PLEASE HELP ME FIND MY FRIEND

AMAL OTHMAN, Cap Times, Jan 16, 2009

Meet my friend Bara’a, in her own words:

“My name is Bara’a. I’m 8 years old and I’m deaf. I live in Gaza with my parents and 4 siblings. My favorite color is yellow. I like drawing and playing with dolls. I want to become a teacher when I grow up. Electricity cuts make me feel worried and presents make me feel excited.”

I met Bara’a through the pen pals program of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

Her teacher at the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children sent me her picture and profile, and those of six other students, for an exchange with students in Madison.

But now the school is closed, all its windows blown out by an Israeli air strike. It is just one more building where a child lived, or played, or studied, or visited the doctor or the grocer or her grandparents – now turned to dust and rubble and filled with all the broken remnants of daily living.

I can’t reach my little friend. I call and call everyday. I keep getting an automated voice saying: “no service at this time.”

There is no electricity in Gaza to send or receive e-mails. I don’t know if Bara’a or the others are dead or alive. More than 270 Palestinian children are among hundreds of civilians who have been killed in a barrage of Israeli missiles and artillery shells.

Is she one of them?

Last week, the International Red Cross accused Israel of preventing the rescue of several small children who had been sitting by the dead bodies of their mothers for so long that they were too weak to stand.

Was she one of them?

Bara’a means “innocence” in Arabic, but her innocence is being stolen by war. For all of her short life, she has lived in an open-air prison surrounded by concrete walls and barbed-wire fences where nutritious food is so scarce that 46 percent of children suffer from anemia and 75 percent are malnourished.

Stunted growth and mental problems are common. Deafness is often caused by intentional and frequent Israeli low-flight sonic booms.

Now warships fire missiles from the sea and the sky is full of jets, helicopters, and drones bringing random death and absolute, unrestrained terror to Bara’a and the other 750,000 children of Gaza.

In most other places in the world, when people are attacked they can flee. Maybe they can hide in a bomb shelter. But Bara’a has nowhere to go when the bombs fall. No one can protect her.

Someday maybe I will figure out how to explain to Bara’a why the world considers it acceptable for Palestinians to be slaughtered in a ratio of 100 to 1 in this lopsided fight between a ragged, disposed people and the ones who expropriated them, now running the world’s fourth most powerful military machine.

I’ll be able to tell her who decided that the only way to stop a missile from coming through the roof of an Israeli child’s house in Sderot was for America to help Israel destroy everything Bara’a depended on for her meager existence.

But for right now, I just pray that I won’t see a picture of her dead and mutilated body splashed across the TV screens of the Arab world.

For now, I just want to contact her or someone who will tell me she’s still alive.

Can you help me find her?