Thanks to EPF PIN member Steve France for attending and reporting on this program.
It seemed maybe it was a dark joke when Yousef Bashir, a young Gazan, said Israel’s leaders sometimes bomb Gaza out of “boredom.” He was talking to an audience at the Foundation for Middle East Peace about the trauma of growing up in Gaza. When question time came he was challenged by a man who said Israel fights in Gaza to protect itself from Hamas, not out of boredom. But Yousef told what he would see the IDF soldiers do who occupied parts of his family’s home for almost five years during the Second Intifada (the home was right next to a militant Jewish settlement): He would watch the snipers sitting around getting bored. Then one of them would shoot a dog or a goat, just wounding it, and another would do the same and a third would fire the kill shot. This was how they entertained themselves, Yousef explained. The leaders are no different, he added, saying they shoot and bomb to entertain Israeli voters.
He might have pointed to something more personal: the day in 2004 that a UN group got a permit to visit Yousef’s home and a soldier randomly shot 15-year-old Yousef in the spine as he was waving good-bye to them. He had already told the audience about this, but had emphasized his good fortune in having the UN group drive him directly to a local hospital. Soon, he found himself in a Tel Aviv hospital for a long stay. The point, he told the audience, was how shocked he was to see Israelis doing good. They saved his life. The bullet is still in his back, but 16 months of rehab gave him back the ability to walk. What sort of irritation or boredom motivated the man who shot him he did not say.
The other young Gazan speaking at the “Gaza’s Next Generation” program Aug. 16 was Mohammed Eid. He told of working as an UNRWA first responder during the 51-day attack on Gaza in 2014 known as “Operation Protective Edge.” That was when he was rushed to a scene of carnage only to see his family’s home had just been blown up. “I purposely avoided being the first one to go in. I didn’t want to be the one to have to identify my family members,” he told the audience. Thankfully, they had gotten out in time and were not injured. But it was the second family home he had seen destroyed, the first one having been suddenly bulldozed a few years earlier to create a larger buffer zone around Gaza. Not being from Gaza, the family had of course already lost their home in Northern Palestine in the Nakba.
Maybe the most amazing part of hearing the two young men tell their stories and discuss the issues was seeing that they had survived the unrelenting hardship, humiliation and terror of life in Gaza not only intact but possessed of such inner peace. They were remarkably poised, modest, highly educated, highly articulate and deeply committed to nonviolence. Yousef, who now works with the PLO Delegation in DC, has a master’s from Brandeis; Mohammed is getting a master’s from Duke and spent the summer volunteering with UNRWA. Their families have been rock solid – Yousef’s father, a farmer and literature teacher, inculcated an uncompromising ideology of peace and is the star of Yousef’s forthcoming book, “The Words of My Father.” His son said that he considers any show of anger to be a “defeat.” Mohammed’s family lost everything three times but had each other and always rebuilt their lives. Leaving Gaza to study in the U.S he had everything taken away from him but enjoyed the generosity of his American hosts. Their commitment to their people and to peace and justice seemed serenely unshakable.