Sunday, June 24, 2007

Who am I?

When the situation becomes too unstable in Gaza I have the option of leaving here, I can leave and never come back. I can run from this world of discomfort, of poverty and lack of security. But these are not the things I pine for, comfort, riches, security. I will continue to speak out against injustice and be the voice of the voiceless because I long to live for the other, rather than for my-self. It takes a re-shaping of the habits of my mind and heart to reach even partially this way of being. That is why I am here.

Today fear fills the hearts of Gaza’s people, with the recent string of events Gaza’s future is as uncertain as ever. There is a fear that they may one day return from their perpetual search for charity and donation empty handed (80% of Gazans are receiving international food aid); a fear of waking to another day of hopelessness (70% of Gazans are either unemployed or largely unpaid government employees); a fear that the economic disaster they are experiencing today may overcome their lives (60% of the population live under the poverty level of $2 per day); a fear is that this economic crisis will divide the entire population in inter-factional feuding and result in a lawless chaos as factions and political parties vie for the little power that does exist in Gaza.

All this could be prevented, but it takes a perspective of the conflict that includes a memory that goes back further than just a couple years, one must go back to the start. Prior to 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel the Gaza Strip did not exist. On that fateful day nearly 60 years ago a majority of the ancestors of Palestinians living/imprisoned in the Gaza Strip today, walked the dusty paths to this plot of land. On that day their future was determined to be confined in this space, which only then was renamed, the Gaza Strip, a prison with borders to keep in an unwanted people. 200,000 refugees were added to the 70,000 living in Gaza City and its surrounding cities at the time. Life began in UN tents and over the course of these 60 years those rows of tents have become overcrowded and inhumane refugee camps, where families listen to their neighbors’ conversations and private interactions, where sickness spreads with ease, where children play in sewage that runs down narrow streets.

I have come to find that the injustice of this world exists to maintain the status quo of the way of life, the ease of life of the upper class, to keep comfortable those already living in comfort, to keep wealthy those living with wealth, to keep secure those living in security.

The root of what is considered a social or political sickness is a matter of interpretation. My perspective as either oppressor or oppressed, whether I am aware of it or not, will determine and limit how I see the world around me, unless I am shaken awake to the reality of the other. As they say, “One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.”

The great women and men of history are those that have been able to step out of their perch of comfort and identify with the one that is colonized, the one who is deprived of human rights, the one that is abused, the one who is forgotten by the mighty of the world. From a place of comfort it is easy to consider the oppressed a victim of her own lack of perseverance, his inactivity or her idleness. From the eyes of the individualist where one is always considered able to “make one’s self”, the fault lies with the victim. It takes an awaking, a metamorphosis to be able to place oneself in the shoes of the other, and there staring at death, to gain new eyes that condemn one’s own inactivity and idleness in the face of the oppression that one’s very existence executes on the oppressed. Some of the worst evils we commit are the ones we are unaware of.

My heart burns for these, the oppressed.

Recently I have been challenged and consoled by a prayer of St Francis’ of Assisi. Francis was a man who chose to leave behind the splendor of a bourgeois life to serve and live among the poor, no doubt he was familiar with the suffering of the exploited. These words are powerful in a world that is more prone to raping, economically, politically, sexually, than to giving, in a world more prone to hungering for power and money no matter what the means, than to serving the one that is anything but powerful, the voiceless.

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is sadness, joy;
Where there is darkness, light;

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
Not so much to be understood, as to understand;
Not so much to be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Who is the powerless, the voiceless, the oppressed in your world?