Two women blow out birthday candles, as one woman holds an infant
Emma Pearlman (left) and her friend Noura celebrate their birthdays in Rafah, Gaza, in 2003. Emma turned 20 that summer and Noura, who holds her child, turned 23. (Photo/Courtesy)

Gazans deserve normal lives, just like you and I do

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The delicious aroma of fresh brewed coffee. The laughter of children as they make up games and try to entice their parents to play with them. The golden sun setting after a long day of shared work and play. These are the moments I remember from the summer I spent living with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip many years ago.

Today these families huddle under makeshift tents, driven from their homes, and starve as bombs rain down. If they are still alive.

In 2003, when I was 20, I spent a summer in Rafah in the Gaza Strip in an effort to create a sister-city relationship with my city in Washington state. While in Gaza, I witnessed the beauty and perseverance of the people. Even at that point, they had been through so much, yet were still attempting to live normal lives just like the rest of us. 

I had the opportunity to watch enthusiastic performances of the dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance. I tasted exquisite olives grown on local farms. I was invited to attend family weddings, where festivities lasted for days. In the streets, I saw children make beautiful kites out of trash bags and other debris.

Now, I am horrified to learn from the Gaza health ministry that more than 29,000 Gazans have been killed by the Israeli military in the past four months, and 69,000 people have been wounded. I live in Washington state in a town with a population of roughly 56,000. I try to imagine what it would be like if half of the people in my town had been killed. It is unfathomable.

In Gaza, more than 85% have been displaced from their homes by Israel’s military campaign, a total of almost 2 million people, according to the BBC. Most of these families will have nowhere to return to because 70 percent of the homes in Gaza have been destroyed, the Wall Street Journal reports, as have schools, hospitals, places of worship and many historical sites.

According to CNN, the Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Phase Classification initiative says that all Gazans face high levels of acute food insecurity or worse — the highest percentage it has classified for a specific region or country.

The Israeli government says it is attacking Gaza to eliminate Hamas so that Israelis will be safe. But it merely perpetuates a conflict that has made both Palestinians and Israelis less safe. Even if Israel could eliminate every Hamas fighter in Gaza, the brutality and desperation of life under an occupation, with no end in sight, will inspire violence.

Gazans are not evil beings who deserve such hardships. They are just like you and me. I lived there. I saw with my own eyes the beautiful culture, tasted with my own mouth the recipes handed down from generation to generation, listened with my own ears to the stories of grandfathers and the laughter of children. This is what is being destroyed — real human lives and an entire culture.

I fear that unless there is a cease-fire now, it will be too late.

After the Holocaust, we said this would never happen again. It should not be divisive to repeat this any time we see a potential genocide. We must demand an immediate and permanent cease-fire and uninterrupted aid to keep people in Gaza alive. Our own humanity depends upon it.

Emma Pearlman
Gaza,  opinion
Emma Pearlman

Emma Pearlman was born in Santa Rosa and grew up in Guerneville. She now lives in Washington state, where she works as a registered nurse.