Each one is a world


We were sitting at Lincoln Park in West Seattle, with a handful of friends who had gathered for a picnic potluck, awaiting others who would be joining us shortly.

A Facebook message came through on my Smartphone from my friend Yousef Munayyer.

Hey Jen, just saw some news about a young man from the Shurrab family in khan yunis being the latest victim, Name is Tayseer. Have you heard from Amer recently?

Amer Shurrab was, as a matter of fact, sitting across the picnic table from me at that very moment.  He  had come for a few day visit from Monterrey, where he is finishing his MBA. Though we had planned the visit weeks before the shit hit the fan in Gaza, the timing of it felt oddly right. I think it felt somewhat comforting to Amer to be surrounded by people who had some notion of what he was going through, and the beautiful Pacific Northwest was allowing some respite from the obsessive news-checking and strangling stress that is inevitable when one’s family is under bombardment.

We had just returned to Seattle after spending the last two days in Olympia with Rachel Corrie’s family. In between deep acknowledgment of the horror of the situation in Gaza, some of it spoken and some of it silent, we spent several hours on Mt Rainier. Just a few hours earlier, Amer took his first ride in a kayak.

And then, as we were waiting for other Seattle friends and activists to come and meet Amer, which had been the impetus of organizing the picnic potluck, Yousef’s message came through over Facebook.

I walked around the picnic table where everyone was introducing themselves and gently touched Amer on the shoulder, asking him to step aside from the group with me. He did, and I showed him Yousef’s message.

“Is he a relative?” I asked.

Amer’s face instantly clouded with fear and worry. “It may be my cousin Mohammed Tayseer,” he answered. He immediately pulled out his phone, and walked up a path towards the woods so he could call his family with some measure of privacy. I stared at him for a moment as he sat on the railing of the path, head bowed down, cell phone pressed against his ear, and could think only about the incident that led to Amer and I re-connecting after many years of not having been in touch–the incident in January 2009 during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” when two of his brothers were killed and his father injured.    In the months and years since that horrific event, I had grown very close to Amer, holding him in my heart as family. I had visited his family in Khan Younis twice–the first visit is described in this blog post and the 2nd visit, tragically, just two days after his father passed unexpectedly, due at least in part to the grief and stress related to the murder of his sons.

And now. And now, here was Amer, on the phone to confirm if the most recent killing in Gaza was another member of his family.

Amer continued to sit on the rail, head down, but his arm with the phone was dropped limply by his side. I approached.

“Was it your cousin?”

It was.

I went back to the group at the picnic table. Amer needed a few minutes alone, he told me, and he would join us when he felt ready.

The mood of the gathering shifted instantly. Where there had been casual, light conversation, there was now mostly silence laden with sadness, anger, dread,  and, overlaying it all, worry for Amer, who was now sitting on a log by the water’s edge, head still bowed. The only clear thought echoing through my mind in those next minutes: This is so unfair. This is so fucking, fucking unfair.

I saw a rather large group approach and walked towards them to see who was joining us. It was my friend Kara, and her husband Hakim, who is from Gaza. With them were Hakim’s six-year old sister Hiba and his mother, who he had been working on bringing to the U.S. from the Gaza strip for months but had managed to get out, in the end, just a day before the bombardment began. Other friends from Gaza, one from the same neighborhood that Amer is from, joined shortly afterwards.

I sent a quick prayer of thanks for the new arrivals. There were people here who shared Amer’s pain.

Hakim and his friends Anas and Mohammed lit coals on a barbeque and started to grill meat patties, chop peppers and tomatoes. Hiba found some sidewalk chalk and began to draw a stick figure of a smiling little girl under a big colorful tree, next to a house. Amer came back from his perch by the sea and soberly joined the group which had now trebled in size and had the Gazan dialect of Arabic chatter intermingling with English and the wafting odors of grilled meat prepared with Middle Eastern spices.

Hiba gave Amer a rock she had specially decorated for him with the sidewalk chalk. People began to eat.

In some way, we needed to directly confront, as a group, what had just happened to Amer’s cousin, what was happening to every family in Gaza. We had to find a way to hold space for the pain and the loss. And to honor those who had been killed these last 8 days, those that loved them, and those that were living in terror that they, or their family member, would be next.

And so, as the sun set and the mountains turned a deep purple, our group of 17 (6 of them from Gaza) gathered tightly together around the picnic table. Passing around a smartphone with the information loaded, we read aloud, one by one, the name and age of every one of the 194 human beings who had been killed in Gaza (as well as the one Israeli killed) since the assault began. A reminder that those killed are not numbers. They are people. Many of them children. Some of those children even younger than Hiba. Each one with a family. Each one an entire world.

The web-based list had not been updated in the last hour.  Amer’s cousin was not yet on it. But we didn’t need a website to know his name.

“Mohammed Tayseer Shurrab,” Amer said in a strong voice when the last name on the smartphone had been read.  Insha’allah ,he added, this would be the last name. Insha’allah, the list would grow no longer. Then, as the mountains deepened from purple to black, Amer led us in a prayer for the dead.

We held silence together for a moment.  Anas and Hakim spoke about what this simple act of solidarity meant to them.

Then, we shifted our circle from around the picnic table to around Hiba’s chalk drawing. It was by the narrowest of threads that the six-year-old girl was not, at that moment, shuddering under fierce explosions from bombs dropped by warplanes and drones.

The drawing: A smiling girl. A home. A tree.

What every child deserves to draw.

What every child deserves to know.

hiba drawing

Hiba’s chalk drawing




Filed under Palestine/Israel

38 responses to “Each one is a world

  1. Pingback: Each one is a world | Bakunin Matata!

  2. Susan Quattrociocchi

    Jen, this is too terrible and sad and surreal to believe. I was sending love last night and saw you all having a happy time. I am so sorry for Amer and his family and all the families.

    I love you so much.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. I’m so sorry to hear about Ameer’s cousin.

  4. Devastating. I am holding every victim, every family member, every child in my heart.

  5. Pingback: Each one is a world | Mondoweiss

  6. Heartbreaking, Jen. Yes: what every child deserves to know. Ach!

  7. Abra

    Jen, you are as always a beacon of clarity and moral fortitude in dark times like these. I can’t tell you how important that is — both to me, and to all those who are lucky enough to learn from your sharing stories such as this one.

  8. so sad. 4 poor boys got blown up at the beach yesterday. 9 and 10 years old. May God protect them all an grant freedom to the victims of this horrific terrorism. Our countries aren’t doing enough to stop israeli aggression. heart goes out to all the innocent souls.

  9. Oh…this hurts. I’m so sorry.

  10. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  11. Please send my deepest condolences to your friend Amer and his family. My husband and I left Israel when my son Amir was a baby, I could not bare the idea of him becoming a soldier in this war. Now we are here, in the beautiful pacific north west, we still fight against the occupation as we did when we were living there, we still stand with every civilian trying to live, with every human being, we all have human rights. The Israeli attacks are war crimes, we won’t stand behind them. Not in Our Name.

    • Orit, I want to thank you so much for your message. Where in the pacific northwest do you live? i hope to have the chance to meet you someday. i will send your message directly to amer.
      much respect, and much gratitude,

  12. Pat McKenzie

    My heart is with you.

  13. Hard to hear but more difficult to bear. And so well told. Thank you.

  14. Laura

    Thank you for this post and your work and your humanity. Yes, a home and a tree and a smile. Life to be lived, not to be mourned.

  15. Pingback: Israel & Gaza 1st-Hand: News of a Death Reaches a Relative at a Washington Picnic | EA WorldView

  16. Pingback: Each one is a world |  SHOAH

  17. Amazing… War shows us it’s true horrifying reach when we examine it microscopically.. Today’s leaders lack that microscopic touch.. The greater good is a rotten concept.. Perhaps it’s time the people who take big decisions realize that how big the effect of their decision is on the smallest unit of a society: an individual, you, me, us.

  18. I’m not sure what to write, but I want to acknowledge this post. Thank you for sharing, and for showing how the barbaric genocide on the other side of the world is touching your life. We need to find ways to get more people in N.America & W.Europe to engage, I guess sharing our stories is a starting point.

  19. Reblogged this on Nina in Fairyland and commented:
    Most of us read the news emphatically, as if the victims are not real, only factual. Jen Marlow writes about the Gaza conflict so beautifully, it is as if I read fiction. Unfortunately though, it isn’t. Its all real. In many ways I have become a cynic, but I cannot fight the hope that this conflict will one day be resolved peacefully. So on this, Nelson Mandela Day, I keep those victims of the Israeli-Palastine conflict in my thoughts and hope that one day they too shall have peace.

  20. lkrause1997

    Thank you for this beautiful post and a reminder for someone like myself who does not know anyone over there but sees the stories on the news that these are people, not news clips. Human lives are being lost and that is nothing short of a tragedy. My prayers are with your friend.

  21. meredith berlin

    this story strengthens my commitment to the children, and in fact all the loved ones in my life, and to make a stronger effort to find ways to extend that circle of compassion.

  22. Reblogged this on Freuddwyn and commented:
    What everyone needs to read

  23. Reblogged this on It's Mayur Remember? and commented:
    I had to reblog this

  24. Agree with the previous post.
    This testimony brings this conflict to reality, way more than what medias can do.

  25. well written. very interesting

  26. This is so sad. Thank you for what you have done. Every child deserves to know the world in that drawing, and every human deserves that life too. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Pingback: Scanning the names | View from the donkey's saddle

  28. My heart bleeds for the innocent people in Gaza, the poor sufferers 😦 They say the pity of the situation is the pity it creates and right now nothing can be as sad as the injustice done to humanity by fellow human beings. Gaza tragedy isn’t natural and this is a shame..!

  29. These killing fields are the playgrounds of killers who have tainted humanity in the colour RED, mowing down children without any qualms of conscience or remorse. My heart goes out to the families who have lost their dear ones in this terrible war.

  30. Gaza is suffering, but the world is losing out big time too. Humanity is hurting at the hands of evil.

  31. Thank you
    Blog fantastic
    Good luck

  32. Reblogged this on View from the donkey's saddle and commented:

    This morning. Learned that another COPINH activist, a colleague of Berta Caceres, was found murdered in Honduras.

    Last night–thousands in the streets all over the U.S. demanding an end to state violence that disproportionately targets Black people, in the wake of police extra-judicial executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

    Also last night–5 Dallas police officers murdered, more wounded, in an act that will make everybody–especially activists in the movement for Black lives–not more, but less, safe. In the past weeks–ISIS attacks in Bangladesh, Istanbul and Baghdad killing hundreds, on the heels of mass murder in Orlando.

    And in the midst of all this–remembering two years since Israel’s horrifying assault on the Gaza Strip.

    Sometimes there are no new words. At this moment, at least, I have no new words. Instead, I want to re-post some of what I’ve already said, already written–pieces that affirm life, humanity, the dignity inherent in every human being. This piece–about Gaza, and about my friend Amer Shurrab–is also (in its message) about Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Berta Caceres and her courageous colleagues in Honduruas, the Pulse massacre vicitims, all of the victims of all of the attacks.

    Each of them, a world.

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