Feb 05 2019
When my dad finished his Ph.D. studies in the United States, and we came back to Gaza, people asked us accusingly as to why we came back. My answer was simple: I came back home. Just two days ago, I was asked the same question and another on what being a Palestinian meant to me. This is what I had to say.
I’m a proud Palestinian. I’m fully conscious that Gaza could be or is, in fact, the worst place to live in at this time. Officially, it’s been deemed unlivable by 2020 according to a UN report. But no thanks to the 12 year-old blockade imposed by Israeli occupation, Gaza has already plunged in poverty, unemployment and deprivation. If we take a quick glance, we’ll see that its healthcare system is collapsing, its air and water are polluted, its sea is too contaminated to enjoy because sewage is constantly pumped into it, and Gazans are most happy when they receive 8 hours of electricity a day.
All of these are harsh facts on the ground. But despite all that, Palestine is the only place on this earth which I can call home. If I wanted to, I could move to another country for the sake of my children, but I won’t. Why? It’s not because I want my kids to stay trapped in Gaza. No. I want them to see the world and see different people.
I’m a person who embraces cultural exchange and I still keep in touch with childhood friends living outside Gaza. In fact, some of my most memorable teachers came from different countries. Yet, I find myself having to answer this question: What would relocating outside Gaza mean to my kids?
When I lived in the States during my teenage years, I encountered various problems because I wore hijab to school. Some would tease me, “When you get married, is your husband allowed to see your hair?” Or “Do you live in a tent in the desert and ride camels?” I was under 15 years and you could imagine the emotional bullying I had gone through. When I reminisce that and take a look at the current xenophobia spreading like a plague in many countries, I cringe at the thought of imagining my kids grow up in a place where they’d struggle to prove that they are humans deserving respect. The harsh fact, which goes against my beliefs in equality of all people in the human race, is that they would never fit into any society but their own. If they decide to live elsewhere they will have to go by the rules of whichever country they’re in and fight for who and what they are, or just blend in society and forget their own identity. A long battle of existence would lie ahead of them. A person may live in a so-called modern country, yet can be intolerant towards others as the case is now in most countries witnessing the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment, and even in Arab countries too.
As a parent, I can’t dictate where any of my kids choose to live in the future, but when they’re grown up they will understand what it means to have a place to call home.
I realize that these thoughts may not appeal to many people in my country these days and I can’t blame them. Sometimes I get this feeling that we’re living behind time by being trapped in the blockaded Gaza. But that is what it is—we’re trapped by an oppressor. If we had the chance, we’d visit other countries, attend cultural and educational events, but we’re still serving time in this big prison.
Having said this, I don’t mean Gaza lacks great minds— Gaza has brilliant thinkers. I have met many people here in Gaza with exquisite minds who have lived here ALL their lives. They refused to let the physical siege ruin their brains. A genuine testimony to this is the Palestinian prisoners who are among the most intelligent people in the world. They are imprisoned in cells and under inhumane circumstances, yet they are alive with their minds. One popular and unique person that comes to my mind now is the ex-detainee Ahmed Elfaleet. He spoke at Tedex about his journey of knowledge inside Israeli prisons during his twenty year term.
As my people continue to stand in the face of oppression and demand their basic human rights of living in dignity, freedom and justice, they will cherish the greatest gift which no oppressor can control— life of the mind, heart and soul.
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