On Jan 6, 2012 the New York Times printed an article titled “List of Places to Visit in 2012”, claiming Oakland, CA was the 5th hippest place in the world to visit in the year 2012. As I woke up my first morning back in the bay area and went to check my Facebook, already three of my friends had posted the New York Times article with pride. Having just returned from Israel, my mind began to wonder about legitimacy of the article, and how much Oakland has in common with certain parts of Israel.
My flight back from my first tour of Israel had just landed Thursday afternoon, and as such, my nights were days and my days were nights. But, laying there in the midst of my jet lag, my mind drifted back to the tour in Israel, at the border of the Gaza Strip.
After touring the town of Sderot that sits along the border of Gaza, and viewing numerous bomb shelters, I had asked, “When was the last time a missile fell here?” The young, 20 something year old gentlemen who anxiously gave us the tour responded with a definite fear in his eyes and said, “Yesterday”. He continued, “90 percent of the population in Sderot have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Their psychiatrists are estimated to be overbooked by 250 percent. While only 37 people have been killed in the last 11 years, almost 1,500 have been injured in this small town”.
Everyone knows of this conflict in the Gaza strip. We hear about it almost daily on the news. While our American perspective may be uniformed and possibly even skewed because most of us have never lived or even toured a day in the life of someone amidst the conflict, we do not deny the conflict exists.
Yet here in my backyard, another Gaza exists. Just like in Sderot, many children in Oakland live in fear. There were 110 homicides on the streets of Oakland in 2011. That means in 2011 alone, there was 297 percent more killings in Oakland, than there have been in 11 years in the town of Sderot.
In fact, children in parts of Oakland walk to school every day in fear that they might get shot. They fall asleep at night listening to the gun shots they can hear right outside their front door. The National Center for PTSD in White River Junction, Vt., reported that 77 percent of children exposed to a school shooting and 35 percent of youth exposed to community violence develop PTSD that can easily contribute to a continuing cycle of violence.
According to Oakland Police, on any average day, five or six people are shot at. This adds up to about 1500 reported incidents of gun violence last year alone. Local news reports that just last August, a three year old boy was shot while eating pizza with his family in a local pizza parlor on International Blvd at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. Another young girl was shot while walking home from school with her father. Yet still the media publishes an article claiming Oakland is one of the hippest places in the world to visit. Even my friends, locals to Oakland, spread the article with pride.
I would never dream of minimizing the horrible conflict and fear that exists in the Gaza Strip today; yet, as the town of Sderot understands, nothing can change without education and motivating individuals to do something about the conflict. Who is giving tours of our Gaza Strip? Who is educating locals and tourists of our social concerns? We cannot expect a problem to be solved if the whole world simply ignores it.
It is time for us to say enough is enough and do something about the Gaza Strip in our own backyard.