I used to love the holiday season. I love the sounds of cheer and hope. I love to walk around and watch the extra spring in people’s legs as they walk happily around the streets, buying gifts, window shopping and celebrating the dying days of another year and hopeful of a better year ahead.
The holiday season gives a man something to look forward to. You know soon comes Christmas and right after that a new year. New years always bring a bag of hope. You know if you’ve had a bad year, you can hit the restart button next year and pray your fortune changes. If you’ve had a great year, you know with a few tweaks, the skies may be too low a limit.
But, I’m not feeling too cheerful this holiday season. I’m looking in the skies for hope but all I see are clouds of bomb smoke. I’m waiting for the phone to ring with cheery news but when it does ring I’m scared to pick it up because the news at the other end may well be one of gloom.
It’s the beginning of the holiday season but I can’t hear cheers and I can’t see the shimmering lights of Christmas because the cloud of smoke from a distant land obscures everything. I’m not feeling the joy because my mind is torn with thoughts of a place tens of thousands of miles away.
The sounds I hear are the dirge of death, the explosions that reduces a whole person into thousands of bits and flesh within the twinkle of an eye. The lights I see are the lights trailing the launch of bombs and rockets.
My mind is in two villages. One is Sderot and the other is Gaza. They used to be sister villages – them and the cluster of villages along the border of Israel and Palestine. I remember once talking to people on both sides as I work on a documentary project. They talked about the good old days when there was no fence and people mingled with more freedom.
“We used to go there and buy fish. I had friends over there,” an Israeli man told me with a sad shake of the head. You think he misses the fish until you realize his loss is worse and personal. He lost a daughter to a Quassam rocket. It’s a tale of sheer heroism.
The girl died saving his brother. She didn’t really see a bomb but she heard the bomb siren and knew danger was just around the corner so she pushed her brother down and wrapped herself around him. She was just a pre-teen. I still don’t know how I kept my calm listening to the man that afternoon. But, later at night in my room in the Kibbutz, I cried as I watched the footage.
“In the old days, we will celebrate our holidays together,” a Palestinian man who had lost more than he can count told me once.
As the eternal optimist, I thought the good days were around the corner again. How could you not if you have a heart? You know this madness has to stop sooner than later. It breaks your heart to drive around the region sometimes. You never know what you take for granted until you see what kids and adult go through in the region.
Kids in Sderot and the surrounding villages don’t exactly wear body armor. But, they might as well. They have bomb shelters on their playground in case bombs start falling. Watching kids play around bunkers was one of the most affecting thing of my life. It’s unfair in any language. Kids deserve better.
But, the Sderot kids have it better. They have a place to hide when Quassam rockets start raining from the Gazan skies. The kids in Gaza are not that fortunate. They have no hiding place when the bombs rain in from Israel. Often, they find peace in early graves.
It doesn’t have to be like this. From the outside, the Middle East crisis looks like an intricate web of problem that has no solution. But, traveling around the region, you will quickly realize that majority of the people are tired of the strife and would do anything for peace. I actually went to the region trying to follow a group who has a leg on either side of the border as they search for peace.
I used to think heroes were sports and entertainment starts until I met a man whose daughter was killed as he visited her fiancé and he’s still traveling everywhere preaching the gospel of peace. I thought the Israelis and Palestinians can’t wait to attack each other until I saw a Palestinian and an Israeli woman chatting on the phone like two teenage girls in the schoolyard.
Then, you break it down and you realize this is not the making of the people. This is the making of leaders who would rather speak with bombs and gunpowder. And, you wonder, do they really care about their people? Do they know it’s the holiday season? Do they know that the people they claim to lead need a permanent break from the circle of bloodshed and violence?
I just hope someday, the lovely kids in the border towns of Israel and Gaza can have a permanent holiday from the Quassam rockets and bombs.