By Philip Weiss (in Gaza)
May 31, 2009

My group is leaving Gaza over the next couple of days. A few of us don’t
want to leave. We feel connected to the place, and the people have been
universally welcoming. They all say the same thing. They want to be part of
the world, their cause has been cast away by the world.

A number of us feel guilty that we half-believed the propaganda about Gaza.
I did myself. I thought it was a fearful place and I was taking my life in my
hands. One friend is angry at herself for worrying about her safety
constantly before she left. Now it feels egotistical next to these people's safety.
John Ging of the U.N. said that if the people were really indoctrinating
their children with hatred in the schools, then how come we have been safe
everywhere we go?

We had a meeting of the group tonight to go over tomorrow's schedule,
and someone asked for people to reflect and Susan Johnson, spoke about
how wrenching it was to meet so many intelligent people whose largest
desire is to live a normal life.

“I’ve done work in prison,” she said. “This is worse than being in prison.
How people can be so cruel to other people-- I don’t understand, I just
don’t understand it. I can understand how people in the United States don’t
know it’s as bad as it is. That's because of the press, and we’re probably
at this point the best hope these people have for getting the word out.
I look on that as a really big responsibility. I don’t want to let them down.
I’m not ready to leave.”

Later I asked Susan why Gaza is worse than the prison she'd worked in,
Graterford, in Pennsylvania. She said that the prisoners get along with
the guards generally; they all understand the system and the routine and the
rules. Here, she said, the guards are miles away. They drop leaflets or
white phosphorus. She went on, When a bird's in a cage, it doesn't try to fly
out; it knows it's in a cage and accepts the fact. But these people are in a cage
and they can't fully believe it. They're like birds with their wings cropped
who are walking around on the ground and keep flapping on to a branch
trying to fly.

Susan and I were both disturbed by the meeting we'd had in the afternoon
with a bunch of students who can't leave to go to schools that have given
them scholarships overseas. They're incredibly appealing kids; I'm going to
be putting up some videos of them in days to come and telling their stories.
Seven of them came to our hotel just to talk to us. None of them was angry
at us; they've suffered a lot though, and now and then the stark frustration
and fear played on their faces. Hazem Abukaresh, below, told me how
important it is to get his Ph.D. in computer science before he's 30. He's 24,
and has been stopped at the border four times now--just trying to get out, to
Europe, China, Malaysia, and Jordan, where schools were expecting him.

Susan said:

"Those kids just want to meet people, that's all. They want to go
places. And they can't go anywhere. They graduate from college and
then they can't go anywhere."

Susan asked me for my reflections. I told her I felt bad about my own
prejudice against these people ahead of time, and for being so concerned with
my own Jewishness, the Jewish future, and the Jewish image in the world.
Here that concern feels stupidly selfish. The people of Gaza are persecuted.
Full stop.

For me to agonize about my Jewishness when I know about the degree of
persecution is actually indulgent and a dodge. Yes this place touches on
Jewishness and the important issue of how to reimagine Jewishness, to
recover it from this horror, but as my roommate Sammer, an Arab-American,
points out, the work ahead of us is political now, trying to move American
minds, American policies. A big part of that is in the Jewish community,
of course; and I can't wait to get home and begin to tell people what I saw
here, the cruelties perpetrated in the name of the Jewish people; and let
Hazem tell his story for himself.

That's down the road. I have a couple of days left. I'm going to spend that time listening to Gazans...

Philip Weiss lives in New York and is an investigative journalist who has
been a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Jewish
World Review, The New York Observer and other mainstream publications
as well as being as being a contributing editor to Esquire and Harper's
Magazine. Weiss is the author of the 2004 book American Taboo: A Murder In
The Peace Corps
. He is now working on a book about Jewish issues.
He also writes a blog, Mondoweiss -
Iraq comes home: the war of ideas.

Greta Berlin
Board of Directors
Free Gaza Movement
357 9647 1263