On Why I Support Gaza; Feel Gaza; Am Gaza

Right around this time of Ramadan in 2011, I had gone to a nearby local Arabic market to pick up fresh dates. The owner of the market, a Palestinian who was fluent in English, Spanish and Arabic, greeted me in a manner that is so familiar to me and my Cuban roots; a grandfather-like laugh that was full of things to share with this apparently young and naive stranger at his market: “You could be my granddaughter”.

While I shopped, he started to tell me stories of a month called Ramadhan. He had no idea I was Muslim, and I didn’t find a need to tell him. I just listened to him like I was used to listening to my grandparents’ stories—full of vivid imagery and memories. He told me how he came during the inception of the occupation and had settled in Miami where he married a Cuban woman and had children. He learned to speak Spanish fluently over the years, and I was further surprised by his usage of Cuban expressions and mannerisms too. He offered me a taste of the dates before I bought them, but I told him I was fasting too. He said I was the first Cuban Muslim he had ever met and ran back to get me a giant container of homemade rice and lamb. He also told me that he cooked for the local mosque every night during Ramadan and bragged that his dishes were everybody’s favorite. I wanted to pay him, but he refused and told me it was his responsibility to feed a fasting sister.

This morning, I wonder about Palestinians like him who have been fortunate enough to escape the terrible bloodshed that has occurred the past few weeks. Those who have settled in lands like the United States and replanted their roots to ensure that their children would live humble, yet safe, lives. The displaced millions. Like the Cubans in Miami, would they continue to hold on to hope and stories of days long gone? Will they show their children pictures of monuments and markets, and tell them stories of safer streets, more wholesome fruit and beautiful beaches like my parents did with me growing up? As a Cuban-American who grew up in the heart of a Cuban community in Miami, I grew up overhearing nostalgic men retelling stories of Cuba at café joints, like Versailles and La Carreta; voices talking about a day when the oppressive Castro regime would disappear; some even wishing el hijo de puta to be dead and forgotten.

Every now and then, you’ll overhear a Cuban wondering aloud of the malparido is dead or alive, but we all know that it wouldn’t make a difference because that land cannot heal overnight. As a child of Cuban immigrants, I sympathize with the Palestinian people, but I carry only a second-handed account of having a homeland raped by oppressive ideologies.

But the fight of the Cuban people and Palestinians are not the same. The Cuban people have not been systematically invalidated as human beings like the Palestinians have; we have not been wrongly branded as enemies to values like “democracy” and “freedom”. Our collective ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation and religion have not been used as tools to guarantee the rejoicing of our collective displacement and slaughter. What happens to the stories and histories of a people whose very identity and existence denies them the right to gain sympathy for their struggle and have the entire world watch while their civilians and homeland is beaten to a pulp?

It has always been in my nature and academic training to see two sides to every story; to dissect narratives for multiple perspectives and meanings, and unearth complications for the sake of avoiding reduction and simplifications. The problem is that the occupation is one of the few narratives without two sides because one side has been systematically silenced; the criticism of the actions performed by the Israeli state onto the Palestinians is nearly impossible without some sort of backlash. Today, I turned on computer to catch up with some news and there was a picture of a Palestinian father holding his daughter–same age as my own– who had part of her head blown off; the little girl’s brains dripped from her skull and I could almost hear his father’s cry. I wondered how many times that image had been seen and not felt; or worse, dismissed as just a casualty of war. This is not a war. When a man goes out to kill deer, he refers to this dynamic as a sport, a hunt or a game. Never does he refer to the imbalance of power between his armed self and his prey as a “war”. Why do we do so with the clear imbalance of arms, resources and death toll between the Palestinians and Israeli Defense Force?

A few days ago, I was asked by a relative why the Palestinian struggle was any more important than the recent deaths of the Ukranian people. The comment came after a discussion of why I had decided to start sharing alternative news about Gaza on my social media page. The response to that is that one life is no more important than another life; and there is a saying in Islam that the weight of one life is equal to that of the entire mankind. All life is sacred, and as such, a Palestinian’s victim’s life is not more important than an Israeli victim’s life. Life is life, and it must be preserved and treated in a dignified way until we return to our Creator. However, it is critical that we stop creating more distractions from what is currently happening in Gaza. The Israeli attacks began at the beginning of July, the beginning of the holy month of Ramadhan, with the claim that Hamas had kidnapped and murdered 3 Israeli boys (a claim that has now been corrected by the Israeli government itself); the attacks on the Palestinians continued while the world was distracted by the World Cup, by the 3 plane crashes and the atrocities occurring in Ukraine. For those who continue to passionately advocate for the Palestinians (even if it’s just by trying to raise awareness), it is critical that  others’ efforts to make the issue a casual one (“oh, this has been happening forever between the Arabs and Jews” or “I am tired of seeing bloodshed,” or “What’s wrong with Israel’s right to defend itself?” These moments must continue to be interrupted with awareness and education.   Allowing others to turn away, is to play a role in passively watching a country and ethnic group wiped off the map. Literally. Victims will always exist on both sides, but a neutral and polite position is no longer logical nor okay.

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Pregnancy and Fasting

Yesterday, I felt very angry. Today, I feel very disturbed.

I had to rush a sister to the hospital because she almost collapsed from dehydration. The disturbing part is that she is pregnant and in her last trimester. Even on the way to the hospital, she refused to break her fast with water.

There is nothing heroic about putting herself and her child at risk.

I know that many pregnant women fast during Ramadan. I also know that there are many safe ways a pregnant woman can ensure a proper diet to prepare for fasting. God, however, has given pregnant women the relief from fasting if they feel that it may put them at risk. God is the Most Merciful and we must understand this.

At the hospital, I served as translator between my friend and the doctor because she hardly speaks English. What shocked me was her refusal to tell the doctor that she was fasting. The doctors could not decide what was wrong with her but had suspected she was dehydrated.

When my friend went to the restroom, I let the doctor know she hadn’t drunk water for almost 12 hours. I asked the doctors to keep this confidential. At first, I felt like I was betraying my friend’s trust. After a few exams, however, the doctors determined she was severely dehydrated and they put two IVs to rehydrate her. I continued to be shocked as she continually asked her doctors if it was necessary to break her fast. She could hardly lift a finger, yet she kept refusing.

I will repeat it. This act of martyrdom is not heroic, especially when putting another life in danger for the sake of God. I just wonder what makes her believe that her decision to put her unborn child at risk is pleasing God? God doesn’t ask us to do this. He is the Most Merciful and we cannot forget that.

She is one of my good friends, so I didn’t guilt trip her. Instead, I spoke to her husband and let him know the situation so that he makes sure she nourishes herself as she recovers.

Again, I recognize that there are safe ways to fast while pregnant.  I am not against it in general. I have hard that if done safely, it can be a successful and rewarding experience. I am also not saying that fasting while pregnant is strictly “right” or “wrong”. Only God knows what is best. I am simply disturbed by this particular situation.

This sister is one of the most generous and loving people I’ve ever met. In regards to the material, she doesn’t have much and she gives everything she has. I love this sister very much for the sake of God. But today, I felt very angry towards her. I just can’t help but wonder what is going through her mind as she physically struggles to maintain her energy in Ramadan while carrying a child.

A few weeks ago, I took her to the hospital and heard her baby’s heartbeat. I had never heard an unborn baby’s heartbeat before. Three days ago, she let me touch her belly while her  unborn child was pushing. I had never touched a pregnant lady’s belly before. These two experiences were very emotional for me. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if I were the one pregnant. These two experiences also revealed the fact that a pregnant woman’s body is no longer her own. She shares it with her unborn child. Her womb serves as the unborn child’s shelter. While I never expressed my anger towards her, I became very angry inside because I saw her fasting (and refuse to break her fast despite her illness) as an act of selfishness with total disregard for the life that is growing inside of her.

She is still my friend, of course. Right now I am really struggling with my own judgments. But I continue to be disturbed by yesterday’s series of events and continue to have very mixed feelings in regards to women fasting while pregnant.

Does anyone have stories to share about fasting while pregnant? I have never had children, but I am really interested in understanding other women’s experiences in the case I am in a similar situation in the future. 

Connecting by Disconnecting

I don’t have much to say, really.

Before Ramadan began, I did the things that Christians do for Lent “For Ramadan, I will give up…” It’s just an instinct I built from 15 odd years of trying to give up cursing every Lent. I always failed.

In Ramadan, the only thing Muslims are required to “give up” is food, water and sexual pleasures from sunrise to sunset. I, of course, follow that but the little ex-Christian inside of me decided to give up additional things. I decided to give up facebook and youtube. In addition, I am only committing about an hour to the internet every day (to read news, check my e-mail or chat with friends). I have many friends who use the internet during Ramadan because it distracts them from cravings. For me, however, the internet tends to upset me very easily, especially when I read comments on blogs (usually bickering between people who are fighting over religion). Youtube comments are the WORST and have the power to mess up my entire mood. Thus, I find it much easier to keep my patience and refrain from anger by staying off the computer all together.

[Ok, I also tried to give up cursing (AGAIN!), but I failed immediately after so I knocked it off my list (AGAIN!). The most important thing is that I feel steadfast in the most important sacrifices for Ramadan which are fasting and prayer].

Only two days have passed, but I feel like this is something I can actually accomplish. Many of my Muslim friends who know this is my first Ramadan have inquired how I feel fasting so many hour. In all honesty, I feel great. Thank God. When my friends ask me what is the toughest part? I have to confess that it is not tasting food while I am cooking. These past two days I cooked food for Iftar and it was the first time I made dishes without tasting them! Yea, that was hard 😀 Other than that, Allah has been kind with me as I do not feel hunger nor thirst that I cannot control with a prayer or distraction.

I won’t be posting much this month, but every few days, I will write some updates or stories I come across.

Ramadan Mubarak!