Monday, February 2, 2009

"Americans Are the Ones Who are Occupied"

I thought my pilgrimage was over--back from my travels, I thought I had learned what I could about Palestine. I was wrong; the pilgrimage continues.....

"Americans are the ones who are occupied." That's what Wael Dokhan told us at a panel discussion on Gaza Sunday at Regis University, sponsored by Friends of Sabeel-Colorado.

Wael, a Ph.D. student at the Korbel School for International Studies, University of Denver, is from Gaza. His wife and four children are still there because they were denied permits to accompany Wael to the United States while he studies here. He can only talk to them on the phone, and in January, as they talked, he could hear the gunfire and the bombs--as his family could hear them every day for three weeks during the attack by the Israeli military. Wael's daughters, 8, 7, 5 and 8 months, are growing up in a terror-filled world where bombs can fall on your house any day, where bulldozers can come and demolish your home with only two hours' notice, where there is no fuel for cooking and where, for five hours every day, there is no electricity. Wael called Gaza "the world's biggest prison." The Israeli blockade, imposed after the Palestinians elected a majority Hamas government, ensures that there is no medicine, no medical equipment.

His mother needed radiation treatment for her cancer. She needed to go to Egypt for the treatments because Israel has closed the checkpoints into Gaza. They will not allow radiation equipment through the checkpoints, even when they are open for short periods of time. His wife has had no oil for cooking for three months.

The Israeli residents of Sderot live with the terrorism of kassam rockets fired from Gaza. Gazans live with the daily terrorism of having every aspect of their lives controlled by the Israeli governmentj--from where they will travel (nowhere), to where they will get your daily necessities like food and clothing, where they will go to school. Wael came to the U.S. to study for his PhD. in international relations, and because his family was not permitted to come with him, he went back for a visit at the end of the first year. When he wanted to return, the Israeli government made him wait six months for a travel permit. His friend has been waiting one and a half years to return and still does not have a permit and cannot leave Gaza. Wael has never seen his youngest daughter, but he does not want to go back to Gaza for fear he will not be able to return to finish his studies.

His wife is staying with her parents so that she and the children would be safer during the attack. The house was hit by a shell from an Israeli tank. No one was hurt, but Wael has many family members and friends who were killed in the attask. His cousin's son was killed--the third of her sons to be killed by the Israelis.

Wael says we Americans are the ones who are occupied--our minds, our news, is occupied. We do not hear the whole truth. We hear only what our news media choose to tell us. We hear a great deal about the suffering of the Israelis, but we hear nothing about the daily suffering of the Palestinians--the two-hour waits at the checkpoints for people just trying to get to work, the blockade of medicine for people who are sick in Gaza's hospitals, the travel permits held up for a year and a half by Israeli bureaicrats simply because they can get away with it.

When Wael talked to his five-year-old daughter recently, she told him, "Daddy, these airplanes and missles are from where you are--from America." The Apache helicopters and F-16 fighters are from America--made by American companies and given as military aid to Israel. This is the face of America for Gaza's children--for all the children of the Arab world. America badly needs freedom from our own occupation. We badly need a new image in the world.

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