Lots of people have asked me why I chose to leave my children and travel to Gaza in the middle of a war. If you knew three year old Omar it might be easier to understand.
Omar is the youngest child in the family of Abu Yusif, one of our host families during our time in Gaza. Yesterday Omar’s family was able to return to their real home for the first time since the bombing started. Omar proudly packed up a plastic bag of clothes to bring back to the family’s temporary housing. He repacked it three times to get it just right. Then he brought it to me to tie the bag. Omar’s father, Abu Yusif, spent the day working on the house, repairing shattered windows and a section of one wall.
Gazais full of families with children like Omar. For example, we visited Shifaa hospital in Gaza City today. A four year old child, Azad, lay in one bed, worry in his eyes. His father explained that the family was in the kitchen when a bomb from an F-16 landed near the house. Azad was hit in seven places in his legs and back by shrapnel. Azad’s mother is in another wing of the hospital with a broken leg and shrapnel injuries. The ambulance that came to bring the family to the hospital was delayed four hours by the bombing.
Outside the hospital two Red Crescent ambulances are parked. One of the ambulances is badly dented on the top and both have all their windows blown out. A white sheet holds the front door of one closed.
In our visits with the community in Gaza, we ask each person that we meet what message they would like to send back to the US. Over and over we hear the same message, “Please tell the world that we are people with dreams for ourselves and our children – we are just like you.”
Watching Omar packing his bag of clothes, I thought of my own three year old son, Dominic. He and Omar like to play many of the same games. When I hand Omar a pen and paper, he draws big circles and looks at me for encouragement and approval just as Dominic often does. I wonder what dreams these three year old boys will have as they grow up – one in New Orleans, one in Gaza.
Why did I choose to leave my children and travel to Gaza? I’ve asked myself a hundred times if I should be here. Ultimately I am here because I believe that three year old Omar has the same right to a life and dreams as three year old Dominic. And as a mother, it is my responsibility to love and speak up not just for my children, but for another mother’s child also.
AUDREY STEWART is a human rights worker in New Orleans and the mother of two small sons. She has been in Gaza with Kathy Kelly for several days.