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Not to Speak is to Speak

Can I be honest with you, reader? The last thing I want to do is write an article about Gaza.

Because in the face of what has just happened there, all the words that I keep trying to string together into some kind of meaningful or helpful thought seem superfluous, empty, and trite.

Listing the numbers also won’t do, as horrifying as they are.

2,168 people, killed.

521 children, killed.

12,000 people, injured.

500,000 people, displaced.

(You know how when you repeat a word too often, it starts to lose its meaning?  2,168 people, killed. 2,168 people, killed. 2,168 people, killed).

Let us move away from the words and the numbers for a moment then, and let me tell you, rather, about a person.

While staying in the little town of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem this summer, I lived with a Palestinian family who would make me breakfast each morning and sit with me as I sipped Arabic coffee and ate pita and hummus on their patio, easing me into my day. Yousef, 3 years old and the youngest of the family, would usually join us, running around in circles as we ate, interjecting with comments or randomly bringing us the newest animal that he had rounded up that morning. Yousef called animals by the wrong Arabic names and taught me to do the same. Yousef loved popsicles and ate one every day, or 2, if he could talk his mom into allowing it. Yousef would spend hours winding up his plastic swing and then releasing it, watching it spin and spin and spin and laughing as it went, clapping his hands as it finally released, elated by its unpredictability and speed. Yousef had a smile that lit up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I loved him from the moment that I met him. 

I returned home from Palestine while “Operation Protective Edge” was in full swing, and each time I heard a news report coming back from Gaza about how more Palestinian children had been torn to pieces in their homes by Israeli airstrikes, it was Yousef’s face that would come crashing to the forefront of my mind. 

Now let me throw another number at you:

1 child, killed.

Let me ask us, dear reader:  when was it that “521 children, killed” became a mere number to us?  When did an entire little life, with all its afternoon popsicles and its pet turtles and its spinning swings, become to us nothing more than a statistic, a necessary casualty of “self-defense”, and a means to an end?

We here in North America are constantly being fed a narrative that works to dehumanize the Palestinian people and to delegitimize their plight. But the Palestinian plight is a desperate one, and one that is deeply human. The Palestinians are an occupied people, an oppressed people, and a people that have been robbed of their most basic human rights for more than 47 years. They are a people daily humiliated, restricted, beaten, and jailed, as well as a people forced to watch as their occupiers slowly take their homeland away from them bit by bit by bit by bit. 

1 father, beaten.

1 home, demolished.

1 property, annexed.

1 child, jailed.

1 grandmother, killed.

And the United States turns its face. And the United States sends more weapons. And the United States vetoes. And the United States remains silent.

Can I be honest with you, reader? The last thing I wanted to do was write this article about Gaza. Because in the face of what has just happened there, simply no words will do.

And yet.

I must try. We must try. We must speak and speak and speak these unfit words into the silence until the world begins to listen, until the world begins to demand that things will change.

It was Bonheoffer who once said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

We as Christians are called to give a voice to the voiceless, to set the oppressed free, and to be bringers of the Kingdom of God.

The time to speak and to act is now. Gaza demands it of us.

[Image from Sarah Hamm]

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