The heroism of ordinary people


The one thing worth writing about is the heroism of one million seven hundred thousand mortals, flesh and blood residents of the Gaza Strip. They are sons and daughters, men and women, fathers and mothers, the middle aged and the elderly, the sick, babies, youths, poor and wealthy, adolescent boys and girls. All, without exception, may die a senseless, absurd death. None of them knows when, yet the thunder of bombings, far and near, promotes death to the top of the list of possibilities.

There is no heroism in war or death, yet waiting for death is far worse than death itself. The real heroism lies in the actions of one million seven hundred thousand people, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, sixty minutes an hour and sixty seconds a minute, as they struggle to survive, to stay alive without losing their minds, or losing sight of that fine line that at certain moments separates man from beast.

The homes in Gaza have no residential secure spaces, no shelters people can escape into, no sirens to warn them of approaching fighter planes, no Iron Dome or anti-aircraft defense systems. There are no medical teams equipped with cutting edge medical devices, or all conceivable equipment and technologies designed to save lives, treat shell-shock victims and provide humanitarian aid and social protection.

When a house collapses and its inhabitants die, the problem is resolved. Yet when a house collapses and the inhabitants survive, a new torture awaits them – exposed and naked they have to look for shelter.

One million, seven hundred thousand humans, flesh and blood, exposed and naked under an iron sky, the ground burning under their feet. Talk of Arab helplessness is pointless, it has all been said long ago. Talk of the silence of the world and the absence of world conscience is also pointless – it has all been said long ago. Even talk of the crimes of the state of Israel and war crimes committed against civilians is pointless – that too has all been said long ago. Terms such as helplessness, lack of conscience, silence and crimes are the ‘fast food’ the writer, the analyst and the commentator  resort to whenever they are required to write on something that has already exhausted their vocabulary arsenal, a subject on which they have already said all they have or haven’t thought of as analysis, explanation and commentary. Nothing new can be said on the issue of why and wherefore the current war against Gaza is different from its predecessor, and more importantly – the war to follow within a year, perhaps more, or maybe less.

All of this means nothing to the one million, seven hundred thousand humans who wake up every morning with nothing to reassure them that this would not be their last morning, with nothing to reassure them at nightfall that they would live to see the dawn of a new morning.

Actually, people are unaware of the terror and fear until they have regained their breath. It is then that they can speak of the meaning of life in hell and discover the heroism of daily life, in every ephemeral, everyday, banal occurrence. Heroism is behaving and speaking normally, the ordinary talk that a mother and her sons must carry on in the shadow of potential death. Heroism is the bravery of parents watching sons and daughters they are unable to protect from a foreseen death, while still wanting to preserve a fraction of what’s left of their parental stature.

We have all fallen, in one measure or another, into the trap of heroic narratives that turn mere mortals into symbols and propaganda props of the significance of the national issue. We never realized that this trap robs these mere mortals of their right to be heroes, a right they forfeit when they become symbols and cease to be ordinary human beings. The genuine and heroic significance of their existence would not be revealed unless their simplicity is maintained – their being ordinary mortals. The less politics we have, we may see the more humaneness.

Soon this would all be over.

And before it is over, those doomed to die will die, and the others will live, for no apparent reason on both counts. And soon the experts and commentators will forget all that had happened, because something else will happen somewhere else, close by or far away, and new spectacles of death in a new place will take over the television screens. The news agencies people will travel elsewhere, as will the reporters and photographers, and the spokespersons will be temporarily unemployed.

In the meantime, one million and seven hundred thousand people will emerge into the air filled with gunpowder, into the hot air and the windblown dust, and the random death all around.  And we will yet again take the same worn cliches and marginalize them and forget the heroism of ordinary people. Until further notice.

Translated from Arabic by Yehudith Harel

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