I met with Ahmed Alnaouq (l) and some other Palestinian students in 2015 in Gaza City. They would like to meet Canadians. Since Israel won’t let them leave, they invite you to visit them in Gaza. Read more…
Two years ago, I spent several days in Gaza meeting and talking to young university students. They all had stories to tell about their frustration over not being allowed to leave the tiny Gaza strip, which at 365 km2, is barely half the area of the city of Toronto. They want to meet other people, hear other ideas, expand their horizons. It makes them frustrated, sad and… even a little angry that Israel has blockaded Gaza for over 10 years and won’t let them out. Israel says it does this to prevent terrorism.
But they aren’t sitting back. They are trying to overcome their isolation by reaching out on the internet. One of the impressive young men I met was Ahmed Alnaouq, the Gaza coordinator of a nonprofit program called “We are Not Numbers”, which links up young Palestinian writers and artists from Gaza and Lebanon with English speaking mentors from around the world to tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news. (Check it out, you will find dozens of interesting stories there by young people living in Gaza or in refugee camps in Lebanon.)
Knowing someone through the internet is one thing – meeting them in person is something else. Ahmed would like to invite Canadian students to come to visit him and his friends in Gaza. They would be happy to show you around, help you find accommodation. You will find that Palestinian students in Gaza, like students around the world, are curious, lively, friendly and exciting.
Here is his letter of invitation:
Dear Canadian friends,
My name is Ahmed Alnaouq. I became 23 years old last month. When my friends asked me to tell them my wish for the new year, my answer was to travel even for a single day to anywhere outside Gaza. I have lived 23 years in an open prison surrounded by high walls and topped with barbed wire.
But since Israel won’t let me travel outside Gaza, I invite you to come to visit us in Gaza and watch our life closely. I invite you to behold hundreds of Palestinians gathering around the Seaport as one of the only places of entertainment in Gaza. At the seaport, you would meet all kinds of people: fishermen laboring day and night to catch some fishes, young students skipping school to meet with their friends, kids playing with their families and crying for some candies, young guys and their girlfriends walking by the sea.
Each and every one of us has a story to tell, a story of a student who lost his scholarship in a foreign country because Israel won’t give him an exit permit, a wife who has been separated from her husband who did get out and found work but who cannot return, a fiancée who couldn’t unite with her husband-to-be because he is in the West Bank, a sick person who waited and waited for days to get Israeli permission to leave Gaza to get surgery, not to mention lots of other stories of other people died waiting to be rushed to a hospital outside.
I invite you to meet with the families of the 14 kids who passed away last month waiting to get permits to receive medication.
I invite you to meet with some of the thousands of Palestinians who are still dwelling in temporary caravans more than 2 years after Israel demolished their homes on their heads in 2015.
I invite you to visit Gaza and see the blueness of the sky united in tranquility with the blueness of the sea and at the far end of the horizon, an orange sun spreading beams of hope all over the city, a hope that one day, in spite of all the toughness we endure, we will be free.
I invite you to see the world’s most densely populated place— a refugee camp called Alshajaia. From there, a few hundred meters away, you would see past the wall that fences us in, to see lands that were once home to thousands of Palestinians, but now are guarded by the Israeli military who will unhesitatingly kill any farmer who would get near the borders to see his lands.
At the first glance, you may think Alshajaia is a new residential area, but the fact is that it is a thousand years older than the US and Canada. It looks new because the people rebuilt it after it was turned into ashes by Israel’s jet planes and tanks in the last war.
I invite you to meet the kids there, and everyone would tell you a story and describe a scene that is printed in his mind, a scene of body parts they saw while fleeing the area in the war. I invite you to come and meet the people, and hear their stories of love, life, and hope. I invite you to see their wide smiles and deep pain and the scars on every face.
I invite you to visit BOTH Israel and Gaza and see the contrast between brightly lit Israel, and how gloomily Gaza sinks in darkness as we are starved of electricity. I invite you to see how one of the oldest cities in history—Gaza—is suffering the consequences of war and siege, and how it was brought to centuries backwards. I invite you to see Palestinian families cooking with firewood instead of gas because Israel has limited the fuel getting in, and taxi drivers running their vehicles on vegetable oil instead of oil as well.
And, until you come, as the project manager of We Are Not Numbers, I invite you to follow us on Facebook, (we already have over 21,000 followers), hear our stories and listen to our dreams as people. I invite you to witness that Gazans aren’t terrorists or backwards, but loving people and talented, doing our best to live as human beings in a very difficult situation.
Yours in friendship, Ahmed Alnaouq, Gaza City
Getting to Gaza – how to do it?
Ok – the invitation is there, but could you really go?
Why not? Canadian students visit lots of different places in the world – from Taiwan to Thailand, Chile to China. Why not go to Gaza? You have to get there through Israel. But airfare is cheap – a couple of popular booking sites advertise round-trip fares to Tel Aviv as low as $400.
Is it safe? Notwithstanding it being described as an “open air prison”, for a visitor it certainly didn’t feel dangerous. In fact, I felt completely safe. and I found the Palestinians in Gaza to be unfailingly friendly, curious and welcoming. And it was not expensive – a lot cheaper than Israel, for example.
Wouldn’t it be cool to be the first person in your class to visit Gaza?
But there IS one problem – you will have to get permission from Israel to enter Gaza, just as Ahmed and his friends need permission to exit. So ask the Israeli embassy in Canada if you can visit. They might say “yes”.
But if they say “no”, you might inquire as to why it is that you can visit Israel, or China or Chile, but not Gaza. If you are just a curious Canadian, what possible harm could that do to Israel?
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Reblogged this on Middle Eastern Eye.
It is urgent that countries like Canada do some serious interventions with Palestinian leadership to get the to knock off the charade about Israel not having legitimacy…So long as Gazans have such leadership they are putting themselves in a combat relationship with Israel.
Au contraire! It is urgent that countries like Canada do some serious intervention with Israeli leadership to get them to stop pretending that they are not oppressing Palestinians and stealing their land. Israel must stop imprisoning those who live in Gaza and allow Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes. Israel will not have legitimacy until it respects the human rights of all those who have a history in Palestine. Respect cannot be one-sided.
AlanB, your ideological response to a story that includes an NGO named “we are not numbers” — i.e. we are not to be reduced to objects of your ideology — is dehumanizing. It can only serve to prove that, unlike the blogger, you’ve never been to Gaza.
For the record, Hamas does not, dispossess Jews, militarily occupy Israel, limit their access to food, medicine and clean drinking water and other war crimes, demolish Jewish homes, target Jewish children with sniper fire, build walls in Israel, etc… However all of these can be said of Israel toward Gazans.
AlanB, Palestinians, represented by their leadership, both Fateh and Hamas–have been trying with all means to reach a solution with Israel ever since the establishment of Israel in 1948. Fateh, for example, has been negotiating with Israel for more than 20 years, and they have been following the peace approach, but that didn’t make life to the Palestinians easier. Israelis have been swallowing more and more lands from the West Bank, which is governed by Fateh–a faction that recognized Israel and renounced terrorism. Israelis continued to take more lands from the West Bank and settlers continued to attack civilians in the West Bank (Maybe you heard of Mohammed Khader, a boy of 16 who was burned alive in Jerusalem, and in many other cases families were burned in their sleep by Israelis.) Arabs are being obliterated from Jerusalem for unjustified reasons.
In Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas after they win the elections, Hamas tried the resistance approach for freedom, but that brought siege and many wars to its people.
Palestinians have always been put in a combat relationship with Israel, not because they want this, but because they are the victims and the weak side, and because Israel always plays the role of the victim and they enjoy that. They enjoy playing the role of the victim because that gives them the legitimacy to besiege and launch wars against the “terrorists”.
It is time for the governments to have a deep look at the real situation in the Israeli/Palestinian issue and take action.
Thanks for responding, Dr. DLP, but my argument does not suggest a one sided form of respect…I see a huge potential in anti-oppression strategies with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, but some essential facts have to be faced historically.
Palestinians need to understand that so long as they are represented by leaders who see Israel as not valid and temporary, Palestinian people are in a position of combatants, Not a good position to be in – and posing many hazards and risks. But an unavoidable fact of life.
Canada would do well to get the Hamas leaders to understand the untenable and systemically violent situation their self-serving delusions about Israel are costing the people of Gaza.
First of all, the Palestinians are not currently represented by anyone. As a result of interference by Israel and its supporters after Hamas won the 2006 election, the elected government was prevented from taking office and Palestinians have not had a chance to vote since then. Nobody truly represents them.
Second, your picture of the situation is simplistic. Like Israel or Canada, the parties in Palestine are not homogeneous and both Fatah and Hamas have many factions. Some are more flexible than others. Because of the world’s refusal to deal with Hamas, we hear only the most militant of voices. It is Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians that keeps the militants in control. It is the radicalizing factor and it is what must change.
Finally, I do not see Israel as either valid or permanent. It is invalid because although it claims to be a democracy, it denies the right to vote to a large group of Palestinians that it controls and discriminates against the smaller group that can vote. That makes it invalid according to modern standards. As things stand, all of the inhabitants, Jews and Palestinians alike, are what you call combatants. When I am in Israel, i see distrust and fear everywhere. Every mall has security checkpoints; there are armed guards at every hotel and public building. Some residents fear (with good reason) the police; other residents fear their neighbours. Something has to change. The present conditions are unacceptable and unstable.
Change must begin with Israeli policies and Canada can help Israelis to understand that.
It would appear it is the Zionists who need to understand the untenable and systemic violent situation their self-serving theft and ongoing occupation of land and territory are costing both Israelis and Palestinians. The “blame the victim’ argument is shallow, weak and dangerous. i cannot imagine that Palestinians would be thankful and provide kind accolades for those that approve white phosphorous being dropped on human beings in their open air prison.
And really, what harm is there in having foreign students meet with students in Gaza since they are imprisoned there and cannot leave? Seems like a worthwhile exchange of ideas and humanity. Hope it is a success.
Peter, very fine piece. Thanks.
Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.
Peter, if we cannot travel to Gaza because Israel is known to refuse entry at Ben Gurion to foreigns who support, Palestinians, can we be in contact by Skype or something similar?
Yes, Dr. Parnas, The best way to be in contact would be through the Facebook account. In the text there is a link to the FB account of Ahmed and also to “WE are not numbers”
Dr. David, I would love to talk to you about any issue you would like to talk about. We can talk via Facebook, Whatsapp or Skype. Palestinians are known for their friendly characteristics, so please don’t hesitate to ask me or start a conversation anytime you want.
After you visit Gaza, Please take another plane to Tel Aviv. Here we can discuss the situation in Gaza and see what we can do for the poor citizens that suffer from the rule of Hamas. I am sure that the Gazans will tell you that they are happy in Gaza. They will tell you that it is their contribution to the Islamic revolution in the world. But, this is just fake words as they suffer very much and they dislike it. They are afraid of the Hamas regime. So, please tell them that once they decide upon peace with Israel they will really enjoy their lives wherever they are.
Hey Amir, Have you ever visited Gaza? Israel? To get to Gaza you have to go through Israel, and to go to Israel there is only one internaitonal airport – in Tel Aviv.
The Palestinians I spoke to in Gaza are definitely not happy about their situation. Some of them support Hamas, some support Fatah, some I don’t know. But all of them are very frustrated and angry at the blockade Israel has imposed on them.
As you know, the only reason they can’t leave Gaza is that THEY ARE NOT JEWISH!! If they were Jewish their parents would never have been expelled and they would be able to return as the Jewish settlers who were once in Gaza did.
Two Israeli citizens, crossed the border to Gaza on separate occasions over the last few years, both are now being held captive by the Gazans, and the Red Cross can not visit them
Their families don’t know if they are dead or alive.
Another Italian peace activist, Vitorrio Arrigoni, who lived in Gaza was kidnapped and murdered by an armed militia.
Gaza under Hamas is a dangerous place for foreigners, even if they come in peace
Hey Ahik, I know several Jews, some Israeli some not, who have visited Gaza openly and in peace in the last several years. However, when Israelis come under cover, at a time when Israel has a crushing seige on Gaza, it should not be surprising that people wonder what they are doing there. I think they are asking for trouble.
I do not know about the Italian activist who was killed 6 years ago in Gaza. I meant to ask about him when I was there, but forgot to do so.
Haysham Shaaban a Sayid and Juma’a Ibrahim Abu Ghneima are both Bedouin, Abre Mangistu is an Ethiopian Jew, they all suffer from mental illness.
If they would have been spies Hamas would have paraded them through Gaza City already. Instead Hamas hold them in a dark dungeon or in an even darker grave, and their families don’t know if they are dead or alive
Hamas want to take revenge at the Bedouin because they are loyal citizens of Israel.
Peter, can you really guarantee that some “Majnun” in Gaza, a member of Hamas or some other terror organization will not decide to kidnap and murder a Canadian tourist just because he doesn’t like Justin Trudeau?
Vitorrio Arrigoni, was murdered by a group of militants of Qaeda. This group was chased by Hamas; one of them was killed by Hamas shortly after he murdered Vitorrio Arrigoni.
Why it is ok for Israel to help 6000 Palestinians in prison, and the Gazans can’t hold one or two “Soldiers” who participated in the war against the civilians? Do you have an idea about the humanitarian situation the Palestinians detainees are facing in the Israeli jails?
Hi Ahmed, I’m not talking about the two dead soldiers, I’m talking about the three civilians, see my reply to Peter
All the Palestinians is Israeli jails see their families twice a month and the Red Cross have a free access to them at all times
The three Israeli citizens doesn’t have neither
Your voice is important, many Israelis would love to talk to a young people in Gaza and better understand your point of view, have you ever tried to reach out to Israelis over Facebook?
The Times of Israel has carried stories about the denial of visitation rights to certain Palestinian prisoners. Some relatives are not allowed to travel from the Occupied Territories to the Jail in the Israeli segment of Palestine. In other cases, Red Cross visits have been restricted.
This is an ecellent piece and the conversation is great. Thanks everyone.
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