Sunday, September 5, 2010

Last year I worked for Catholic Charities. We were encouraged to keep business cards handy so that when people drove by our rebuild or paint sites and wanted information for themselves or a friend, we could give them a number to call. I still keep a card on me because I really like the Mission Statement on the back. It reads:

Respecting the dignity and potential of each human person, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans collaborates with the wider community to serve those in need. Impelled by the love and teaching of Jesus Christ, we offer life-giving programs, advocate for the voiceless, and empower the poor and vulnerable to foster a more just society.

When I read the back of this little business card, I was finally able to express how my work in New Orleans was connected to the work I would do in Palestine.

Exhibit A:
My friend's hair dresser asked her why she was rebuilding for poor New Orleanians, when they were just too lazy to work. He's obviously never been to an appreciation dinner and heard the testimony of our home owners. If he heard an old lady talk about leaving her flooded home, losing her mother and moving all over the South while contractors made off with her life savings, he would know that our work has been life-changing for them, for us, and for the short-term volunteers who traveled here to help make her home inhabitable. Her name is Alma Thomas, and she isn't lazy.

So what does it mean to respect the dignity and potential of each human person?

Exhibit B:
Paint crew volunteer: So, what are you doing after AmeriCorps?
Me: I'm going to work in Palestine...
Another volunteer: Palestine, Texas??
Me: Haha no....the other one.
Another volunteer: What are you doing over there?
Me: I'm going to work with kids. There's a school that offers classes in English, computers-
Another volunteer: -and bomb making?
Me: Ummmmmmm
Same dude: Just don't pull the pin too soon, and be careful you don't cross the green wire with the red wire hahahahahah

You won't find Palestinians on the list of things that most Americans feel the need to be PC about, and call me sheltered, but that was the most racist thing that's ever been said to me. Essentially, what he was saying is that some children (like the children he was chaperoning on his church trip) were made to love and some children were made to hate.

A lot of people have trouble grasping the dignity and potential thing because they don't know anyone who looks like the people suffering on TV.

This is a picture I picked up at a protest last November. It's from a photo taken of a boy in Gaza after Operation Cast Lead.

This is Karim, my host brother from Jordan. Karim is a happy little kid, adored by his parents and grandparents and really, anyone who sees him. He is so. freaking. cute.

At least half of Jordan's population is of Palestinian descent, so when I see that boy, I see Karim. Karim isn't violent. As he grows up, he'll take the love and respect he gets and turn it into love and respect for others. But will the same happen for the boy in Gaza?

I would like those who assume that Palestinians only have themselves to blame for their condition to answer the following questions:

Why aren't Palestinian students allowed to leave the territories to study abroad?
Why do sick and dying Palestinians have to wait for hours at a checkpoint before reaching a hospital?
Why are building permits for Palestinian schools and hospitals denied, and existing institutions demolished?
Why are peaceful international human rights activists robbed of their cameras and computers, arrested and deported?
Why can't children in Gaza have fruit juice and plastic toys?

Not to say that collective punishment is the only thing obstructing the peace process. But when people try to further their education, seek medical care, build a school, or engage in peaceful protest, denying them these opportunities AND blaming them for not seeking peace....well, the only question I have left is, how conscious is this hypocrisy?

I've never really felt that my dignity and potential were disrespected, unless I count that week on rebuild when an older man called me pet names, so it's hard for me to put myself in the shoes of someone who knows that feeling. But I'm in New Orleans to try, and I'm getting ready to go to Palestine to try harder. As of now, I'm living in two places simultaneously, so it doesn't matter if anyone disagrees and thinks New Orleans and Palestine have nothing in common. At the very least, they have me.