This evening I have been “followed” on Instagram by Said Khatib, the photographer from Gaza, Palestine. One photograph by Khatib will be the cover of my second book, An American in Palestine. I am honored to share correspondence with a man, whose photo journalism is bringing the struggle of Palestine to the headlines. I aim to match his photographic image with my memories of two Palestinian families in West Bank Palestine.
The prologue to An American in Palestine:
Wake Up, Ric d. Stark!
“I wish that people would listen to the Palestinian voices on the ground, talk to the mothers who try to put their children next to them, because, if they die, they want to die together… These are the kinds of stories that need to be told behind the bombing [of Gaza by Israel in May 2021.”]
On MSNBC on May 17, 2021, I heard Rashida Tlaib, the sole US Congressperson of Palestinian descent, bemoan about the distorted view that Americans have of Palestinians. She lamented that Americans don’t hear the personal stories of common Palestinian people. Speaking to Joy Reid, Tlaib spoke with passion.
Sitting in my rocking chair in Ewa Beach, Hawai‘i, working on my Hawaiian quilt as I listened to Congresswoman Tlaib, I cried, “Hey! I can tell those kinds of stories.”
On May 10, 2021, an escalated outbreak of violence commenced in the ongoing Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. Sparked by earlier disturbances in East Jerusalem, aerial bombings were exchanged by Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu until a ceasefire came into effect on May 21.
As a result of the violence, at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, had been killed. In Israel, at least 13 people had been killed. The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that more than 1,900 Palestinians were injured, at least 72,000 Palestinians had been displaced. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
On May 17, when Rashida Tlaib bemoaned that no one was sharing stories of the common Palestinian people, she could not have known that her words would awaken the voice of one American, who could indeed tell just those sorts of stories.
In 2013 and 2014, I had the rare and clandestine opportunity to visit West Bank Palestine. During my extended three-month stay in Beit Laim (Bethlehem,) I spent time and enjoyed the company of two Palestinian families. Renting a small apartment on the ground floor of the home of a four-generation Christian family, I observed daily family life up close. Through my sponsor, Farouk Al Jaabari, I joined his Muslim family each week on Holy Day (Friday) for an extended-family gathering of a shared meal and social time.
My visits profoundly impacted my worldview. When I returned to Hawai‘i in late 2014, I was simmering with thoughts and emotions that I wished to share. These people and their plight needed advocates. Living under abhorrent conditions, Palestinians were being subjected to social and cultural genocide. American financial aid to Israel made us U.S. citizens complicit in this reprehensible policy. But how could I speak? I had no platform and I lacked an audience. My stories were small and lacked the kind of powerful impact of someone like Richard Engel, reporting from war fronts in the Middle East.
On that day of May 17, 2021, I had opened a Facebook page to promote my new venture as an author of literary non-fiction. My platform is largely undiscovered. I can count my audience on my ten fingers and ten toes. But I do have stories to share. So I will do so.
I don’t have stories of assassination and murder. I don’t have documented evidence of Israel’s continued illegal annexation of Palestinian homelands. I do have personal and intimate stories of Palestinian people. I do have touching stories of encounters with people whose lives are so human and poignant.
When we experience these kinds of stories, things can change. (Oh, that such a simple statement was really true and valid!) Change the world? Probably not. But share my stories? That, I can do.
Ric d. Stark
…an American with memories and a voice.