After nearly two weeks in this so-called Holy Land senses and skill of analysis begin to fail me, confounded as they are by disbelief and indignation. The conditions under which the Palestinians have been forced and are continuing to endure are nothing short of barbaric; I know this from personal observation … from continuing evictions across the street from my hotel in East Jerusalem to persistent, arbitrary harassment in every Israeli-controlled zone, from the shocking brutality of Ramallah and Jenin to, worst of all, the institutionalized outrage against humanity known as the Gaza Strip. Despite the unreality of their condition, the Palestinian people remain without exception the warmest, most unselfish, friendly people I have ever met, never knowing who I am or why I am here. Their resilience and generosity opens channels within me and others who came here with me through which unfamiliar emotions rise like vapors from a bottle of ether broken deep within heart and mind.
Last week I returned from Jenin, where I had been with a few other internationals. It was a site of unconscionable, inconceivable barbarism. Thousands upon thousands of homes destroyed, housing for at least 15,000 reduced to nothing more than concrete powder — a bitter, painful dust replete with unexploded bombs and missiles and shreds of personal belongings and corpses. Between 1 and 5 people, mostly children in Jenin had been losing limbs or worse daily. Were it anywhere else in the Western world, this monstrous scene of devastation and human misery would have long ago drawn official political and rescue responses from world governments; but it seems clear that the international community already made the shameful decision to cast off the Palestinians.
While I helped in Jenin to distribute food and identify and mark unexploded bombs, the sole official international efforts in Jenin consisted of a small slowly assembling United Nations team and another small group of Norwegian and British search and rescue experts. Hardly any Western media, the bastion of democracy and the free press were evident, save for BBC and a handful of others. What an outrage! There were no international dignitaries touring the site of this war crime (save one Scottish parliamentarian, come to Palestine of his own accord) and ABSOLUTELY no other international expert teams made available to direct search and relief efforts. Where in the world could these sorts of teams, routinely mobilized by Western nations as good will and humanitarian gestures, have been more useful than in Jenin? Where were they? Where are they? Where will they be after the next Israeli outrage? Many dozens, and maybe more Palestinians remain buried beneath dust and rubble, bombs and belongings. While these neglected victims of unconscionable aggression were all certainly dead bodies by then, after more than a week beneath the rubble, expert international teams were disturbingly obvious in their absence. Were they in Jenin, search and rescue experts would have saved the lives and limbs of desperate family members clawing through what remained to be exhumed of former lives, looking for answers about missing family members, or trying to retrieve some important possession in the great Palestinian tomb that is now Jenin. Now, however, weeks after the carnage, the great work in Jenin is not saving, but remembering making sure the world never forgets what happened there.
Gaza, in most ways, is even more shocking, for the outrages here are status quo. The Gaza strip is an Israeli-constructed prison for 1.3 million Palestinians which the world community ignores by international convention. It is a concentration camp divided up into three cell blocks and several isolation cells where the men, women, and children of this bitter slice of Palestine wile away lives, cut off from trade, opportunity, freedom, and the world; it is a prison, nothing more. Israel controls the economy within and without the Strip Gazans are literally forced by the barrel of American-made guns, the turret of American-made tanks, the missile launchers of American-made Apache helicopters and F16s to be the unwilling consumers of Israeli trade and commercial products. The innocent prisoners of this Israeli-built, Israeli-guarded penitentiary breathe every breath, eat every meal, sleep every night, and wake up every day hemmed in by electric fences and security walls, houses, buildings and infrastructure destroyed in Israeli raids, refugee camps that are the most densely populated places on earth, a small strip of Israeli-patrolled shoreline, checkpoints that are really arbitrarily deadly harassment centers, Israeli settlements that are really thinly disguised fronts for heavy concentrations of IDF forces, etc, etc., etc. Gazans, however, somehow manage to struggle on. To me, as a foreigner in Gaza, hope would seem a state of mind with no bearing here. Many Gazans, nevertheless, continue to draw their meager portions from a closely guarded well of hope.
Though no one I have met in the cities and camps of Gaza has actually read the works of Franz Kafka, a new word has gained currency in the lexicon of Palestinian Arabic. Palestinians of the Strip in particular have come to refer to their plight and condition as Kafkaesque; nowhere perhaps has this label ever more appropriate. On my return I think I will look into Arabic translations of The Castle and The Trial for shipment to Gaza. I think perchance that with the works of Kafka in hand, Gaza will soon produce the world’s most renowned Kafka scholars, living as they do the unreality and absurdity of institutionalized alienation and dispossession.
Jeff Kingham was arrested trying to take food into the besieged Church of Nativity, interrogated and deported back to California. He is affiliated with Palestinian Solidarity Movement, USA.