The 2014 war through the eyes of Gaza's youth

Six young people from Gaza share their thoughts and experiences living under siege.

by
    A Palestinian youth looks at rubble following an Israeli air strike on smuggling tunnels at the border between Egypt and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip [AP photo]
    A Palestinian youth looks at rubble following an Israeli air strike on smuggling tunnels at the border between Egypt and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip [AP photo]

    Last August, Palestinians commemorated the three-year anniversary of the end of Israel's devastating war against the Gaza Strip. The war had killed over 2,200 Palestinians - the vast majority among them civilians - and 71 Israelis, the majority of them soldiers.

    The war left Gaza in ruins with over 17,000 homes completely destroyed, and thousands of other buildings, including hospitals, schools and factories, destroyed or severely damaged.

    The war fully shattered whatever semblance of an economy the Gaza Strip had. Today, 80 percent of all Palestinians in Gaza live below the poverty line, the majority of whom are dependent on humanitarian aid.

    INTERACTIVE: Palestine in Motion - The story of Palestine through the eyes of its people

    There is a whole generation of Palestinians in Gaza that grew up knowing nothing but war and siege and have never seen the world beyond Gaza's deadly borders. 

    These are the voices of some of these young Gazans, who shared their tragic personal stories, hoping that the world would heed their calls for freedom and for justice.

    Our recurring Nakba
    Shahd Abusalama - a Palestinian artist, blogger and a PhD candidate at Sheffield Hallam University

    This is not just a commemoration of the catastrophic human, material and emotional costs that Israel inflicted on Gaza in its deadliest attack during the summer of 2014. This is a remembrance of an ongoing Nakba which Palestinians have experienced since 1948.

    I am a third-generation refugee, born and raised in one of Palestine's largest refugee camps, Jabalia, originally from Beit-Jerja, my grandparents' evergreen home village which they had to flee under Israeli fire nearly 70 years ago.

     

    I was born a survivor - my mother went into labour during a curfew that Israeli military forces imposed on Jabalia, the place from which the first Intifada erupted a few years before I was born.

    While fearing for her life and her yet-to-be-born child, she walked through Jabalia's alleys, leaning on my grandmother who held a white piece of cloth and a lantern, hoping for mercy from the Israeli soldiers who shot at everyone that dared break the curfew.

    This is just my birth story in short, and this piece would not be enough to cover the immense trauma that I shared with the population of Gaza ever since. In Gaza, no family could escape the grief of having a relative killed, wounded, detained or exiled - mine is no exception.

    This context is necessary to remind everyone of the uninterrupted cycle of violence we endured since Israel's inception. Such stories, as harrowing as they may sound, are Palestinians' daily reality for the past 70 years.

    How can a whole population, locked in an inescapable ghetto, be subjected to such brutality for this long, as the whole world looks the other way?

    One would expect that such an inhumane reality would encourage world governments to impose sanctions on Israel. Instead, world leaders compete over sponsoring Israel's lethal security apparatus, asserting Israel's right to "self-defence" on every possible occasion.

    They accept Israel's misleading media narrative at face value and justify its crimes against my people, who are portrayed as "terrorists", effectively blaming the oppressed for legitimately resisting their colonial oppressor, so that they may attain their right to live in dignity and freedom.

    My identity: Defined, fragmented
    Sondos Alqutat - a Palestinian social worker; holds a Bachelor's degree in English Literature

    The ongoing Israeli occupation and siege made me understand the occupier the way it proudly portrays itself: Israeli, Zionist, Jewish. This has heightened my sense of identity as a Palestinian, Arab, Muslim.

     

    But new factors emerged following the decade-long siege imposed on Gaza. Now, I also feel "Gazan". Like two million other Palestinians, I belong to this coastal enclave which is subjected to daily suffering.

    The political division, due to the absence of one unified leadership representing both Gaza and the West Bank, has accentuated the geographical and cultural differences between both locations. The gap gets wider every day, resulting in a separate identity for me, and many other young Gazans, compared with that held by those living in the West Bank.

    Gaza is under a tight siege, yet despite all the hardships, there is a collective sense of autonomy. On the other hand, the West Bank has a semblance of freedom, while in reality every aspect of life, there is controlled by Israel. Over the course of years, my sense of national identity has fragmented.

    But whether in the West Bank or Gaza, we must not forget, we both struggle against the same military occupier, and will always remain linked through our resistance. Only through resistance to injustice, our identity can, once more, become one.

    Gaza women are not a stereotype
    Sarah Ali - a teacher working in Gaza; holds a Master's degree in English Literary Studies from Durham University

    For years, Palestinian women have been part of the struggle against the Israeli occupation. Yet it remains hard to escape the stereotypical depictions surrounding them, with many commentators incessantly indulging in Orientalist tropes, constantly referring to rooted patriarchy in Palestinian society to score political points, thus justify Israeli aggression.

     

    The Gaza Strip, wrecked by the Israeli siege and repeated wars, is no haven for Palestinian men. But life for women is harder still. In a culture that conforms to traditional gender roles, where females do most of the housework, women in Gaza bear the brunt of the effects of the siege on the household.

    Due to daily power-cuts, women frequently have to wake up in the middle of the night to use the sparse hours of electricity to wash clothes, iron, vacuum and bake bread.

    Breast cancer patients who are referred to Israeli hospitals have to endure a long and bureaucratic process to get Israeli permits to leave Gaza through the Erez Crossing [known to Palestinians Beit Hanoun]. Israeli authorities frequently delay permits and send patients back to Gaza between therapy sessions. Female patients who can't leave Gaza suffer from the shortage of healthcare equipment and medicine.

    During the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza, when hundreds of families fled their homes for relatives' houses, women would cook for large groups of men and children every day, provide shelter for relatives and strangers alike.

    Nowadays, although still underrepresented in the workforce and positions of power, and despite the Israeli blockade that continues to strangle Palestinian education and economy, thousands of Palestinian young women in Gaza go to university. Thousands go on to become teachers, doctors, architects, nurses, housewives, mothers, political activists, educators, and social workers.

    "I am from there. I am from here"
    Yousef M Aljamal - a Palestinian PhD candidate at the Middle East Institute of the University of Sakarya in Turkey

    Being Palestinian means living in a state of worry over the situation in Palestine, whether you are in Palestine or outside.

     

    When I am in my temporary home, my Gaza refugee camp - my home is the village of "Aqir" in historic Palestine - I feel the combined pressures of siege and war, and the constant desire to leave. Many Gazan youth feel the same way.

    The people of Gaza live under extremely abnormal conditions where basic services and human rights, such as clean water, electricity and the freedom to travel are a privilege, not a right. Nothing is taken for granted there, even the right to receive life-saving medical treatment.

    Many Palestinians in Gaza want to see the world past the confines of that tiny strip, but if they ever do, they become trapped. They want to stay outside Gaza, due to the difficult conditions at home, and the difficulty of adapting to life outside. I too feel stuck between this feeling of entrapment in Gaza and feeling exiled outside it; this heavy feeling of alienation and exile is not unique to me. Most Palestinians feel it, Gazans especially.

    This feeling is part of the complexity of the Palestinian identity after nearly 70 years of displacement following the Nakba - our collective "catastrophe", when Israel was established atop the ruins of our homes. This feeling of alienation and exile is passed from one generation to the next, and will continue to get more complicated as the situation in Palestine gets more difficult.

    As the Gaza's siege enters its 11th year, and Israel's active apartheid system in the West Bank is becoming more entrenched, the Palestinian identity will get more painful and intricate, where the concept of home and exile will be even harder to define.

    I am afraid that this feeling of alienation and exile will continue to shadow Palestinians, wherever they go.

    Rafah: My salvation, my curse
    Ahmed Salah (not his real name) - a Palestinian student

    I am a Palestinian from Gaza. I got a scholarship to do a Master's degree in a European country. I was supposed to travel after the war, but the Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border refused to grant entry to me.

    All the devastation death caused by Israel left many young people like me in a state despair and shock. But it also gave us greater determination to oppose the lethal, colonial Zionist enterprise, and those who support it.

    For a while, there were talks about opening an airport or a seaport. The idea was quite uplifting for it seemed to offer a way out of the Gazan open-air prison. But the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, along with Egypt made that impossible. Instead, they collaborated to tighten the noose around Gaza's neck. Each Palestinian of the two million people living in Gaza is punished for being Palestinian and for resisting occupation and siege.

    When I tried to travel through the Rafah border crossing, the Egyptian authorities sent me back without any reason. After months of waiting and long hours of being vetted on the Egyptian side of the border, I was sent back without even an explanation. I was one of about 100 people, mostly students, but there were also some who were gravely ill and others who were wounded in the war.

    I was determined to try again, a process that would take at least four months because at that time the border was opened by Egypt merely three days every two or three months. But then, I was advised by a friend that Egyptian officers at the border ban as many Gaza travellers as possible to force them to bribe their way out. And that is precisely what I did. I contacted a border coordinator who told me I am "blacklisted" by the Egyptians because they have a report about me, and that the only way to travel is to pay $2,000 US. And just like that, I paid the money and, miraculously was no longer a "security threat". I left Gaza, and I am yet to go back.

    For me and many like me, the Rafah border crossing has become an unbreakable curse. For now, I plan to continue my studies abroad. The decision is painful because it means I will not be able to see my family or my home anytime soon.

    Hope through my oud
    Mohammed Ahmad Ballour - a Palestinian musician

    I am 22-year-old Palestinian refugee from Gaza and I love to play the oud. For me, it is not only an instrument of music, but of hope as well.

     

    Youth in Gaza somehow manage to remain hopeful despite the lack of opportunity and a decade-long siege. We have no other option but to remain empowered. We are the future of this place, and we cannot submit to oppression or defeat.

    At times, we take on social media to convey our stories, our hopes and our pain to anyone who cares to listen. For me, I combine both music and social media to send a positive message from Gaza.

    Music inspires me. It is a universal language. It is effortless to understand. All it takes is an open heart. And its relatable by everyone regardless of age, gender or background. I play my oud and share my videos online. I want the world to know that in Gaza we live to the fullest every day and we find ways to survive, to live and to grow.

    We don't have to accept that pain is our destiny. I feel happy and empowered when I hold on my oud and convey the story of my people through music to the world.

    We will survive this and we will fight to challenge and, eventually change our painful reality, no matter the pain or the passing of time.

    Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is 'The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story' (Pluto Press). Baroud has a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a non-resident scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California. Visit his website: www.ramzybaroud.net

    Yousef Aljamal contributed to this article.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


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