In the 50 days since military escalations began in the Gaza Strip, millions of tweets have been tweeted and retweeted. There have been hours of cable news pundits discussing the intensity of hostilities between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces. Dozens of American and European reporters have flown in to Ben Gurion Airport to cover the "Gaza situation." But, what has become lost in the breaking news world we live in is the shocking number of civilians who have been injured and killed since this conflict began.
For many of us who are old enough to remember life before September 11, 2001, we understand that the chaos swirling through this good earth has ebbed and flowed. The nature of humanity is ever oscillating and cultures often clash -- violently. However, for youth who have grown up in the aughts and have come of age in a time of constant war, I wonder how they see this crazy, beautiful, dangerous world. Because they have heard statistics of this many American soldiers killed in Iraq and that many protesters killed by Egyptian forces at Tahrir, do they truly understand the sanctity of every single human life? As I think about it, have we all become numb from the 24-hour news cycle, the instant access to information on the Internet and the ability to talk back to world leaders through their Facebook accounts?
The answer is no.
While it might seem as if the appalling number of casualties that have been documented and reported daily are too many to keep up with -- each one had a name. According to the information recorded by OCHA at the time of this writing, the death toll in Gaza stood at more than 2,100, of whom 1,460 have been identified as civilians. Beyond the heartbreak of attempting to process that many lives cut short, there remain the injured. UNRWA has opened up 85 of its schools as emergency shelters for 283,220 internally displaced persons. The injured number over 10,000 according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. These are our fellow human beings who many lost everything they owned when Israeli airstrikes toppled their homes. It is difficult for me, a woman who has witnessed incredible despair and suffering, to understand how these fragile, broken people will go on.
And then there are the children.
Over 500 children have been killed since Israeli military operations began in Gaza early in July. Some of the dead children were siblings. Some were infants just days old. On Eid we all remember the happy children celebrating on the playground one minute and then gone from this earth the next. Who can forget the boys running on the beach enjoying a sunny Mediterranean afternoon who were then struck dead by a shell as Gaza's harbor was targeted. The four boys were cousins, all from the Bakr family. Their names were Ismail, Ahed, Zakaria and Mohamed. The sky was so blue that July afternoon. The seagulls were gliding on the sea breeze and in other times ice cream stands would be set up serving up cups of pistachio and chocolate. On a day so perfect how could four young boys be taken from this world in such a violent and horrifying way. As I watched the news coverage I wondered to myself how can this world continue to turn when such cruelty exists.
There is talk of a ceasefire, a negotiation reached in Cairo. I hope so very much that peace will come to the people of Gaza. The border closings, the disconnect from the outside world, the sheer population density has created a people who are trapped in a ghetto of death and sorrow and the stench of a war which has been waged with civilians paying the greatest price. The UNRWA estimates that 71 percent of those killed in Gaza have been civilians. People just like you and me who had dreams of traveling, dreams of growing up and getting married or dreams of spending their final years surrounded by happy grandchildren at play. I wonder where the dreams of the crimeless victims go when they are killed for being born in the wrong place. Do their dreams soar high on the wings of the Great cormorants of Palestine? Do their dreams travel to the stars and make their gases burn that much brighter? I like to think that the hopes and dreams of those who have died in this unprecedented assault will be reborn in the sweet, juicy Palestinian strawberries that future children playing in the gardens will devour gleefully. In my dream the future children of Palestine will not know bombs and missiles. They will be able to travel freely and live with self-determination, autonomy and dignity. Right now, that is just a dream.
What I really want you to do is visit the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC) and read the names of those killed in the nearly two months of war in Gaza. When you read each name imagine the life of that person and what they could have done if they had been born across a different border or a different continent. Imagine if you can that each of these names represents a human who was just recently eating breakfast and listening to Beyoncé on their iPod or Fairouz singing about a love for all seasons. Read these names and know that their lives will have mattered only if all of us do our part to speak to one another in dialogue and not with weapons.