A Letter to My Sons: This Is Gaza

Dear Alexandre, Dear Sam,

I’m in a place called Gaza now, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in a hotel room that has far too much red in it for my tastes. Red curtains, red blanket, red carpet. The beach outside is filled with young children splashing in the water and playing on the beach, the occasional parent sitting or standing nearby. It’s beautiful, and it’s full of garbage.

It’s difficult to explain to you why things are like this. Gaza and another place nearby called the West Bank form what people call the Palestinian territories. Palestinians claim these territories as their land. There has been a struggle – a very long struggle – to fight for this land with the Israelis.

Before coming here, a friend of mine told me that the difference between Israel and Gaza would be incredible. It was. Driving along the road in Israel, I was surrounded by a lush landscape of trees and farmland as far as the eye could see. People drove around in nice cars. The houses they lived in, at least the ones I could see from the highway, were beautiful. Then everything changed. There were no more cars, no more people, no more houses, the road got smaller and bumpy, the grass disappeared, all we could see was dirt, and then we came across some signs to slow down. At that point I saw a huge wall with barbed wire on top. The wall seemed as though it went on forever. We had to stop at a checkpoint, give our passports to three different people (all of whom were quite friendly), and pass by a few men with guns slung over their shoulders. The gates of the wall opened slowly – very slowly. And more than one gate was opened in order to finally get through to Gaza.

The difference in the landscape was immediate. Old rusted vehicles darted the landscape, goats chewed on garbage, and there were plenty of people, mostly young men and even some children your age, who were idling around, not doing much. The buildings were old and worn down, the donkeys looked equally worn, as did the cars and their drivers. We had to get into bulletproof vehicles to drive to the office. But don’t worry: I asked someone with me if anything bad had ever happened to her in the two years she’d been here, and she said no.

I met a lot of nice people today who are working hard to include human rights in schools. Here in Gaza, children your age learn about human rights – they even have one classroom period per week to discuss the subject. In many ways, what is being done here is a lot more advanced than in other countries around the world. This despite living conditions that are horrible. As I came back to the hotel this evening, I drove by three young boys who were foraging through garbage by the side of the road. When I stop to think of you doing something like that, my heart aches. We often talk of “human dignity” when speaking of human rights, and it was really hard to see it in their eyes. If you saw what I did today, I know you would be scared. I know you would cry. I know you would ask how people could live like this. I know you would ask what we could do to help. I wish I knew the answers. All I can say is that deliberate ignorance of the harsh lives of others will not make their lives better, but knowing about their lives moves us towards greater empathy for their sorrow. Hopefully that’s what pushes us to help, and to me that’s what makes us human.

Je t’aime Alexandre, je t’aime Sam.