both in terms of its Deliberateness; its Scope; and its Disproportionality
That an occupied territory-and yes-Gaza is still recognized as occupied- is not only subject to a deliberate siege after free and fair elections-depriving an already impoverished and dispossessed people` intentionally of electricity, aid trucks, and medicines, is then bombed, is not only unfathomable, it is indefensible.
It is incumbent upon all of us to speak out for peace and justice for all.
For Israel can only achieve the security is seeks by providing that same security to Palestinians.
In order to realize a sustainable resolution to this conflict, we must not only call for an end to arms: whether they are Palestinian rockets or Israeli laser guided missiles.
But we also also address the underlying cause of it all: We must demand an end to Israel’s siege and illegal occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. This is an obligation, not a concession.
We cannot continue to speak of it as an event occurring in a vacuum; or as though the firing of rockets onto Israeli towns was simply an event on its own, without context. As though Gazans were not dying a slow death by way of siege before this; or suffering under occupation throughout.
It is about the denial of basic Palestinians rights. the right to statehood; the rights of refugees to return to their homes; the rights of family to reside together and to visit one another; the right to travel freely; to receive medical treatment; to education; to a childhood free of violence; the right to worship; the right to live free of occupation and siege.
Palestinians must be allowed to realize their most basic human rights-freedom and self-determination, the same concepts this country was founded on.
The United States must change its long-standing policy of blind support for Israel.
It must become an even-handed broker in this conflict, addressing Palestinian needs for justice, equality, and yes, security just as they do Israel’s. It must demand that Israel end its illegal occupation, running on 40 years, of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
And friends don’t let friends run an occupation.
I end with a rough translation of a poem by the late Mahmoud Darwish, titled,
"silence for Gaza"
"Gaza has no throat.
Its pores are the ones that speak in sweat, blood, and fires.
Hence the enemy hates it to death and fears it to criminality, and tries to sink it into the sea... And hence its relatives and friends love it with a coyness that amounts to jealousy and fear at times, because Gaza is the brutal lesson …and the shining example for enemies and friends alike.
Gaza is not the most beautiful city.
Its shore is not bluer than the shores of Arab cities.
Its oranges are not the most beautiful in the Mediterranean basin.
Gaza is not the richest city.
It is not the most elegant or the biggest, but it equals the history of an entire homeland, because it is more ugly, impoverished, miserable, and vicious in the eyes of enemies.
Because it is the most capable, among us, of disturbing the enemy’s mood and his comfort. Because it is his nightmare. Because it is mined with oranges; children without a childhood; old men without old age; and women without desires. Because of all this it is the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us and the one most worthy of love."