Dear Americans. Dear people of conscience. I know how you feel. Perhaps as helpless as children, not yet swimmers, witnessing a sea of our fellow humans drowning. But we must not be silent. The voiceless people of Gaza desperately need our help. To tell their painful stories. To condemn Israel's massacre of 500 plus civilians in one of the bloodiest attacks of Palestinians in 60 years. To make it stop. So they'll finally be able to swim up to the surface and gasp for air.
My dad, Ghassan Elashi, who was born in Gaza City, immigrated to the United States nearly 30 years ago. But now, he and his colleagues are being held in an east Texas prison for helping impoverished Palestinians -- the same innocent population that's under attack today. In his prison cell, my dad has not been able to sleep at night knowing that the civilians of Gaza -- his people -- are living in squalor. My dad co-founded the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the Bush administration shut it down in December 2001. Holy Land's mission was to save lives shattered by occupation, hunger and hopelessness in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and other areas across the globe. Since Nov. 24, 2008, the Holy Land Five have been political prisoners, yes in America, for being humanitarians.
A week ago, the people of Gaza, who had already been under siege, were struck with a hailstorm of Israeli missiles. Since then, they've witnessed explosions, chaos in the streets, panic. And now, the Israeli troop invasion. They've buried hundreds of mothers, fathers, grandparents and children, including five sisters killed in their sleep. They've watched well-regarded segments of their history dissipate into the clouds of smoke, like homes, mosques, universities, hospitals and ports. Many of these people are now trapped in their homes, without electricity, without food or water. Many of them wonder if their homes, their families will be next.
Below is an excerpt of a poem by political prisoner Shukri Abu-Baker, who was the CEO of the Holy Land Foundation:
Remember what we did in a Gaza camp
In the midst of a cold, winter storm,
We gave the deprived food and cover
We kept them safe and soundly warm.
We won't regret or wish we stopped
Saving lives shall keep us proud
To love the poor is not a crime
I say it clear, I say it loud.
During this winter day in Gaza, I feel crushed knowing that my dad's now-defunct charity could have come to the rescue. I can only pray that the people underground will rest in peace. I can only hope that the people trapped in their homes will survive, will go back to school and work, will get a chance to live again, to see the light and to swim to the shore of hope.