“We want to exchange personal experiences, Sir.”

Gaza City bomb AFP

by James M. Wall

The personal report that begins below, first appeared in the website, Mondoweiss. 

This report conveys the horror of war experienced by young Palestinian college students in Gaza during recent summer weeks of unrelenting and vicious attacks by Israel.

The author, Nazmi Al-Masri, a professor at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), writes, “This day is carved in my memory”. He continues:

As all academics in Gaza, I had given much thought to my students who were suffering all sorts of agonies and worries caused by Israel’s aggression. After 40 days of atrocities caused by heavy bombardment and random artillery shelling, which destroyed thousands of houses and devastated countless families, the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) did everything it could to make use of the three-day temporary ceasefire, which was extended for five days and then for another 24-hour period before it ended at midnight on August 19th, 2014.

They decided to resume the classes on Saturday, August 16 that had so crudely interrupted summer semester.

I was unsure what to say to my students in my lecture class. Many agonizing questions occupied my mind, among them: Were all my students and their families safe or were any of them injured or maimed? Would they be mentally able to come to class? Were they still living at home, or displaced in some shelter? How did they feel about resuming class in the midst of such agony and grief?

What tragedies had each of my students been through and how much were they comfortable talking about? Overwhelmed by these concerns and well aware of the deep wounds, loss, and hardship every single Palestinian in Gaza has suffered, I was not able to enter the classroom with a big smile on my face as I had always done in the past.

I noticed immediately that about 40% of the students were absent, they could well have lost their father, mother, brother, sister. However, as is custom in Palestine I greeted my class of 40 students with the idiomatic expression used in such circumstances: “Hello and Salam (Peace upon you all), all praise to Allah for your safety and welcome back to IUG.”

In low, sad voices the students replied: “Hello and Salam, all praise to Allah for your safety, Sir.”

I continued speaking, “Today we are not meeting to discuss a particular task or project. We’re here to exchange…”

Before I could finish, a student interrupted me: “We want to exchange our personal experiences of war, Sir.”

Without any hesitation I replied: “Yes, and that’s exactly what we’ll do. I am here to listen to you and for us to share our experiences. Who would like to start?”

One of the best students in class, Naji, began to speak: “I want to talk about three of my peers who are my partners in our graduation project, which we were supposed to submit last month.” Story-telling is part of the healing process that people go through in order to recover from bereavement and grief. I automatically responded “Please go ahead, Naji.”

In a broken voice, struggling to breathe normally, Naji began narrating his own tragedy.

“Before the Israeli attack on July 7th three of my friends and I were working hard to finish our joint graduation project due at the end of July, but we couldn’t. The problem was not getting the work done in time to graduate, but what happened to my partners, to my best friends. Approaching our final exams, we were all confident that we’d pass them all as we had done the past four years. We were keen to finish our graduation project and were looking forward to our new life afterwards. We worked hard, planned and talked about our life after graduation and how we wanted to help our families and build our future.”

Quietly, his eyes became heavy with tears and the words stuck in his throat. A few seconds later, he continued narrating his story of loss.

“It’s a unique tragedy that is different to any of the many tragedies we have learnt of so far. It isn’t a science fiction story, but something real that happened to my three friends at this university.”

Khalid – killed

“Khalid is one of my best friends, and the best of our project team. Khalid can never be forgotten; he has an amazing personality full of fun and life and energy. He is a fantastic and lovable friend and friendly to everyone.

“About two weeks after the attacks had started and during the most extreme atrocities in Shujai’iya on 20 July, I was listening to the news on the radio when I suddenly learned that Khalid had been killed when an Israeli rocket hit his house around midnight. His 55 year old father was buried under the rubble and severely injured his spine.

Two days later I learned that his father was fully paralysed. Some of his other family members are still in the hospital and others are staying in the hospital yard used by hundreds of Palestinians families as a makeshift shelter.”

To read the entire report from Professor Al-Masri, click here.

An older Jewish generation, survivors, and descendents of survivors from the Holocaust, have raised their voices over Israel’s “massacre of Palestinians in Gaza”.

Ha’aretz reported on their ad that ran in the New York Times:

Hundreds of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors have signed a letter, published as an advertisement in Saturday’s New York Times, condemning “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza” and calling for a complete boycott of Israel.

According to the letter, the condemnation was prompted by an advertisement written by Elie Wiesel and published in major news outlets worldwide, accusing Hamas of “child sacrifice” and comparing the group to the Nazis.

The letter, signed by 327 Jewish Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors and sponsored by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, accuses Wiesel of “abuse of history” in order to justify Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip:

“…we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children.

Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.”

Palestinian college students and Holocaust survivors, and descendants of Holocaust survivors, share a common sense of outrage and sadness over Israel’s massacre. 

For a full list of the letter’s signatories and for the full text of the letter, click here 

Does the American media hear these cries of anger and anguish?

Do American religious leaders, the secular political leaders, and the American public hear what is happening in Gaza?

Clearly they do not, because they all remain silent.

In the AFP picture above a bomb strikes a building in Gaza City August 24.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Human Rights, The Human Condition, Uncategorized, War. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “We want to exchange personal experiences, Sir.”

  1. An incredibly compelling and heartrending piece Jim, thank you for giving voice to those are often silenced.

  2. I will be sharing my personal experience of the Palestinians next month, 20 years after writing a book about them.

    “Bringing It All Home” is the title of my talk, referring to the home I have finally found back in a Lutheran congregation I left for the Anglicans during my 22-year marriage.

    I will focus on “the ordinary”and how my several years intimate involvement with an activist refugee family in Deheishe Camp helped restore to me the “ordinary” (the “kitchen spoon”) which dropped out of my life with the early death of my father when I was a child. It was, and continues to be the ordinary, that the Palestinians have held on to for dear life–dancing, eating, joking, teasing, visiting, marrying, picking olives, having children, etc.–under a long and harsh occupation designed to make that ordinary life impossible.

    “We must ‘to live.” the older brother of a young martyr kept repeating to me. Write about “the human,” Nidal continued to advise me. And it is the ordinary once again that was under horrendous attack in Gaza–the homes, the universities, the hospitals, the little gardens, the side streets, all of those places that support the everyday.

    God bless Jane Austen and that English professor and those students, alive and dead!
    And God bless all pf our kitchen spoons!

  3. Pauline Coffman says:

    I struggle to find words to respond, Jim, and would prefer not to speak. But the final words of Professor Al-Masri compel us to find a way to convey this horror to our friends and neighbors. Thank you for bringing this before us.

  4. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thank you, Jim for giving exposure to what some of the brave young men and women are going through in Gaza.
    The old saying goes something like, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
    To me the US is like the vast forest and the destruction of Gaza is like the falling of a tree. Our mainstream media, have earplugs, or are not there to pick up the sound.
    Fortunately, there are Americans of conscience, like your good self, who make sure that sound is picked up and transmitted beyond the borders of Palestine.
    Thank you, Jim.

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