My life’s belongings were strewn all over the living room; polka dot diaries from when I was twelve, clothing in torn apart black garbage bags, white dusty drywall toppled over everything.
I looked outside and there were holes on my street where rusty water mains were revealed. I walked further in disbelief and my friend said, ‘Natasha, don’t look!’ I only saw the glimpse of something wrapped in another black plastic bag out of the corner of my eye. It was clearly a body. She muttered under her breath, “it’s a baby.” I grasped my five-month pregnant stomach and gasped.
“No, no, no!” I was screaming as I woke up, still grasping my pregnant belly. My partner said, ‘what’s wrong!’ It was one of those dreams I couldn’t get out of – eyes still crossed and rolling back. As soon as I came to, I told him about it and said, ‘where the hell did that come from?’
Then I realized. Gaza. Israel. Palestine. A nightmare many woke up to, but cannot escape.
I had recently cut myself off from Instagram – angry at loved ones for what they had shared – and had taken to Twitter where I could be mad at strangers instead. Every single time a graphic came up, I skimmed past it; I didn’t need to see what war looked like. Though I suppose my mind filled in the blanks anyhow.
A few days before, I found myself in a Church, somewhere I usually would not be. Kairos, a well-reputed organization that unites Canadian churches and religious organizations to advocate for social justice, was hosting a week-long photo exhibit connecting the colonization struggles of Palestinians, South Africans and Indigenous peoples. The 2014 photo exhibit called “Dispossessed but Defiant” put together by the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), showed the land mass decline of Palestine from 94% in 1946, to 12% in 2014, and the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in 2008, a 22-day aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israeli military that killed 1398 Palestinians, including 345 children and 110 women. My dad turned to me and said, ‘It’s a great exhibit; my only criticism is that it doesn’t detail the most recent killings.’
I was gobsmacked. I had heard the history over the years, but to see it was something else.
Then, the panel session began. Three Palestinians from different religions and regions sat beside each other. Together, they detailed the pain and struggle of trying to live a normal life in an occupied land: going to work every day through checkpoints, olive trees that provided olive oil production cut down by Israeli soldiers for Israeli land expansion, Palestinian children rounded up and taken into detention centres by the same forces, and high suicide rates of youth who could not see a future for themselves in these conditions.
“But why don’t people know about this?” the congregants asked, outraged. Their answer: “Because of mainstream media bias, and the fear of being called anti-semitic if you speak out about Israel. Or, the age-old expression that shuts down debate: ‘It’s too complicated or complex.’”
My parents were anti-apartheid activists during the era of the South African Apartheid regime. Our living room growing up was often the meeting grounds for visiting comrades in the struggle. While Nelson Mandela was being called a “terrorist”, they were travelling around Canada, convincing rank and file members and their unions to boycott products coming in from South Africa. In one case, they organized white, mostly male, Ford auto workers in London, Ontario to go grocery shopping every Saturday morning, fill up their cart with products like canned fruit from South Africa, set them on the conveyer, and say something along the lines of “Oh, this fruit is from the South African Apartheid regime” and walk away. Despite feeling for the grocery store workers who would have to put the product back, the idea was to inconvenience the grocery store so much – while also grow awareness around the issue – that they would stop stocking South African products.
It was a highly effective campaign, and was one of the reasons my dad was chairing a panel with Toronto’s South African Consul-General, who was unapologetic about making the connection to the historical South African apartheid to an oppressed, segregated people in Palestine currently.
A few days after, I saw the headline: “Hundreds dead as war erupts after surprise Hamas attack catches Israel off guard.”
I called my dad and said, “Hundreds killed? This is horrific. And it’s not going to go well for Palestine, or for the public’s understanding of it.”
Growing up, my parents ensured I knew the history of the Jewish struggle, as much as books could teach me. I brought in “Smoke and Ashes: The story of the Holocaust” into my grade five class for reading week, I read every book by Carol Matas, I took a University course in Politics of the Holocaust, and covered Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel speak at our school for its chapter of Journalists for Human Rights.
But when I saw a friend post a meme that said, “I Stand With Israel”, I snapped. Many of Israel’s own citizens had not stood by this right-wing government for the past year and now this person, who I knew was ignorant of the history, was saying they stood beside a state that turned its back on its own people as well as Palestinians? To me, it was akin to Justin Bieber posting the same slogan, layered on top of a picture of a razed Gaza, thinking it was Israel. Pure ignorance and a bad case of social media parroting (which we are all guilty of).
In a flurry of shares, I posted all of the pictures I had taken of the exhibit, posting questions like, “Why don’t we stand with Palestine when Palestinians are murdered, bombed, annexed and occupied?” And, “The history we like to ignore, or be okay with being ignorant about.”
Other than my friend saying something along the lines of, I love you, but this is in poor taste and too soon while people are looking for their loved ones (she was right, looking back), I got likes and claps. But that felt wrong. I deleted Instagram five hours later. I said it was because I couldn’t stand to see the ignorance people were posting – which was true – but the bigger truth was that I was terrified of being called anti-semitic, and hurting peoples’ very valid feelings of grief and anger. Just as many politicians are right now, forcing them to come out with faint-hearted statements.
While debating the issue with other family – who were historically apologetic to the Palestine plight – they said in a hushed voice, “but we have to remember so-and-so is Jewish.”
I am not an authority on this topic, nor should I be. But being Jewish is not synonymous with supporting Israel – that is a belief of Zionists who many Jewish people in my circle make a point of distancing themselves from. And to me, being sensitive of someone’s feelings or trauma based on unshakable history is important, but shutting down or hiding debate behind closed doors based on fear of being called anti-semitic is a gutless – and I would argue discriminatory – disservice to the Jewish community.
I believe no one wins in war, and therefore, we need a ceasefire now.
People I know and respect will say I’m not going far enough; others will say I have gone too far. But ultimately, I’m the one who has to live with myself, and my nightmares, or my silence. And my true hope is that we can find understanding through common ground.
As my dad said to me yesterday, ‘we will find out more about ourselves through this moment than we will Israel and Palestine.’
How do you want to remember yourself during this time?
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