Days and nights of terror
How to cultivate hope in the direst of circumstances

Days and nights of terror
Kirbie Bennett - 11/16/2023

Lately I’ve had trouble sleeping. I’ve been haunted by the heart-wrenching horror unfolding in the Gaza Strip. I’m lost in nights of unflinching darkness from witnessing televised genocide on a daily basis. While everything is colored eigengrau, my mind is building new rooms of sadness to store what I’ve witnessed: Palestinian children holding a press conference, pleading to the world for protection while standing in front of a bombed hospital. “We want medicine, food and education. We want to live as the other children live,” one child said.

The bloodshed continues, and I’m troubled by how people in power can sleep at night while this happens. 

Over the weekend, I wanted to escape into fantasy for a few hours. I decided to watch “The Marvels,” another superhero spectacle from Marvel Studios. Ironically, hearing about the film’s low box office performance piqued my interest. I can be an extrovert when forced, but at heart I’m an introvert, so the idea of watching a movie that wouldn’t have a big crowd enticed me. Like many films in this franchise nowadays, the plot is convoluted, but the story’s tension involves an all-powerful leader, Dar-Benn, plundering the natural resources of various civilizations, including the Skrulls. The Skrulls once held an empire but lost it in a calamitous war with Dar-Benn’s people, the Kree. Now Skrulls are a displaced people. 

In “The Marvels,” there’s a scene where Dar-Benn arrives at the Skrull refugee colony to destroy what remains of them. It’s basically ethnic cleaning doused in CGI. Maybe my sensitivity to real-world suffering is so palpable right now, but current events were on my mind as I was watching civilians under siege, buildings crumbling as a society becomes erased. The film’s superheroes are overwhelmed and they fail to save everyone. 

The film wasn’t the reprieve I was looking for, though the girl power and alien cats made it worthwhile. But then I later learned that Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, recently donated $2 million in aid to Israel. As far as I know, they’re not offering any support to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where more than 11,000 people have been killed since Oct. 7. Nearly 70% of casualties are women and children. And 1.5 million people are now displaced. “The fact that I saw many people that were martyred, it was so scary,” said one young woman to Al-Jazeera, after fleeing Northern Gaza. “Nowhere in Gaza is safe,” she added. All these atrocities were orchestrated and committed by the Israeli state, underwritten by the United States, which annually provides Israel with over $3 billion in military aid.

Now I feel shame for unwittingly giving money to a corporation endorsing such real-life terror. It’s an ugly reminder of how complicit we are within this grotesque status quo. Our lives are written on bloodsoaked pages. 

To help process this maelstrom of events lately, I’ve been revisiting the work of Palestinian scholar Edward Said. Born in 1935 Mandatory Palestine during a wave of Jewish immigration, Said was a child when his family had to leave Jerusalem in 1947 as tensions increased between Arabs and Jews. This conflict led to an all-out war with Jewish militias attacking Palestinian communities. By 1948, Palestine was violently transformed into Israel. “For Palestinians,” Said wrote, “1948 is remembered as the year of the nakba, or catastrophe, when 750,000 of us who were living there – two-thirds of the population – were driven out, our property taken, hundreds of villages destroyed, an entire society obliterated.” 

In his adult life, Said would become a renowned literary and cultural scholar, while continually demanding that the world recognize the rights and dignity of Palestinians. All the while, displacement and exile haunted him throughout his life. 

“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience,” Said once wrote. “It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” 

In November 1998, Said made a rare visit to Jerusalem for an academic conference. In his memoir, “Out of Place,” Said described a moment when he’s questioned by an Israeli officer at a checkpoint: The officer asked him, “When after you were born did you leave Israel?” Said wrote, “I responded by saying that I left Palestine in December 1947, accenting the word ‘PALESTINE.’” A sense of reclamation surged through Said but it was quickly diminished by the officer’s next question: “Do you have any relatives here?” Said admitted he no longer had family there. The realization shook him. “This triggered a sensation of such sadness and loss as I had not expected,” Said wrote. “For by the early spring of 1948, my entire extended family had been swept out of the place and has remained in exile ever since.”

In recent weeks, I’ve found comfort in the collective. One night, I attended a Jewish-led gathering where we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish in memorial of the civilians martyred in Gaza. And I’ve attended public demonstrations calling for a ceasefire and an end to Israeli occupation. In all these gatherings, we bring our helplessness and sadness, and transformation happens. Within that collective of rebellious mourning, we cultivate hope. 

– Kirbie Bennett

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