Eyad El-Sarraj

A 14-year-old in Gaza has one question: Why?

By Eyad El-Sarraj
January 11, 2009
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NOOR is a lovely girl of 14, a talented writer in English and Arabic, thanks to the American International School in Gaza. Noor is my stepdaughter. She frequently asks me difficult questions about grammar or geography, about life and people.

She joined the American school when she was 8. She was popular with her American and Canadian teachers, but they fled in 2008 after an assault on the principal by an unknown fanatical Islamic group that claimed the school teaches Western culture. As chairman of the school's board, I accused the group of trying to take us back to the Dark Ages. The whole community of Gaza came to support the school, making it clear that education is the path to development and nation-building.

Noor is looking forward to higher education in the United States, but now she is not sure if that is possible. On Jan. 3, Israeli fighter bombers flattened her school.

As if that were not enough, Noor received news that her friend Christine died in an Israeli bombing.

Noor knows that she is not alone in grief. Many people, including children, are being killed every day.

Noor asked me why Israel would destroy her school. She asked why Palestinians don't have air defenses and why the good Americans are not fair. I told Noor that the good Americans are not in power. I told her about my 2006 meeting with Elliot Abrams, a Bush administration official, who said that his administration would not accept the results of the Palestinians' democratic election that Hamas had won.

Then Hamas was ready to form a government with the secular Fatah party and was ready to join the political community. Hamas was willing to evolve, much like Sinn Fein had done in Ireland or the African National Congress in South Africa.

But Hamas was never given a chance. It was not allowed to govern. Internal strife ensued. Even after Arab mediation led to a national unity accord, Hamas was besieged with a crippling economic blockade.

Noor asks why the Arabs are impotent. She asks why we don't ask Russia or China to defend us.

Noor is not alone in her pain. Many children in Gaza are wetting their beds, unable to sleep, clinging to their mothers. Worse are the long-term consequences of this severe trauma. Palestinian children in the first intifadah 20 years ago threw stones at Israeli tanks trying to wrest freedom from Israeli military occupation. Some of those children grew up to become suicide bombers in the second intifadah 10 years later.

It does not take much to imagine the serious changes that will befall today's children.

Noor felt better the other morning. She asked me how she can help others, saying she realizes that many have been killed or wounded and that entire neighborhoods have been forced to flee. That afternoon brought the news that Israel had bombed a UN school sheltering civilians. Noor thinks that such action is evil.

She criticized Hamas because they should have considered that Israel would use the rocket launching as a pretext to invade Gaza and destroy it. I told her that Hamas will survive this test by merely holding on. I relayed a conversation I had with Dr. Zahhar, a senior Hamas leader, in which he was predicting, almost precisely, what Israel is doing now.

Israel may win security for her southern border but Hamas will emerge stronger by surviving the war. The losers are those who lost their lives alongside Abbas.

Israel will eventually stop the war and we may be saved, but who will save Israel from itself?

Eyad El-Sarraj, a psychiatrist, is the founder and president of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and a commissioner of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights.

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