Coalition of the caring

Muhammad Hamid Zaman June 25, 2024
The author is a Professor and the Director of Center on Forced Displacement at Boston University


Last week, in Beirut, it was the first time since October 2023 that I met students, doctors and academics from Gaza. Like so many others from around the world, I had watched the interviews of doctors, nurses and citizens – I had followed the heartbreaking stories in print– but had not had the opportunity to personally meet colleagues from Gaza. The meeting in Beirut, convened at the American University of Beirut and organised by Gaza Health Initiative, is part of the effort to rebuild the health and educational sector in Gaza. During the three days of meetings, I got to meet people from Gaza who cared deeply about all lives, who continued to save others while sacrificing all that they had, who showed extraordinary courage at Shifa and Nasser hospitals, and who are unwilling to give up hope despite everything that they have gone through. I met students who want to go back to finish their courses, and I met teachers who cannot wait to be among their students.

The resilience and courage that I witnessed was intertwined with deep pain and sorrow. The pain, so palpable during the meeting, did not simply stem from the loss of immediate family members, homes and heritage, it was also characterised by our collective loss of humanity. The sorrow was shaped by the indifference of a world that did not care much about laws, that found exceptions to their tall claims of justice, and looked the other way when it really mattered. There was understandable anger at the hypocrisy of the great defenders of human rights – in particular the US and many of her allies. But the frustration went well beyond that. In private conversations, and sometimes in even not so private ones, it became clear that the Palestinian colleagues were deeply hurt by the indifference of the neighbouring states that shared ethnic, geographic and religious ties with Palestinians. Some were actually more frustrated by the shallow posturing and hypocrisy of the Muslim states with deep pockets than they were by the West.

While in Lebanon, I also got the opportunity to meet some old Palestinian friends in Beirut. Their grief, anxiety and frustration with both the West and the regional power brokers was raw and palpable. Because I have known them for quite some time, I asked them candidly what gave them hope and optimism. Just as they felt let down by states and institutions, they were energised by individuals and their commitment. Individuals who had seemingly no direct relationship with the region, but cared because of a fundamental human relationship. They were optimistic because of a coalition of people was coming together – a coalition that traversed age, gender, religious, social, ethnic and regional divide.

I saw a glimpse of that coalition at the conference. Among those who shared their experiences were not just Palestinian doctors, students, diplomats and academics, but also British and Norwegian doctors who were just returning from Rafah. Alongside the Jordanian physicians and Lebanese lawyers were also French public health workers, American engineers and Argentine academics. And there were Pakistanis! I was inspired to meet several Pakistani physicians who brought vital life-saving supplies to Rafah. I also met a female Pakistani-Canadian physician who spent two weeks in Gaza earlier this year. She continues to lead and guide other physicians, nurses and engineers who want to contribute with their time and effort.

My interactions with folks both in the region and beyond have convinced me that despite the suffering, the coalition of the caring is strong and growing. Yet, this coalition itself is alive and thriving because of brave people who, despite unimaginable risks, have told the stories. We need to listen to them and tell them that we hear and we care. I hope we can live in a world where this coalition of care is there for everyone, in all parts of the world, who is suffering, who is a target of injustice, and who feels helpless. I hope this coalition of care becomes strong enough to stop injustice in its tracks.


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