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I am Gaza, I am bleeding


'Let's Fully Welcome Refugees' banner at St Paul's Cathedral Melbourne

It was 30 degrees centigrade and sunny in Gaza, as our small band of around 20 kept vigil in the cold night rain at Melbourne’s Federation Square. We shed silent tears for the people of Gaza. A place that should have been beautiful; but that is the setting for misery death and horror. 

In the last month an estimated 2000 Palestinians including 400 children have been killed and 10,000 injured. Much of Gaza is reduced to rubble and rendered uninhabitable, with bodies that lie still and silently entombed beneath destroyed buildings. 

It is only during the fragile stingily brief ceasefires, that people of Gaza emerged from flimsy shelters, to search for and bury their dead. They return to see if their homes have survived the bombing and shelling. 

It is a time to pull a prayer rug from beneath the ruins, or to salvage precious objects. How many have there been, these halts to the killing? No sooner announced than breached? We held tea candles powered by battery to resist the extinguishing of their flames. 

We stood in silence. Jewish, Christian, Muslims and atheists, united in sorrow. The bell, activated by a mobile phone, tolled from a laptop for the dead. We shivered. We heard words from a Jewish person, a Catholic and a Muslim mother. Her daughter recited a poem, ‘I am Gaza I have a dagger in my heart.  I am bleeding’.

I wished that I could hold this jewel of a poem in memory, but the words slipped away. Where is the world?  On Swanston Street, the world walks on by. It is Saturday night in Melbourne, and the town is in party mode. No exploding bombs light the skyline. Just the city lights, and the moon, if you can find it. It is soothing to hear the words of peace, and to share sorrow. Some of us hug and others stand in stillness. St Paul’s Cathedral stands solidly on the corner opposite, festooned with ‘Lets fully welcome refugees’.

There are now estimated to be over 500,000 displaced people in Gaza. The borders are controlled and the UN shelters full. There is nowhere for them to go in the aptly named Gaza Strip, which is a mere 10 by 45 kilometres. Rain falls, my hands like frozen water clutch my candle and I think about the images I have seen and stories that I have read on my screen. The two and a half year old, with cracked skull, blasted as she played near her family, and whose suppurating, swollen, purple panda, eyes barely open. The 85-year-old orange and lemon farmer, Ibrahim Mohammad al Toum returning to find his house ruined. The home that he had rebuilt for the third time, has been bombed in each of the three conflicts since 2008.

'Why did they do it? Why. It is unfair unfair! I am a peaceful man’. 

Fr John urged us to remember the pain of trauma but acknowledged its paradox. Trauma can both numb and sensitise feelings. We can become hypersensitive to our own pain and numb to the anguish of others. We should not caste blame but think also of the wounds to the Israelis. I think of the Israeli settlers' chairs set out as though in a theatre at Siderot, watching and cheering from the hilltop as Gaza city is bombed beneath them. 

It is a retort in laughter that proclaims, 'We Israelis have suffered the slings and arrows so shall you'. Born Jewish, I know very well the massive sensitisation to holocaust pain which for many has meant the numbing desensitisation to the pain of others. 

Some of us lament our Vigil for Gaza’s – insignificance in the scheme of things. A heckler denounces our vigil as puny; saying war is all the fault of religion any way. But it has been a respite of spiritual restoration. History recalls the mission of lone Indigenous  William Cooper. He brought a petition to the German Consulate in Melbourne in 1938, protesting Kristallnacht. This was the night when German Jews, their businesses, and synagogues, were smashed and 30,000 Jews were incarcerated. It heralded officially sanctioned persecution. 

Cooper, an indigenous man whose people had known displacement, humiliation and genocide, found it in his heart, to speak for the suffering of others.

It is hard to look at, but harder to look away from, the suffering in Gaza. It has a population of 1.8 million whose average age is 17 years. Over 25 per cent are children. They have suffered bombardment and incursion three times since 2008. The Israeli Defence Force call it ‘mowing the lawn’ 

The Jewish people of Israel are the descendants of those who have suffered systematic genocide. These wounds take generations to heal. This is equally true regarding the decades long suffering of the Palestinians. 

Lyn Bender headshotLyn Bender is a Melbourne psychologist. Follow her on Twitter @Lynestel

Topic tags: Lyn Bender, Gaza, vigil, prayer, solidarity, Palestinians, Israelis



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Existing comments

Thank you.

Sara | 15 August 2014  

Thank you Lyn. Today in the Church we celebrate Mary, Mother of our Lord. When she and Joseph took Jesus into the temple for the first time Simeon prophesied to her that 'a sword will pierce your heart also'. Those few words of poetry pierced my heart, and reminded me of Mary, who - like the residents of Gaza - watched her Son die a violent death. Have we become desensitised to other's suffering? Have we forgotten how to weep?

Pirrial Clift | 15 August 2014  

Excellent article, Lyn. The only solution is for universal prayer for peace whatever our religion. The late John F. Kennedy astutely observed: "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an d to mankind". Peggy Spencer

Peggy Spencer | 15 August 2014  

From me too: thank you

Frank | 15 August 2014  

I find it very sad that vigils never seem to achieve anything, particularly when the distress that motivates the good intentions of the those taking part originates with a mob of intransigent lunatics blindly fighting with each other.

john frawley | 15 August 2014  

The real problem was summed up 800 years ago by Thomas Aquinas. All men desire peace, Few men desire the things that make for peace

David Goss | 16 August 2014  

I think of the Israeli settlers' chairs set out as though in a theatre at Siderot - Lyn I presume this is a slip of the pen. Sderot is a town within the internationally recognized Green Line borders of Israel. The residents are citizens of Israel, not settlers. Their anger and what you call their insensitivity towards the Gazan population has nothing to do with the Holocaust - it reflects the fact that Hamas has been indiscriminately sending rockets into their homes, parks, and school grounds with the intent to injure and kill for the last 9 years. Are you not aware of this? Philip Mendes

philip mendes | 16 August 2014  

Let's not forget the 150,000 civilians killed by government forces in Syria to date and the christians being murdered in Iraq - no vigils for them.

Frank Carroll | 18 August 2014  

Thank you for your compassion.

cecile yazbek | 21 September 2014  

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