By Suha Najjar, Sophomore at the University of Michigan
I finally came home last night from my weeks long trip to Gaza. Descending into Detroit and seeing all the lights, the cars, the vast neighborhoods, I began to think that the people below are probably thinking about what bar they will be spending St. Patrick’s Day at, while in the meantime, people in Gaza are wondering what they are going to do in the next 15 hours without any electricity or gas in their home. That a college student may be mourning the loss of the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA tournament, while a mother in Gaza mourns the death of her 12 year old child trying to understand what her son had done to have his life taken away. While a father is mowing his green lawn here, a father in Gaza struggles to keep rain out of his house as it gets flooded because the roofs aren’t really roofs, but rather scraps of wood and metal tied together (besides why did anyone need to build roofs, they were only supposed to be in this refugee camp for a short while before they could finally go back to their own home).
Later as I was waiting for my luggage in the Detroit airport, I got a phone call from one of my friends. She welcomed me back and said she had so much to tell me. This friend always told me she wasn’t really the “political” type and I understood what she meant by that, but for some reason I hoped she had something I considered interesting, which at that point, could have only been about Palestine, my family, and all their safety. I didn’t have time to talk to her, so I called her back later that night convincing myself that I was anxious to hear what she had to say. When I asked her what she was talking about, she begins to tell me, “so I met this guy…” I was lost. How could this girl possibly be talking about mindless boys at a time like this? She proceeded to ask me for advice, and I felt bad because I gave her advice about something I didn’t completely hear her out on.
As she spoke, I asked her over a dozen times to repeat herself, but even when she did, it was a struggle for me to pay attention and an even bigger struggle to contain my irritation with her complete lack of sensitivity. I just wanted to shut the phone in her face to avoid from admitting that I didn’t give a crap. But I didn’t. I knew that if she had told me this story before I went to Gaza, I would have been excited to get all the details and maybe even asked for the link to his profile on Facebook. I am just as guilty as she is, and I am actually worse. She has never witnessed the brutality of the occupation. She has never witnessed hunger, destruction, or complete loss of hope. But what excuse do I have for becoming so desensitized to my own country’s suffering?
During this visit, Gaza was under yet another aerial attack that left at least 25 Palestinians dead and 75 wounded. When the strikes began, I thought I would be terrified. I thought I would want to be back here in the States, safe and sound. But what was strange was that I actually felt at peace during a time of attack. The anxiety and stress I would have been going through here in America if this had happened while my mother and siblings were in Gaza would have been unbearable. Ever since my family moved back to Gaza, nothing like this had happened, but there were smaller attacks that always left me terrified. I could only imagine what this would’ve done to me had I been here, when my mind was holly there. This is where that feeling of peace and belonging came from.
But all that went away when I came back here. I am back to my first world life and for some reason, it feels shameful, almost immoral. I am uninterested and angry. I miss my family and my country and am yearning to go back.
This is how I feel every time I get back from Gaza, so I really feel the need to apologize. I am sorry that I’ve become so apathetic, that I’m not actually here, and that everything you say I somehow tie back to Gaza. This is always one of the hardest times of my year, and I really am sorry. But I am in a state of recovery, as always. This state will eventually fade, though never quite disappear.