On Sunday I got up early to do a Skype call to Gaza. Yousef Aljamal was hosting a session of the Center for Political Development Studies. Yousef’s students were going to ask me questions about the role of the Israel lobby and the American Jewish community in policymaking.
Most of the questions were from young men. They were smart but slightly-abstract questions about the role of the lobby and attitudes in the Jewish community. I was smart and abstract back. The guys were handsome and nicely dressed. Leather jackets. Neat beards.
Then Rawan Yaghi sat at the microphone and asked, What can be done to change Americans’ view of who Palestinians are?
Before me sat a poised young woman wearing wire-rimmed glasses, 18 years old, but already showing signs of becoming an intellectual. There was such delicacy to her manner and her question, I found myself overcome. I struggled against upwelling emotions to answer her question. This is the biggest question of all, and I don’t know the answer. I said that we were up against racism. The attitudes go back 100 years in the U.S.– people saying that Palestinians are not human beings.
Breaking these stereotypes down is her job, and it is my job too.
Rawan nodded and pursed her lips. She too seemed overwhelmed by the feelings attendant to this very large struggle.
Later Yousef reminded me that Rawan Yaghi won the awards contest that Annie Robbins held on this site last year with “From Beneath,” a description of what it is like to escape a bombing attack. The piece has all the delicacy and precision of the person with whom I connected on Sunday.
I went to Rawan’s site. At the top are the words, “In Gaza– to live free metaphorically.” Remember: these people live under blockade. 1.6 million people living in an open-air prison.
Here is her latest blogpost, remembering the Gaza onslaught of 3 years ago, a day in school. “She dropped it.”
She dropped it and ran away. She was standing right in front of the door of her school, holding her book, getting prepared for her exam. A huge number of explosions followed the one the hit near her school. She stopped. Looking around, terrified, she saw police men crying, cars hurrying, kids running. The bombs continued. She didn’t know where to go. Her headmistress stopped taxi drivers to pick up the scared students. She stood there in silence. A bus with the back door open passed her, letting her see the dead bodies piled inside. Her eyes turned wide open. Her lips froze. Her hands shook. Her knees could no longer carry the heavy picture that has just passed. She tried to stand, but no one looked at her. Everyone was running . A teacher tried to reach her, but another bomb was dropped and the teacher got back behind the door of the school. The girl felt the ground shaking under her collapsed legs. Her hands shook more. She was still in shock. She knew air strikes very well. She always sees them on TV. She knows that this happened before. But, the bombs went on. They were telling her that this is not just a strike. This is one hundred strikes in a minute. This is a try to break the record, and you’re just one girl on the ground, shaking, gulping loads of smoke, paralyzed by fear. The teacher reached her, dragged her to a car, and closed the door.
I love the title. She dropped it– I believe it refers to her book. Think about that.
Our work is cut out for us. It won’t be done till Rawan Yaghi is free to come to the States, and to read her work from American daises and meet Americans face to face. That day will come.