We see you with the first breaths of morning fighting to keep your strength. We see you getting softer and kinder and more mellow with every beating. At the way you speak, our hearts lay bare at the words leaving your mouth. Mohammed, Ali, Ahmed, – our brothers, these Palestinian men. Your name, an atomic bomb in some rooms, is a soft blanket in ours. We wait to hear it uttered from the mouths of your mothers when they see you again. We mumble it when we pray to find you whole, in one piece. In our stories, you are the hero. We stand and point and show our sons, “See him? I want you to be like him when you grow up. Kind, strong and resilient. Made softer with every blow, and never more cruel.”
“Most of the martyrs are women and children”.
We have never seen a life more uncounted than that of the Palestinian men. When we hold our death tolls up to the television screens, in a debilitating attempt to beg for an ounce of humanness, even we forget to say their names. It was a Palestinian man who carried an old woman to the hospital while he, himself, was bleeding. It was a Palestinian man who coaxed a child out from beneath the rubble of his once home. Who spent all night with the grieving boy, the last remaining member of his neighbor’s family. Who gave his remaining ration of water to a stray dog, and stayed back to search for his siblings after the airstrike had flattened out their neighborhood.
The world has never seen men more beautiful than the men of Gaza. Men who have grown up losing fathers and brothers like it were an unmentionable part of being a boy. Men who have laid more people down to rest than they have gotten a chance to love, who have known graveyards and grief since their boyhood.
The Palestinian men never got to be boys, they never got to sit in the laps of their mothers and cry about footballs and scraped ankles. They never got to get in trouble for being mischievous and untamed. Instead, they learned very early on that playing was a luxury they could never afford, and that there was no time to live let alone make mistakes in the process. Still, they laughed and grew. And still, they took to looking after their mothers and siblings. Still, they lived. It is as though they had to have enough life to make up for all of the brothers they have seen fall, for all of the cousins and uncles. For their grandfathers who swore to die before they left their land, they lived.
The men of Palestine have reshaped the meaning of resilience, they have reinvented love. They love in spite of everything they have seen. In a world that has made every brash attempt to break them, they stood tall. From them, we learn how to be brave in the face of hatred. From them, we learn that the only way to face brutality is with feet planted firm on the soil, and with unwavering faith.
This is for the men of the rubble, the men of grief. The men we mean when we say, “ He is what an Arab man is.”
These men deserve prayers beyond the simple wish of making it through the day, they deserve to be seen and grieved for the people they were. Nothing barbaric about them, these men deserve to be loved by the world for the men they are. May they find kinder refuge in heaven, may they remain in our memories forever as men of power, men of virtue, men of strength.