I stood in the basement with my landlord, the lights from our phones bobbing over the hot water heater which had suddenly stopped working in late November. Not having hot water isn’t a huge deal, but in this particular house the heating system runs off the hot water heater, so no hot water also means no heat at the time of year where night-time temperatures dip well below freezing.
I had already gone through the steps of trying to restart the fully automatic system. My landlord was slightly less systematic, unplugging and replugging cords at random. He explained how the system worked and where the various wires, hoses, and ducts went, before concluding that the motor wasn’t working at all and that it would have to be replaced.
Of course, these days, my mind is with the people of Gaza. No heat is just the beginning of their worries; there is an acute shortage of potable water, medicine, and fuel. People dodge IOF sniper fire to get to grocery stores whose shelves are empty, then narrowly avoid missiles as they make their way back to their homes, which are likely destroyed and reduced to rubble.
As I stood in the basement, I also started thinking about the modern lifestyle, built around convenience, and what it takes to maintain it. Computerized hot water heaters maintain a certain temperature so that hot water is available constantly, on demand. HVAC systems do the same with our air, maintaining 24/7 climate control. Electric wiring does the same for lighting, making light available on demand. Refrigeration does the same for our food, saving us from a daily trip to the market, making sure that food is constantly available on demand right at home. It all requires exorbitant amounts of energy to maintain; the Energy Information Administration reports that in 2021 the US population consumed about 16% of the world’s energy despite making up less than 5% of the world’s population.
All this convenience, despite attempting to provide security, also entails a specific type of vulnerability, what some scholars term “deskilling.” Going to the grocery store instead of the garden frees up time but also frees us from needing to know how to grow our own food. Refrigeration frees us from needing to know exactly how much food is enough, as well as from all the communal bonds that are resuscitated by a daily trip to the market. Constantly available artificial light frees us from darkness but also from following the natural circadian rhythm, throwing our bodies out of sync. Temperature-controlled air and water frees us from the knowledge of how much fuel one needs to heat one’s food and warm one’s body, and thus the types of interactions that would generate the requisite gratitude for such blessings.
All this ran through my mind as the landlord plugged and unplugged cords. Then I thought about how the latest Israeli rampage, ostensibly to eradicate Hamas, is clearly an attempt to exterminate not just the people of Gaza but also all traces of modern life. Water desalination plants, hospitals, bakeries, roads, and schools have all been not just indiscriminately attacked but intentionally targeted. Suddenly starting to feel the cold, I slowly realized that if I were in that situation, my dependency on modern conveniences would leave me extremely vulnerable.
Yet the resourceful people of Gaza continue to survive, play, laugh, and get married. Videos show people trapping rainwater in plastic tarps, the rainwater Israel arrogantly claims to own. We see people making bread in clay ovens or making makeshift ovens out of old olive oil tins, a mix of old ways and new improvisations. The people of Gaza have not been deskilled; they resist.
Much conversation lately has revolved around what the people of Gaza are teaching us, especially in the realm of faith. And while we don’t wish to romanticize hardship, we also shouldn’t underestimate what their resilience and resourcefulness can teach us about political power, as counterintuitive as that might sound. The late King Faisal became a legend for standing up to the Western powers during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war by spearheading the oil embargo of 1973-74. He famously said, “You are the ones who can’t live without oil. You know, we come from the desert, and our ancestors lived on dates and milk and we can easily go back and live like that again.”
When one becomes dependent on convenience, weakness will eventually result. The Children of Israel demonstrated this when they left Egypt. Despite having endured the horrors of slavery under Pharaoh, they had been lulled into a false sense of security by the variety of food they used to enjoy. Once free and in the wilderness, they began complaining to Moses about the lack of variety in their food:
O Moses, we can never endure one [kind of] food. So call upon your Lord to bring forth for us from the earth its green herbs and its cucumbers and its garlic and its lentils and its onions. (Qur’an 2:61)
Moses fittingly told them to go back to being slaves if that is all they wanted from this world. The minor convenience of having a variety of food at their disposal had made them so weak that freedom seemed burdensome. When they finally reached the promised land they again demonstrated weakness, expecting to be given the land without any effort.
Contrastingly, the ability to go without, to live on less, and to sacrifice is a tremendous source of power. In Surah al-Baqarah, Allah tells us about Saul’s army. Saul put his soldiers to the test; despite their intense thirst he asked them to refrain from drinking water as they passed a cool spring. Saul kept with him only the soldiers who were able to do without, sending the rest home. Mathematically, this would seem to put him at a disadvantage as he approached Goliath and his forces. Some of them even fell into despair.
But those who were certain that they would meet Allah said, “How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah? And Allah is with the patient.” (Qur’an 2:249)
Such are the resilient people of Gaza: outnumbered, outfunded, and outgunned. Yet it is Israel that remains frustrated, having met none of their stated military objectives. The math doesn’t add up without Allah in the equation. The facade of Israel’s strength has been shattered. IOF soldiers continue to abandon the battlefield while the children of Gaza continue to chant about liberating Jerusalem. Allah is Able, Allah’s victory will prevail, and no military might or abundant wealth can prevent this.