Over there is over here

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, July 25, 2014


CNN KEPT us awake Wednesday night to the wee hours of Thursday for that unprecedented and emotionally charged motorcade of 40 black hearses bearing the remains of some of the passengers of the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine last July 17.

It brings to mind a line from a poem read by a lady classmate of mine at a course on indigenous people’s wisdom at Schumacher College, Devon, England early spring of 2007. We were on a sharing period and the lady, a Lebanese who was raised a Christian, read out: “Over here is over there, over there is over here”.

She was referring to the tragedy in her country, to the suffering, the pain, dislocation and death, the unbearable loss that war brings on to so many people, regardless of their belief, creed, race, nationality and age.

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Over there was and is over here, as the whole world watched and felt the anguish that the thousands of Dutch citizens felt as they lined up the streets to clap, cry, mutter prayers and lay flowers as tribute to the innocent plane passengers in caskets who were accorded deep respect and dignity. It was so moving from their plane transport in Ukraine to their arrival at Eindhoven Airport and the motorcade to the Kaporaal van Oudheusden military barracks in Hilversum, some 65 kilometers away.

Dutch royalty led by King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima, together with Prime Minister Mark Rutte came in black for the airport arrival ceremony, not because Netherlands had the most number of casualties at 189. Malaysia had 44, including 15 crew and two infants; Australia -27; Indonesia 12 (including one infant); United Kingdom – 9; Germany – 4; Belgium – 4; Philippines – 3; Canada – 1; New Zealand – 1; United States – 1; Unconfirmed nationalities – 3.

Their respective nationalities, which matters most to their compatriots, can be of no moment. For the millions who were there and watched CNN’s live broadcast, and as noted by the TV anchormen, the citizenship label didn’t matter, as each life lost was as precious as the other. Over there is over here.

So is the raging war over there in Gaza over here. The lives being lost weighs heavily, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis, Hamas or Israeli soldiers and combatants, but most painfully when they are children and women of any nationality.

Over there is over here. That gnawing feeling triggered the following piece from my son Johann who, together with his wife Lovelyn, is trying to raise my two grandsons in Italy. In January, 2009, at the height of another war in Gaza, he wrote:

“The financial crisis has left my beloved hotel, where I work, with just a handful of guests for nearly a month now. All the rooms in four floors of the eight-storey building are empty. For the past several days, work was light and tips were low. My colleague, before he finished his shift, left me a list of rooms to work on. He told me to dust off the “baldachino” (those curtain-like things that hang on the beds and head boards) using a vacuum cleaner. I went to work, finished a room and moved on to the next.

“The work bored me to death and my boredom made me feel tired, sleepy and lazy. I was about to go to the next room when I decided to take a break. So I grabbed the remote control, sat on the edge of the bed and clicked on the TV. Nothing caught my interest until I got to CNN. The Cable News Network ran the war on the Gaza Strip as it dragged on for the 21st day now.

“A UN facility was in flames, the Israeli army hit the compound because they were being fired upon from the building. CNN also showed footage of a large crater somewhere in Gaza and the Palestinians standing around the rim of the hole, looking on. BBC was running the same news and I changed the channel again. I continued to surf the channel and was about to switch it off when the studio of the Aljazeera caught my eye.

“The news anchor was standing and behind him was a video wall, wide and black with the names of all the Palestinian children killed written in white letters. They highlighted a name, and said he was four years old, his sisters died, too, killed by an Israeli bomb. They picked another name and this time the boy was two and he died in his mother’s arms.

“Then Aljazeera showed the images of the dead children. Some of them were lined up and covered with cloth, others were covered by debris, one was mangled and many were being carried by Palestinian men. The lifeless faces of these children were scarred and bloodied. Some were “lucky” (I don’t know if this is the right word) enough to be recognized; others were not. As I sat there and looked on, shivers ran down my spine and I wasn’t bored any more.

“Aljazeera continued on with the children but now they showed the survivors recovering in hospitals. A pretty little girl told a reporter of a bullet hitting her hand and another one finding its way on her back. I saw a boy lying down, his head bandaged, his face covered with scars and his eyes covered with tears as he tried to talk about what happened.

“Something in me gave way when I saw this boy’s tears. I started to cry and at the same time tried to control the tears but I could not. My mind told me, “goddammit, it’s okay to cry!” So I turned off the TV and cried.

“Except for the breathing and sniffing sounds I made, the room became silent. I got up, paced around and dried my tears. Then I left the room, dragging the vacuum cleaner along and headed for the service elevator. I decided to put away the machine and do something else.
Tears began to fall again when the lift started to move down.

“I cried a lot of times this day. I cried after I called my wife telling her what I saw. I cried again when I was on the boat on my way home. I’m crying now as I write this piece.

“I don’t understand this war; I couldn’t even tell who is winning. One thing is clear - the Palestinian children and civilians are paying the price. I’m a father of two boys and I felt that the dead Palestinian children were my own. I wonder about the Israeli fathers and Hamas fathers who are fighting each other in this senseless war. Do they cry, too, like me? I hope and pray that this monster of a war would stop killing. . . . . stop killing our children.” (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on July 26, 2014.

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