Jul 18 5:25 PM

In Gaza, an original recipe for empathy

Google marked Nelson Mandela’s birthday on Friday with a doodle featuring a series of quotes. It seemed particularly fitting at a time when Israel’s current offensive in Gaza has killed at least 270 Palestinians.

Many of the quotes called for peace. For instance, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.”  And “Education is the most powerful weapon that we can use to change the world.”

Of course, Mandela was not a pacifist — he started the African National Congress’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation — and was, during his imprisonment, considered a “terrorist” by many world leaders. But by the time of his passing, the world honored him as a crusader for human rights and justice.

One Mandela quote that Google missed, perhaps unintentionally, was the famous, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Some believe that the violence must end — that Palestinians will never have a state, let alone have enough people left to populate it, if a way cannot be quickly found to stop the massacre of men, women and children that have come with the last 11 days of airstrikes and shelling.

But some are convinced the broader situation cannot continue — that the laying down of arms without Israel meeting any of Hamas’s conditions for cease-fire would solidify the status quo: A more than seven-year siege on a territory where, at a given moment, even chocolate and jam were barred from entry by Israeli authorities.

For some, it’s impossible to imagine that status quo: The blockade, tantamount to an indefinite sentence in an outdoor prison.

This week saw disturbing pictures of children, who a moment before had been at play, killed by Israeli artillery fire, but it is an older image that conveys to me why, even in times of relative calm, the status quo is untenable for Gaza.

It has been something of dark joke among Arab and Arab-American social media friends: An image of smugglers carrying Kentucky Fried Chicken through tunnels into the occupied territory.

A smuggler carries food from Kentucky Fried Chicken to be delivered through an underground tunnel linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt.
AFP / Getty Images

The delivery takes several hours. It’s expensive.

People in Gaza are perennially on the brink of a water crisis. They suffer 40 percent unemployment, one of the highest rates in the world. They face shortages of medicine, and it is difficult to obtain permission to leave for medical treatment in an emergency. They live in nervous anticipation of the next Israeli military action. Many have never met relatives outside of their small, cornered parcel of land.

For a treat — and to feel part of the greater world outside — people pay exorbitant fees, wait hours and risk the lives of the couriers.

It’s a vastly unhealthy symbol of the global dominance of the American fast food industry, sure, but it is also a symbol of the misery of being sequestered — with the support of the international community — from some of life’s most mundane pleasures.

Even if people have deep and sincere differences over geopolitics, it is a greasy bit of humanity everyone can understand.

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