I was reading the New York Times yesterday, when I fell on a recent story which I expected to be much like hundreds of similar ones that have covered the decades-long Middle East conflict. I expected another article taking pot shots at Israeli border security issues, at the fences, the walls, the imbalance of power and military force. I expected to read about the lobbing of grenades, about soldiers and martyrs, about blood, sweat and tear gas. But this piece, an investigative report, a profile of a young, female Palestinian medic who was shot last year in Gaza under mysterious circumstances, looked more promising than usual. Even so, I expected something of a sling-fest.
Instead, I was taken on a journey, both harrowing and hopeful, through the too-short-life of Rouzan al-Najjar, who died at 20 from sniper fire. I read about her family, her education, her desire to train as a nurse, and meanwhile, her unstoppable urge to save the lives of protestors at the border – even after getting injured herself. She sounded like a force to be reckoned with. A woman on a mission to help – and heal. But here, on an unexpected detour, is where I stopped in my reading-tracks:
During 10th-grade finals, Rouzan returned home to a tense situation in her family’s four-story building. Her aunt, Nawal Qedayeh, whom Rouzan adored and who was seven months pregnant, was being treated like a pariah by Rouzan’s paternal aunts and grandmother, who refused to let her use the communal kitchen. When Ms. Qedayeh was caught scrubbing pots there, a fight broke out, and Rouzan watched as her grandmother pushed Ms. Qedayeh down the stairs. Both she and the fetus she was carrying were killed.
I had to look up from the screen when I realized that I was holding my breath. Dammit. The dreadful, inexcusable and ancient coprolite that happens, behind closed doors, when outsiders cannot see. I exhaled and continued to read.
Rouzan, the only eyewitness, had a choice: She could stay silent, forgoing justice for her aunt’s killing and following the social expectation for a young woman to leave weighty legal matters to the men. Or she could tell the truth and potentially send her grandmother to prison.
Rouzan testified. Her grandmother was convicted of accidental manslaughter and spent more than a year in prison.
Defying the odds and (most likely) family shame, she spoke up, used her voice, stood her ground – and, even in the face of (possible) pressure and overwhelming allegiance, sent her grandmother to jail.
I’m not advocating sending one’s relatives to the slammer, but… : Who among us would not avoid, cower, retreat, in the face of such a moral quandary, a predicament as troubling as this? Who among us would not defend, protect and stay silent when things have gone horribly wrong and justice is at stake? Who would not take the easier way, by not speaking up at all?
I read the rest of the article, but I might as well not have, given my inability to absorb anything further. I couldn’t think past that part about Rouzan so boldly betraying her family while acting on her principles; justice for all. I knew there was – there is – a little bit of Rouzan inside all of us. Inside of me.
Starting off a new year, I hope we can channel some of Rouzan’s spirit in our daily lives.
On a not-too-distantly related point, my memoir, (Un)bound Together, comes out soon. I hope you’ll want to read it.
With gratitude for how you choose to read my infrequent musings (when so much else on the internet makes a claim on your eyes) I wish you all a year of good health, success, contentment, miracles, laughter and peace.