I am the Tuesday designated driver, and this is the fifth and last week. I sit in the waiting room, waiting for my friend to have her radiation therapy treatment administered.
The 150-mile roundtrip to Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute and the time it takes at the center is a five- to six-hour journey, and fighting the heavy traffic, especially in the congested construction areas, is unpleasant. Large trucks crowd us in and box us between huge concrete barriers. We make it to the center and I either walk her in or an attendant wheels her in in a wheelchair.
Frail and emaciated, she maintains her dignity by smiling and echoing upbeat greetings. She is the epitome of grace under fire; her head high, she walks down the labyrinthian hallway with poise, and when she emerges after her radiation treatment, she radiates courage and hope for those whose names will be called next to enter the doors through which one goes to receive the life-saving treatment.
Flashbacks stream through my mind as I recall sitting in CARTI’s waiting rooms 38 years ago, waiting for our son’s cranial radiation treatments. For the then 3-year-old there was a large toy box, a magnet that pulled him to plunder a toy or two to give him a few minutes of joy prior to his being led in by caring and loving staff who made our six-week ordeal a more tolerable experience.
After six weeks of radiation, I came back home from a brief out-of-town trip and opened the door to negotiate the 12 steps to our upstairs game room. My 3-year-old was standing at the top of the stairs, and what was once a headful of beautiful black hair is now just a handful of thin strands. And try as I could to act normally, my facial expression betrayed the shock. Ryan Nicola Halaby, my always-hero, smiled at me and said: “Welcome home, Dad. I have an Uncle David haircut!”
Sitting in the waiting room on these Tuesdays, I mentally wander into the world of current events unfolding in Gaza. I think of my Palestinian brothers and sisters who’ve been reduced by Israelis to “human animals.” I think of innocent civilians bombed to appease the Jewish God of Revenge.
“No fewer than 10 leading Israeli rabbis have issued fatwas that bombing hospitals and ‘killing civilians in times of war is divine justice.’”
For indeed, no fewer than 10 leading Israeli rabbis have issued fatwas that bombing hospitals and “killing civilians in times of war is divine justice” and killing children so they will not grow up to become enemies of Israelis is a biblically sanctioned command. And “about 90 Israeli doctors have signed a letter calling for bombing Gaza hospitals.”
So much for the Hippocratic oath.
I recently have had several arguments with God, and I press him to answer me: “Why have you taken a 75-year leave of absence from Palestine and her children? Why have you turned your back on them? Are they not also your children? Dear God, I am still waiting for an answer.”
I think of hospitals, churches, mosques, refugee camps, schools, ambulances and entire neighborhoods pulverized to concrete, rebar and rubble under which the crushed sinews of innocent women and children are pulled out, and I think of Joe Biden’s cheerleading role in this heinous carnage.
I think of his long career as the always-cheerleader for wars. “Learn from our mistakes,” he admonishes Netanyahu, his alter ego. Joe’s callous disregard for Palestine and her children — all to gain more Jewish votes, is going to backfire on him.
That tens of thousands of American Jews have demonstrated against Biden’s blind support and acquiescence is a testament to the moral teachings of the Torah and Talmud. These protesters, many of whom have been arrested, exemplify the very best traditions and teachings of the Talmud and Torah. Par excellence, they are the conscience of Jewish moral teachings that affirm the following admonition: Protecting the weak and administering to the aliens is a core value of Jewish faith.
I think and shudder at what an ambulance driver, digging through the rubble with his bare hands, tells a journalist: “I hear muffled voices and cries for help from under the rubble. Unfortunately, they go mostly unanswered. We (first responders) are pushed beyond capacity, making chances of survival slimmer by the minute.”
“That tens of thousands of American Jews have demonstrated against Biden’s blind support and acquiescence is a testament to the moral teachings of the Torah and Talmud.”
I think of the only Gaza cancer hospital having to shut down due to fuel shortage and bombs. I think of a media bending over backward to cast Israeli victims in three-dimensional persona whereas Palestinian victims are presented as extras in a sordid drama whose playwrights are Israeli military personnel, egged on and abetted by Biden, Blinken and top American brass.
I think of Joe Biden’s phony military salute and his sending fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and cousins into harm’s way to fight wars on behalf of Exxon, the military industrial complex and the many exceptional war-profiteering corporations.
And then I think that yes, Israel does have a right to defend itself. But then I wonder why the Palestinians never have had the same right for the last 75 years.
And then I think that the 2.3 million Gazans, three quarters of whom were made refugees in 1948, live on 139 square miles. With a population of 399,20, Pulaski County (Little Rock, Ark.) is 759 square miles, and Arkansas’ entire population is 3 million. Gaza’s open-air prison is the world’s largest congested ghetto. Bombing Gaza to the stone age is akin to using an AR-15 to shoot fish in a fishbowl.
I think of Israel’s four earlier assaults on Gaza (more than 13,000 dead), assaults cynically nicknamed “Mowing the grass.” And I think this time mowing has turned into a tectonic wanton destruction and uprooting of destitute refugees in the entire Gaza prison camp. In the past, Israelis sat on Tel Aviv’s beaches to watch and cheer their “most moral” army and air force in the world slaughter Palestinians.
I think of all the dead Palestinians, especially the children, disposed of as “human animals.” As one observer stated, the 4,237 and counting murdered Palestinian children have earned Gaza a ghoulish moniker: Gaza is a children’s graveyard.
And then I think of Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital besieged and bombarded by Israeli tanks and all the corpses in its surroundings.
“Palestinian mothers have been writing their children’s names on their children’s emaciated and starved bodies so that if they are killed, maimed or dismembered … they could be identified.”
And then a horrible thought flashes through my mind. Palestinian mothers have been writing their children’s names on their children’s emaciated and starved bodies so that if they are killed, maimed or dismembered, pulling them from the rubble (if they are lucky enough), they could be identified. In Nazi Germany, Jews were tattooed with numbers prior to going to the work camps and gas chambers; in Gaza women are writing their children’s names in anticipation of the inevitable — death with American-made bombs with no safe spaces. To a mother, a dead child is to be hugged — one last time.
And I think of men and women running through the streets, carrying their babies, their wounded and dead babies, to hospitals, places that also have been bombed. And I think of ice cream trucks and flatbed trucks on which scores of corpses, shrouded in white linens, are placed.
And then I think of Gaza’s cemeteries running out of space in which to bury the dead. I see mass graves full of dead people of all ages.
And I especially think of Gazans having lived a lifetime of brutal occupation in the largest open-air prison in the world. I think of how Israel and the international community have condemned them to die the humiliating death of “human animals.” That innocent civilians are denied decent burials — that final human act of giving dignity to a collective lifetime — is the unkindest cut of all.
The gods of anger and colonization have condemned Gazans to a life of occupation, imprisonment, brutality and death.
And then I think of Ryan and all the CARTI patients I’ve seen in the last four weeks, patients sitting patiently and hanging on to hope, hanging on to a better tomorrow, a better week, a better month and better years with the sincere hope for a meaningful and productive existence.
And then I think of Joe Biden’s callous demeanor and language. While delivering a speech in Minnesota during which he stumbled and mumbled through the teleprompter, Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg stood up and asked, “Why not a call for a ceasefire?” And Joe I Am a Zionist to the Core’s support team escorted the brave rabbi out.
Yes, Joe, you’ve always silenced the peacemakers. Shame on you.
And then I think of the adolescent boy, crying his heart out, raising his hands in utter despair, and wailing a cri de coeur: “I didn’t do anything. Why?”
His cry of agony has gone unheeded in all the capitals of the Western world.
And then I think of and am grateful for all the phone calls, cards and emails I’ve received since Oct. 7.
And finally, I read the Beatitudes, and I think of Jesus’ admonishment: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Raouf J. Halaby is a professor emeritus of English and art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist based in Arkansas.
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