To witness is to dig your heels in and refuse to un-learn what you have seen.
I grew up in Halifax, Canada. In 1986, I discovered the backpack and immigrated to New Zealand. From 1998 – 2015, I worked with communities that are trapped and marginalized by war: Cambodian child combatants and people with disabilities, homebound Afghan women. I met them through their ambitions, and we built social enterprises to create jobs.
Mercy Corps, an American humanitarian organization, asked me to move to Gaza in 2011 as their Economic Director. I stayed four years, with Mercy Corps and then UNRWA. I worked with Gazan businesses and job-seekers, and co-founded the Gaza Gateway social enterprise for outsourcing employment.
I went as a professional. However, working in Gaza through the 2014 Operation Protective Edge as part of UNRWA’s emergency response team, I became a witness to Israel’s wilful strategy of massive civilian displacement and the madness of its bombing campaign. I compiled the notices that ensured the IDF knew the precise location of each flagged civilian shelter – seven of which were bombed.
I write to add adjectives to our understanding of a hidden community, and to demand justice for what is being done to two million human beings behind those walls.
Reading Maimonides in Gaza is my story. I’m grateful to Mondoweiss for publishing it!
Excerpt, late July, 2014, midway through Operation Protective Edge:
“In the final days of July, the shelter population exceeded 200,000. 2400 people shared each school, eighty resided in each classroom. UNRWA stated publically that the organization was reaching its limit. We sent what supplies we could toward the many, many Gazans who sheltered in other classrooms and mosques and offices and apartments, in tents and on grass verges, and on mats in every courtyard. As they came through the streets to work, UNRWA colleagues were assailed by displaced people, asking where to go for shelter and safety.
Yet the IDF escalated, bombing Jabalia and demanding the evacuation of Zaitoun. Those were dense urban neighbourhoods with hundreds of thousands of residents; where would they go? I didn’t know what to call this, this stirring of civilians in aimless circles with no safe passage away from a war that had no objective.
Where was the world?
The most terrifying night closed in; a night of unremitting noise and smoke and great gobs of flame, explosions that shook the ground and fireballs that lit the horizon. Screaming, always screaming – but no pause for the sirens. I knelt on my mattress and peeked over the desk as the horizon glowed and burnt through a smoky film. Flares wafted down ahead of smoke trails. Through the window grilles, the descending flares wove little squares of light that snaked across my floor and up my walls. The whole world churned.
Curled like a caterpillar under the desk, I decided that people did not lose their minds. When they’d had enough, when there was no sense left to grip, they pushed thought away and dispensed with their minds.
The number of explosions did not blunt any one bomb. Each blast tore through sound and threw off metal shards and added one more wall to the heap of rubble and thickened the smoke that would slide like hooks into the throats of the neighbours who ran to help.
The morning report counted more than one explosion per minute overnight. More than 100 Gazans would be found dead in the rubble, and 423 were injured.
My hands shook as I opened the news websites.
“What would your headline say,” I asked each one, “if it happened in Tel Aviv?”
With that night, we entered a war of minutes. One of my team called me, barely audible. Her phone battery was low on her fourth day without electricity. She said that she was holding her children in the dark, not-dying one minute at a time.
Without a strategy, where did the minutes lead?
I knew Palestinians who had spread their families across several governorates in order to ensure that the family unit survived any one strike. Now they began to gather in single homes. The world was ready, one explained, to let them die. They preferred to die together.”
To read more, and place orders: Reading Maimonides in Gaza.
A portion of each purchase price will be donated to We Are Not Numbers, encouraging young Gazan writers to tell their own stories and report their own news. They are the real witnesses.
Blog: Transforming Gaza