The danger of permitting the Egyptians democracy, rather than replacing a dictator with his (and our) torturer lies, let us be honest, not in the possibility that Egyptian politics will approach the religiosity of our own Republican Party, and not in the possibility that the civil liberties we have helped deny Egyptians for decades won’t all be immediately established, and certainly not in the possibility that the Egyptians would commit collective suicide by attempting to attack the United States, but rather in the possibility that other peoples would be inspired to attempt self-rule as well, and — more directly — in the probability that Egypt would cease to uphold the collective punishment of the people of Gaza.
Gaza is about twice the size and has about twice the population of Washington, D.C. In DC the schools are lousy, the houses cost too much, there are too many guns, and there’s no corporate stooge like the rest of the United States has to misrepresent you in Congress. But if you are in Washington, D.C., and not in an actual prison, you are permitted to go to Maryland or Virginia or anywhere else you like. You can acquire a U.S. passport and travel abroad. You can find just about any type of food or building material or medical supply. Injured children are generally taken to hospitals that have beds available.
There is airplane noise in DC, but it’s not the sonic boom of war planes flying low threatening to strike. While you may get mugged on the street, you can be pretty sure the street and its buildings will be there tomorrow. And when a handful of lunatics crash an airplane into the Pentagon across the river, millions of innocent people you’ve never seen have their lives destroyed or ended in response. If downtown DC were hit day after day with bombs and white phosphorous and depleted uranium and cluster bombs, you can be pretty sure that there would be some sort of response, sane or otherwise. Such horrors would not be ignored.
The ideal remedy to the ignoring of Gaza, I think, would be if we had a writer and speaker who was from Gaza but also lived frequently right here in the Washington, D.C., area, someone who was a news reporter who could get the facts and report them, but also someone who could tell a human story of life as a Gazan, and someone up to speed on the most useful current forms of communication: a blogger, and a blogger whose best work had been excerpted and collected into a well-edited book. That would be ideal and is also Laila El-Haddad of http://gazamom.com and now of “Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between.”
When Emerson said that novels would eventually become autobiographies he grasped what blogs can now produce. Here is a collection of writings from the Gaza Mom blog from 2004 through 2010, covering a period of worsening hardship in Gaza that was launched with Israel’s supposed ending of the occupation. Ending an occupation while blockading entrance or exit from a small territory and murdering its people at will turns out not to be what most people envisioned as the ending of an occupation. El-Haddad tells this story with great skill and humanity, with neither overpowering bitterness nor the simulation of robotic indifference expected of corporate journalists. El-Haddad gives birth to a little boy and raises him in Gaza and the United States, and towards the end of the book gives birth to his little sister. This is, in fact, a book about parenting — which, like everything else, is unique for Gazans while still familiar to people everywhere.
El-Haddad’s husband is a Palestinian refugee, as are a large percentage of the world’s refugees, and he is not permitted into Gaza, so his wife and kids live in Maryland with him, he visiting his family in Lebanon and she hers in Gaza — or trying to. International travel is not simple for Gazans, whose citizenship anywhere is not widely recognized, and whose ability to enter their own country through Egypt is controlled by the top two long-term recipients of foreign U.S. “aid,” Israel and Egypt. El-Haddad’s little boy took his first steps while waiting weeks in Egypt to get into Gaza. On another occasion, they were not permitted out of Cairo’s airport and were forcibly sent back to the United States because Egypt was only permitting Gazans who had permanent residency status somewhere else to enter Gaza.
“Kafkan” is a word that El-Haddad uses, as everyone does, to describe the huge percentage of Gazans’ hours that is spent waiting, and waiting, and waiting. But the book that hers most brought to mind for me was Albert Camus’ “The Plague” which tells the story of a city closed off and dying because of a contagious disease. The lives of the people in that story may have taken inspiration from World War II’s occupied France but I think more closely resemble the lives of the people of Gaza today. There is also an element of the Italian film “Life Is Beautiful” in “Gaza Mom.” At one point she half-convinces her little boy that the bombing around them is popcorn popping.
El-Haddad records her reactions to events, often on a daily basis. On a couple of occasions I did not think those reactions were ideal. On one she writes of “Weepy Settler Syndrome” objecting to the media’s narrow focus on the point of view of Israeli settlers forced to abandon illegal settlements, excluding from the story the suffering of the people whom the settlers had displaced from their lands. But the deceptions of propaganda and the relative scales of suffering can be addressed without mocking the tears of human beings. On other occasions, as many people do, El-Haddad records encounters — including with bigoted Americans — and then runs through possible ideal things she could have said that didn’t come to her in the heat of the moment, and her inclinations seem pretty good to me. When her child asks whether the people who keep closing the border to Gaza are like “the bad guys” in stories, El-Haddad says yes, but to her credit she publishes a letter that she sends to the Israeli Minister of “Defense” asking him how she should have answered her son’s question. And late in the book (in a blog from 2008) El-Haddad discusses a growing interest in nonviolent resistance in Gaza and in Hamas.
I strongly recommend picking up this informative and entertaining book:
And reading this blog:
And joining El-Haddad at Busboys and Poets in DC today!
And watching this video of El-Haddad on GRIT tv:
And reading this excerpt of Naomi Klein’s introduction to a book about the Goldstone Report:
And reading that report:
And considering what is really at stake in the efforts of the people of Egypt to take control of their government away from the gang of thugs our own nation has backed and funded for decades.