Saturday, January 10, 2009

Run to the Angels

art by Katja Maki

There is nowhere else to go. The children must run to the angels. The Israelis have dropped more leaflets saying attacks will intensify.

Children of Gaza, Run to the Angels

by Suzanne Baroud

"Ironically, it was in Palestine, 20 years ago, that I concluded that there is no God. For how could a God, who claims to love all and treat all with impartiality, allow such horrors like those in Palestine to happen?

This unbelief grew stronger with each curfew, with each strike that mourned the death of yet one more martyr, with a decapitation induced by gunfire in the main square on a sunny Ramallah afternoon so many years ago. But it was cemented the day I had to tell one of my fifth grade students that his brother had just been taken away by the Israeli army. His expression, his body going limp, the shuddering of his shoulders as he wept with his classmates…that's what finally did it.

Nearly 20 years have passed since that day, and I have now married into a Gazan family. I am a wife and mother, the sister and aunt of so many kids living the horror of what Gaza has become. As we watch the footage of Israel's onslaught, I hear myself, whispering as I see one more martyred child, "Run to the angels….run." After so many years, this living nightmare is fostering a burning desire to believe once again in the afterlife.

Caged, starved, sniped, suffocated. They are slaughtered like sheep, but the leaders of the free world just cannot seem to find a moment to comment. Golfing, vacationing, Obama, Bush, even the EU, they just aren't important enough. My mutterings have become a like a canter. I call out to these stricken and shattered little bodies, who frankly never experienced life to lose it. The only consolation to offer is the respite found in death.

A crowd gathers, shrouded in gas, smoke and dust. In the front stand eight young fathers, each holding a white swaddled bundle of what used to be a son, a daughter. For a few moments there is no screaming, no chanting or crying, but a moment of quiet and stillness that presses one to wonder just whom has been granted the greater mercy, the toddler who caught the snipers bullet, or the young father, who will have to find some way to live beyond this moment?

A young boy sits on the sidewalk beside his mother. She is propped up against the wall of a collapsed building and her life is bleeding out all over the sidewalk. It is spattered on his face and smeared on his shirt. She uses the last of her strength to lift her arm and clutch his cheek in her palm and then she is gone. He rests his head in his hands and cries. He is all alone.

The camera zooms in on the scene of a freshly detonated building, a civilian home. A little girls brown curly hair covered in dust and eyes wide open is all that can be found of her. Her mother wails and pulls her hair while her father frantically searches among the rubble for the rest of his daughter, where could she be? I whisper again, "you will be made whole again in Paradise. Run to the angels".

What amazing faith. What strong devotion that a father loses his mother, father, wife and eight children, that this man before anything can assert, "God is Great, Thank God for Everything". He holds his child, now still and ashen, he smothers him with kisses and then gently pulls back the sheet to expose two bullet holes in his chest. He then tenderly places the child beside his brother and again, pulls the sheet back of his youngest son to reveal a single snipers bullet to the chest. He can barely compose himself and he moans to the sympathizing camera man, "God is Great, Thank God for Everything".

An old and wrinkled Imam so lovingly cradles a little girl's lifeless body, as if mishandling her now could inflict more pain, he mumbles a benediction and gently lies her beside her sisters and her brothers in the mass grave. I try to comfort her, saying, "Finally, a place of safety. Rest beside your sister. Your brother. Put your fears to rest and meet your beloved Prophet and the many of your little friends who have fallen before you."

Hospitals, schools, mosques, civilian homes, UN shelters, all worthy targets. Doctors, medicines, food and water, truckloads of relief from all corners of the world line up for miles at the Egyptian border but they are refused entry. Security is high, food is scarce, water is completely gone.

Faith seems to spring forth in the strangest of moments. For me, it seems to be coming full circle out of desperation and in agony, for the sake of the snow-white souls of the many bloodied and dismembered innocents of Gaza.

UN workers coordinate with Israelis to get civilians to safety inside a UN school. Hundreds are tucked inside the mutually agreed safe haven. Soon after, the school comes under Israeli fire. Bruised and battered refugees stare Satan in the face, clad in his fatigues. Hundreds wounded, scores dead, many lost and unaccounted for.

Governments negotiate a cease-fire. Rumors buzz of conspiracies. The US President-elect is forever silent. Parents search beneath the collapsed walls for what remains of their children. Shattered concrete, random arms and legs, broken glass, tossed together in a bloody hodge-podge. But, in my mind, I see them whole, their little bodies swiftly being swept up into Paradise and I call out to them, "Run!" "

Suzanne Baroud is the Managing Editor of


Julie said...

I read a Jewish woman's blog this morning. She lives in Alaska. I was so angered by her words I wanted to bite her, but I simply left her to her own prejudices. How to counter the "This was our land before the Romans deported us" argument?

northshorewoman said...

Hello Julie,

Well, she is not just a Jewish blogger, that is an important distinction to make. She is a woman of the Jewish faith who supports the state of Israel, which means she supports political Zionism. She, like so many others, is confusing Judaism with political ideology. She is eliding her political allegiances with (interpretations of) the Jewish religion.

Israel is not a religion, Israel is a nationstate.

Being Jewish today is multiple and formed from today's social, political, and historical contexts, and, is not simply equated with the Israelites or Hebrews of the historical past, as this woman's simplistic argument assumes.

There are Jewish Arabs, too. I will post a link on my blog to Ella Shohat, who writes about her history as a Jewish Arab.

There are so many things to say here, but one thing regarding history is that the land was invaded by the Hebrew people in the past. The people living there at the time when the Hebrews moved in to settle were Canaanites, which as anthropological studies have shown, are the descendents of the Palestinian people.

When the Hebrews invaded the land, they divided it into 2 kingdoms, one to the north and one to the south.

The Hebrews were then invaded by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and did not "own" the land for long, I believe about a century.

Also, the idea of the nation state is so key in our understandings because nationstates are recent inventions. How could the Israelites "own" the land in the past when there was no such thing as a nationstate?

The "this was our land" argument is easily debated, but your listener must be willing to move beyond narrow thinking of yours/mine, insider/outsider.

There are multiple histories recorded on the land in question, each with their own ways of interpreting their validity of residence on the land if we reduce it to who was there at some point. Do we factor in how long a group "owned" the land?

Many peoples of different --and intermixing!!-- ethnicities, tribal allegiances, religious alliances, etc. occupied this land, were removed, were conquered, etc.

This point about dispelling the idea of "pure" "races" is so key here, too. A really important point is the question:

who do we mean when we say Jewish?

or, re-stated,

who do we mean when we say Arab?

In old testament biblical times (the question of eliding historical fact and biblical/religious myth is a question to consider here, too), Abraham had a concubine, Hagar, who was an Arab. She birthed Ismael, who is considered the ancestor of the northern Arab people. Ismael's father--Abraham, also had a son named Isaac (born of Sara) who had a son named Jacob (who was also called Israel), who had a son named Judah, from which the names Jew and Jewish come.

To make a very complicated story/myth short, Jews and Arabs have the same great-grandfather.

So, the question of who should live on this land TODAY needs to recognize our SHARED roots.

What is happening today is POLITICAL IDEOLOGY called Zionism creating terrible oppressions, chaos, repression, and racism in this beautiful land.

A divisive binary argument like stated by that blogger you read, just reinforces antagonistic, us/them arguments that repeat the 'we are not like you' and 'you are not like us' exclusive thinking.

This sort of "it's our historical land" argument really does not allow any context to be brought it.

It doesn't allow our common humanity to surface.

northshorewoman said...

a bit more clarification, thx to my husband, the Hebrews who invaded the land of the Canaanites were not successful in gaining all the territory. Also, the Palestine Arabs of today are descendants of the Philistines, the Canaanites, and other early tribes that inhabited the region.

“The name Palestine was derived from ‘Philistia’, for this was the land of the biblical Philistines, or people of the Sea, who occupied the Southern coastal area in the 12th century B.C. On the basis of examination of human remains, anthropologists have found that 50,000 years ago, the Palestinians were of mixed racial stock. From the 4th millennium B.C. until 900 B.C., the predominant indigenous stock was the Canaanites” (Alfred Lilienthal, 1978: 149, from his book The Zionist Connection).

northshorewoman said...

I just wanted to clear up that mistype I made in my 1st response, so it is clear. I meant to say that the Palestinians are descendants of Canaanites; the Canaanites were (some of) their ancestors. Henry Cattan, like Lilienthal, wrote that the Palestinians are the descended from a number of indigenous groups of the region: the Canaanites, the Philistines, other Arab tribes, and along the way "mixed blood" with Crusaders, Greeks, and Romans, too. But the point is that the Palestinians today can trace their roots to the indigenous peoples who were there before the Hebrews invaded.

So, the Palestinians are the indigenous peoples of the region of Palestine now re-named Israel since 1948.