I recently attended a rally for Gaza in Churchill Square. The organizers were handing out chalk, and hand-shaped pieces of paper with the name and age of one of Gaza’s thousand-dead. We all made chalk outlines in the Square, each body stamped with the name of the dead.
Mine was a seventeen-year-old boy named Omar Eed Al Mahmoum. Seventeen years. I was just finishing High School at that age. And I wondered, who was he? What was his life like, so far away in Gaza? What would his life have been like? Only God will ever know. I drew his outline in blue chalk and ground his name into the pavement. And then there was chalk on my hands. A stain. Residue. And like the spot on the hand of MacBeth’s wife, it would not come out. There in the lines of my hands the blue chalk nestled.
Just a few years ago, the chalk would not be on my hands. Just a few years ago, I would not have cared. In my life, I never concerned myself with the problems of the world, the sufferings of the millions of Omar Eed Al Mahmoum’s. My personal world had enough problems of its own, so how could I deal with those of the world? And yet in becoming a Muslim, I found myself inevitably tied to my Muslim brothers and sisters across the world.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, likened the compassion and love that Muslims have for each other to that of a body. “When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever,” he said. The suffering of one is the suffering of all. And it is this bond, not of nationality or location but of faith, that has grown in the past few years. Inevitably we are all bound to each other by our common humanity. And yet, in my experience, the bond of faith has run deeper than that. And so there I stood, in Churchill Square, joining in the chants to free Gaza, joining in the calls to end violence, clapping and shouting with chalk on my hands.
Politics never interested me and, to be frank, still do not interest me. All the subversive bureaucracy by men in suits who make decisions that result in the suffering, death and bloodshed of people is not to my liking. But oppressing the people is something that I can’t remain silent on, regardless of who is doing it.
Today we are faced with a blatant oppressor. We have a nation that established itself in someone else’s land, then continued encroaching inward, subverting its original inhabitants and immolating their culture and religion. This is a story that has been repeated throughout history, from the British in India to even my beloved Canada with its First Nations people. And today it is Israel and Gaza.
As the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues, the world finds itself sharply divided. Everyone, from the most powerful and influential to everyday citizens, are taking up their positions in the line drawn in the sand. The people with the most power, from politicians to media personalities, continue to point fingers and blame at whoever they deem responsible (according to national and economic interests). People around the world are seeing Israel’s “desire for peace” as hypocrisy. People are seeing how the death toll is so skewed that Israel’s actions amount to more of a genocide than a “defense against Hamas”. And as a writer, the most frightening thing for me is just how calculated, precise and influential Israel’s rhetoric is and how they have been able to inject this into the public perception. Dissenters are branded as “anti-Semitic” the same way that people or organizations were once branded as “communist” or “fascist” for attempting to voice their opinions. Israeli spokespeople are quick to position themselves as the victims, and have even be able to convince people that’s true. But there can’t be versions of the truth. And if this were as black-and-white an issue that Obama and Harper and Netanyahu want us to believe—a mythological good-versus-evil tale—there would not be worldwide protests, national and academic boycotts, or consumer awareness campaigns. There would not be so many voices saying otherwise.
In the face of all this, numbers are an objective measurement: 1400 dead in Gaza; three Israeli civilians and 56 Israeli soldiers; the remaining 1341 are Palestinians, 80% of which are civilians. This is not to trivialize the death of Israelis, but merely to show that the scales are horrifically skewed, despite Israeli rhetoric and fear-mongering. It claims to be up against an enemy that wants to wipe it out, and yet its targets have been primarily civilian. It claims to be the victim, yet its power is exponentially larger than that of its enemies—which, judging by the numbers, make no distinction between civilians and combatants. What we have here is an oppressor that claims to want peace, while at the same time systematically slaughtering the people it claims it wants peace for.
People like those three boys playing soccer on the beach, which Israel’s advanced weapons technology deemed to be terrorists. People like those who hid in UN hospitals and schools, safe zones that were inevitably reduced to rubble and blood. People like my chalk outline, Omar Eed Al Mahmoum.
Pinned on the board above my computer is the hand-shaped piece of paper with his name. The fingers curl outwards, as if trying to grasp at something just out of reach. There is no chalk on this hand. And I knew that as I stood in the protest, no matter how hard I shouted, no matter how many times I clapped my hands, no matter how far I walked, the chalk would remain on my hands until it was over.
I, a 25-year-old Canadian, may not be able to change the world on my own. But at the very least I can add my voice to the voices that are rising up around the world. Apathy is oppression. It is oppression by those who can’t be bothered to care. So sign that petition, share that Facebook post, switch from Starbucks to Second Cup, or at the very least hate it in your heart, as the Prophet, peace be upon him, said that was the weakest of faith.
Or else the chalk will be on your hands, too. Except when it is all over, you will not be able to wash it out.