I’ve always wanted to be a hero. One fantasy recurs during the emergency preparedness talks that airline stewardesses give upon take off. While other passengers are listening to their i-pods and reading trashy magazines (or maybe they’re all having similar Don Quixote day dreams?), I envision helping old ladies with their oxygen masks and calmly escorting crying men down the emergency-lit aisles onto the blow up slides, staying on till the last. I picture myself brave and quietly heroic.
This fantasy also serves to assuage the nagging fear that maybe I’d be a coward, pushing people out of the way, trying to save my own life first.
I want to know how I’d react in a real crisis.
Perhaps that explains some of the draw I’ve felt to go to a conflict zone. My airplane fantasy could be easily transposed onto land. I can see myself pulling old ladies from the line of fire, shielding a child with my own body, refusing to leave when others have fled to safety.
My dramatic fantasy life is partially fueled by violent movies and TV news. In a way, the images of real violence and suffering seem as ethereal and distant to me as those of Hollywood action flicks. Part of me just wants that suffering to be tangible, rather than fodder for another daydream.
In little more than a week I will be in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I will see first hand the humiliation that Palestinians face at Israeli checkpoints, searched and questions as they watch Israeli settlers drive by unharrassed. I will hear the stories of house demolitions and suicide bombings. I will surely witness tremendous suffering, perhaps even violence.
I know that I will not be a hero this summer. Even in my most ego-maniacal fantasies I cannot flex my biceps and magically end the Israel-Palestine conflict. And so I’m afraid of feeling hopeless and weak. I’m afraid of crying during airport interrogations and losing my temper at checkpoints. I’m afraid that I will come running home with my tail between my legs because the real world is all so overwhelming and scary.
But I hope to contribute something positive, however small. I’ll be working with the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center in Ramallah. I won’t be ending the occupation and probably won’t lead any crying men down emergency-lit paths, but maybe I can draw upon my experience in the American labor movement and support Palestinian union activists in their important work.
For now I’m trying to let go of my hero fantasies and prepare to enter a new and unknown reality.
Posted By Eliza Bates
Posted May 22nd, 2007