Operation Rainbow Wash

It seems inconceivable, I know,
but it happened, it’s happening now.
No one can say how it began
or where or with whom.
But once it began, it spread
like an airborne virus
or an inextinguishable spark,
like an over-zealous apostle
sowing the Good News.

I would even call this phenomenon
a kind of welcome contagion,
a pandemic in reverse if you will
if such a thing is possible.
Will it last? I don’t know.
It may be over tomorrow.
Or it may mark the beginning
of a new stage in human evolution
a spiritual rebirth from the fires of ignorance.

Those who witnessed the first signs
must have frozen in disbelief
that such things had come to pass.
Surely, this must be a hoax,
a craftily staged black operation
carried out by Mossad or the IDF
and designed to confuse, demoralize,
and finally disintegrate whatever remained
of the people’s grasp of reality.

And yet, despite doubts and misgivings,
there were those desperate to believe
they could still know the truth
and feel that truth suffuse
their most hidden and inviolate space
even after an army of black batons
had come down month after month
on their lives, their loved ones,
and all they held dear.

Yes, I grant you,
many outside observers,
skeptics one and all,
refuse to be taken in by what they,
in their ultra-rational world view,
dismiss as mere psychological warfare
waged against a captive population
that wants one and only one thing —
an end to their suffering.

Had I not seen it with my own eyes,
I would be among the nonbelievers.
But what I witnessed has shown me,
beyond the mousetrap of a doubt
what is possible even now
when the world has gone
terribly wrong,
and the future promises to be
a time of even greater terror.

At the eastern crossing into Egypt,
soldiers looked the other way
as trucks bearing aid entered Gaza
in a roaring, dust-filled procession.
A few of the guards, waving them on,
assured the drivers they were welcome,
while volunteers with hand trucks
prepared to help unload the pallets.
“They’re Israelis!” a stunned reporter said.

Later that day,
I saw a formation of helicopters land
in the field beside a university
now a heap of bulldozed rubble.
While the copter blades kept whirring,
men and women in blue scrubs
ducked down as they exited the aircraft.
“We are from Haifa,” one of them shouted.
“We are here to help.”

Red Crescent ambulances
converged on the landing site.
The medics from Haifa got in
and were driven away.
I heard a journalist on camera say,
“They are going to al-Najjar Hospital,
one of the few still standing in Rafah.
I am told many more are coming.”
Then he read from their press release:

As healthcare professionals, we can no longer look away from what our government is doing in Gaza. We abhor the killing, the collective punishment of a people, the absence of any sense of humanity, the repetition,

on a smaller scale, of what the Nazis did to us. We risk imprisonment and possibly death if convicted of treason. But we accept that risk because we, as Jews, believe in the practice of tikkun olam — of making the world a better place, of healing that which is broken, of bringing light where there is darkness and peace where this is conflict …

At the entrance to al-Najjar Hospital
a crowd had already gathered.
A buzz of anticipation drowned out
the constant nagging of weaponized drones.
Camera crews were on hand to record
what promised to be unprecedented.
I wasn’t allowed inside; instead,
I watched on a monitor as the medics
filed through the main entrance.

A journalist trailed a team of the Israelis.
One of them stopped by a stretcher
where a little girl lay with shrapnel wounds
and burns on much of her body.
I saw the doctor from Haifa
listen to the little girl’s heart
then gently touch the side of her face
“I am so sorry for this,” he said
to the attending physician.

Out of nowhere, it seemed,
a young woman shouted in Arabic,
“Leave us alone! We don’t want your help.
Your people did this and you do nothing
but watch us suffer, call us ‘animals’
unworthy of even a morsel of mercy.”
She was curled over on a bench
cradling a small body wrapped in white,
blood-stained cloth.

The Israeli doctor put his hand on his heart
as he turned toward the woman.
Clearly, he wanted to comfort her,
but a colleague stopped him.
They continued their rounds,
moving from patient to patient,
providing ameliorative care at best
or just holding a child’s hand
if nothing more could be done.

I watched their visit on the monitor
till the sun began to set
and the Israeli doctors, exhausted,
were taken to a room to rest.
As I left the hospital grounds,
I heard the approach of night
with the distant sound of planes
and the first of many explosions.
Maybe nothing had really changed.

Maybe the doctors from Haifa
were only a chimera, a response
to the depravity I had witnessed,
a reflection of my absolute need
to believe anything is possible,
even the transformation of monsters
and the ones who do their bidding
into agents of mercy and love,
like the doctors who came to al-Najjar.

The next day, dressed up in morning shine,
hope appeared with another sign
humanity might yet prevail.
On my phone I saw civilians
with white flags, walking in pairs
down a road in the city
between shell-shocked buildings
and piles and piles of rubble.
Two bearded men in front carried a banner.

The words on the banner were in Arabic and Hebrew.
They said: “We do not ask you to forgive us;
we only wish to come and go in peace,
and to atone for our country’s cruelty
by being here with you.”
And so a new day unfolded
with men and women from the other side,
many of whom had also lost loved ones,
spreading out through the ruined city.

There was non-stop coverage through the day.
Some Israelis partnered with first responders
helping dig children out of rubble,
giving water and comforting words
to those who survived another bombing.
Others witnessed, many for the first time,
the suffering of their Arab neighbors
and the grief that pressed down on them
with uncompromising force.

Still others found families
living in tents and scrap-wood shelters.
A local journalist filmed an Israeli woman
sitting with a family in their ramshackle tent.
A child served steaming hot tea in small glasses.
“This is my daughter, Fatima,” her mother said.

“Hello, Fatima,” the woman said in middling Arabic.
The child sat between the two women.
The women drank their tea.
One put out her hand to the other.

George Capaccio is a writer, poet, and performer now living in Durham, North Carolina since migrating from the Boston area. Beginning in the 90s, his concern for the people of Iraq under U.S.-imposed sanctions led him to make numerous trips to Iraq as a witness to the effects of these sanctions. At home, he advocated for their lifting through writing and public speaking while raising funds for families in Baghdad whom he knew and whom he considers to be an important part of his extended family.

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