Summer break for students and teachers means quality down-time, and this teacher looks forward to summer break even more so than my students. My childhood memories of summer are full of trips to the shore, the neighborhood public pool, bike riding, my dad’s garden, my mom’s freezing & canning assembly line in the kitchen, and just hanging out with friends and family (usually outside). This year’s summer break for me has included swimming, gardening, reading, drawing, and a visit from my daughter who lives very far away. I have been blessed by visits from her once a year since she moved, so when she said she wanted to go to the Keys with my mother and me we made it happen. Despite the rainy afternoons & evenings we enjoyed our “girl-time” together. Yesterday my son and daughter and I spent the day at the Rapids Water Park in Florida; my first time at a water park & the first time I’ve been to an “amusement” park in 15 years. I know! Shameful!!! Again, we enjoyed this family time together in spite of the two “storm-delays” that disrupted our pursuit of water-based-thrills. Rain when we want sunshine is truly a “first world problem” when put in proper perspective.
Summer break for most Americans means some kind of break from the “usual.” It is a time when we can plan a family vacation, relax, and do things that are enjoyable and, yes, peaceful. Amidst the news out of Gaza, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine…. (you name a place of conflict, violence, and fear), it’s hard to enjoy such fun and relaxation when you know so much of the world is living in a constant state of violence, terror, anxiety, grief, and oppression. At least I have a hard time enjoying such tranquility. As a Justice & Peace Promoter for my community (Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates), it’s become impossible for me to do anything without considering the environmental and human consequences of my actions, inaction, &/or consumption habits.
By the time we returned from our mini-vacation in Key Largo I learned about the tragedy of the Malaysian flight that was shot down in Ukraine, and the escalating violence in Gaza. I consider it both a blessing and a curse that I empathize so deeply with the victims of such horrific violence. I cannot hear about such things without shutting down; it’s difficult for me not to feel depressed, powerless, and hopeless. If just hearing about the horrors of war has this effect on me, I can’t imagine how millions of people the world over endure this kind of existence day after day, year after year. I have learned how to allow myself the luxury of depression and tears for a day or two, but then I turn to those emotions I call positive anger and outrage. I believe that when anger’s energy is harnessed to create change or an end to an injustice, then anger can be a highly useful emotion. Unfortunately for those who live with violence and oppression with no end in sight, they don’t have access to such luxuries as vacations, breaks, or just a day to mourn.
The ongoing oppression in Gaza is most distressing to me, so I began searching for organizations that promote peace and coexistence in Gaza, otherwise known as the world’s largest open-air prison. I have been struck by just how many groups are out there that have been working for peace for years, and how many new ones are being created since this latest crisis between Israel and Hamas erupted. Many of these groups were created by Jews in America (Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No!), Jews in Israel, and (my favorite partnership) Jews and Palestinians working together for reconciliation, an end to violence, occupation, and oppression in Gaza. Thank you, Sweden and the Middle East Views for the heads-up on a new Facebook page. The two groups The Jewish Voice of Peace, and Jews Say No! were again in the news for occupying the NY based offices of the Friends of Israel Defense Force (FIDF). They sang songs, handed out leaflets, and read the names of the 600 innocent Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli bombs in the past two weeks (as of this date, 7-28-14, the number of civilian deaths in Gaza has risen to over 1,000!). Several of the activists refused to vacate the premises and were then arrested. Just last night about 7,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv to protest Israel’s aggression in Gaza. Pax Christi shared an article posted in The Plough, written by Izzeldin Abuelaish. Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor who lost 3 of his daughters and a niece when their apartment building was shelled by an Israeli tank in 2009. What courage in the face of such pain and loss! I often tell my art students, “You are only limited by your imagination.” Imagine what kind of a peaceful world is possible if we could all be more dedicated to peace and love rather than violence and hatred.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is absolutely essential to know the history of the conflict in order to understand the current situation and the violence that continues to spin out of control. In my understanding of the conflict there hasn’t been a “summer break” in Gaza or the West Bank in more than 60 years, and it’s long overdue. So many Israeli’s and Palestinians, as well as citizens across the globe, are calling for peace, a two-state solution, and a return of stolen lands to the Palestinian people. How is it the so-called leaders of nations and the UN can’t seem to make this happen?
And now the latest cease fire has collapsed into more violence, death, and destruction on both sides; although each side blames the other. As always in cases of occupier vs. oppressed, Israel wants Hamas to give up their weapons while the IDF retains theirs. When will this insanity end? When will this conflict be peacefully resolved so that we can all enjoy a summer break that lasts a lifetime?