Healing Gaza’s Wounds

Viewing the aftermath of the assault on Gaza, and listening to some of the commentary coming from Israel, the Arab world and from Israel’s supporters here in the U.S., can be disturbing on many levels. Most troubling is the failure of the apologists for both sides to even consider the human and social dimensions of the profound tragedy that just occurred. What flows from this is their inability to understand the war’s long-term consequences.

Because, in fact, Palestinians are fully human and, therefore, mourn their dead, feel their wounds and hold their hurts to their hearts as deeply as the rest of us, the impact of this calamity requires attention. It cannot be passed over, objectified or reduced to faceless numbers, or dismissed with the stroke of an apologist’s pen.

There are over 1,300 dead, more than 5,000 injured and thousands more (e.g., pregnant women, cancer patients, etc) who suffered irreparable harm because they could not receive the hospital care they needed during this conflict. In addition, thousands of homes were destroyed, affecting the lives and fortunes of hundreds of thousands. Because of Gaza’s strong family ties and its population density, no one in that impoverished strip was untouched – either by personal loss, or by the pain resulting from this assault.

Societies are like human organisms: when part of the body is traumatized, the pain radiates throughout, affecting all its parts. Not only Palestinians in Gaza but, worldwide, and to a remarkable degree Arabs, in general, were affected by the shock of this war. That is so, because Palestine and the dispossession of its people has long been an open wound among Arabs, reminding them of their loss of control of their history, their vulnerability, and their inability to secure legitimate rights in the face of Western betrayal. So it is that the pain in Gaza has taken a toll, which will not only last for generations there, but has also radiated outward.

In the war’s aftermath, therefore, it is important that attention be paid not only to Gaza’s physical wounds and its immediate humanitarian needs, but to the psychic wounds of the survivors. These will not heal of their own accord. Left untended, they will fester, resulting in aberrant behaviors with long-term social and political consequences.

Though extreme in its intensity and impact, it is important to remember that this latest assault was but one in a long trail of traumas to affect Palestinians: from the shock of colonial displacement in the 1930s and 1940s; the dismemberment and dispossession of 1948; the occupation and further dislocations resulting from the 1967 and 1973 wars; and the assault on the PLO in 1982, as well as the crippling violence of two intifadas – all have taken an immense human toll, with raging consequences on Palestinian society and beyond. How else to explain the deformities of extremist religious ideologies that have developed across the region and their attendant "cult of death?"

Prolonged oppression and systematic violence affect societies, and individuals within them. Ignoring the trauma and the wounds of war solves nothing. Pretending there are no victims and no problems to address can be fatal.

So, pardon me, if I am horrified by Israel and its supporter’s indecent efforts to absolve Israel of "paternity" in this tragedy – to dismiss the war’s excesses and to diminish its impact, or to reduce all of this to a justifiable "lesson to be taught." In this, they forget that the lesson learned is not always the one taught. And pardon, as well, my disgust with Hamas and its supporters, who seek to portray this horror as a victory for "the resistance." Their bizarre bravado is itself a psychic aberration and response to oppression. Their rhetoric, their behavior, and their insensitivity to the suffering all around, are just plain wrong.

I am pleased that President Obama has addressed, with compassion, the victims in Gaza, and recognized the need to address the future hopes of Palestinians. I am distressed, however, that now, more than one week after the onslaught has ended, more dramatic and immediate action has not been taken. Attention must be paid to the survivors and their needs.

In this context, a letter sent this week by sixty-four members of Congress to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, strikes an important and welcome tone. It must be considered. Calling for "immediate action by the U.S. to address this crisis," the letter notes the "dire circumstances" and "desperate conditions" in Gaza, and warns of "a dramatic increase in individuals suffering from psychic trauma."

As these members know, this is no time for wasted political debate, apologetics or finger-pointing. It is too late to save those who perished, or those who will forever be marred by this war. But is not too late to address this war’s other wounds, by providing the immediate care that is needed. Our response should have been, and still could be, as rapid and substantial as were our post-Tsunami and post-earthquake efforts. The needs are as great, and the consequences are, as well. As the pain from Gaza radiated outward, so, too, will salve on Gaza’s wounds help heal far-reaching injuries.