When Razan al-Najjar, the volunteer Palestinian paramedic, was murdered Friday at the Great Return March, my lifelong passion for writing seemed so insignificant to me.
I’m a firm believer that words can change worlds, yet the short life of 21-year-old Razan, which pulsed with tangible energy and sacrifice, has silenced all the words in my brain. Razan, you put your life on the line to save the protesters’ lives. Your beaming smile spoke of an innocent soul, yet behind it lay a steely will lacked by those twice your age. You volunteered to work at no pay at a time when most Gazans scramble to earn every penny they can. You ran toward the injured with your hands raised high so your killers could see you weren’t a threat to their shielded bodies, while I stood far from the separation fence watching in safety. You ran knowing you could get killed and were fearless; meanwhile, I watched from a distance while the protesters you protected ran as close to the fence as they could—setting fire to tires to obscure the view of their killers.
I went home to my “cave” and wrote stories of what I saw to send to the world, thinking that somehow my words would rock the consciences of my readers and bring about change.
As a writer, I take pride in how bookish and wordy my life is, yet this seems so childish to me now. I always believed that everyone has the capacity to serve their people, even if it is by writing and advocating in the security of their home. But now, my writing seems a mere token compared to the acts of the many others at the forefront, literally forcing change while they risk their lives.
Razan, you were such a vibrant spirit. I saw in the videos appearing on social media a beautiful, young and fiercely determined Palestinian woman who was resolved to do something constructive for her ailing country. You didn’t sit at home and whine about the misery in which we live, although our suffering is entrenched into every detail of our lives. The determination and resoluteness in your eyes almost slaps us in the face. Maybe, my beautiful angel, you didn’t read many books or write any stories, but you found a way to serve your people. And now I am wondering: What is the worth of my book learning and way with words in the face of the lives you saved by risking your own?
I’ve been working at my writing all of my life, struggling to make the voices of my people heard. Yet, what has been the result? My words seem to have fallen on deaf ears. I want to scream to the world in the same simple language you used, Razan, when you spoke on TV—simple, straightforward, no need for sophisticated vocabulary. It’s not enough to sound well educated as I make the case to what seems a deaf world that my people deserve to live in dignity and freedom.
As I stood last Friday about 150 meters from the separation fence, I watched the young protesters gather en masse near the barrier. Ordinary people, paramedics and journalists stood there. They didn’t budge. I realized a harsh, unfair and cruel fact: We are alone in our struggle for freedom. My people have been living in misery and displacement for 70 years and in the last 12 years, the dire circumstances have accelerated. Nobody out there seems to care. Still, you gave of yourself.
Like the murdered journalists, Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein, who also inspired me, I never had the opportunity to know you, Razan, but your valor and patriotism have shaken me to the core. I’m skeptical of whether my precious notebooks, in which I record my expanding vocabulary, are really of much use.
Ever since the Great Return March started, all of my Fridays have been booked. You have strengthened my resolve; the protest is the only place I want to be. It’s where history is being made—a history of honor and dignity, even if I don’t live to see it.
Originally published on We Are Not Numbers