While in Gaza recently, I spent a half a day doing an English class with about 20 young Palestinian women enrolled in a secretarial science course offered by the Near East Council of Churches – DSPR/Gaza. It was a great opportunity for me to have an informal and frank talk about their lives and hopes for the future. After the class, I got a poignant letter of thanks from their teacher. You might be interested in what she said…
When planning my English lesson for 20 young Palestinian women in Gaza, I struggled to find a topic that I thought would generate interest. So, basing myself on the idea that most people like talking about their own story, I decided to ask each of the students to say a few words about themselves and their families.
I got an earful.
It quickly turned out that most of their families were not from Gaza, but had been expelled from Israel in 1948 and have been refused the right to return. Now refugees, 70 years later they remain stateless, and trapped in the tiny area called the “Gaza Strip”, which is only 15% of the size of Ottawa.
I asked each one to point on a wall map to the villages in Israel from which their parents (or grandparents) were expelled. Most knew exactly, and could even tell me what the village was famous for.
That led naturally to talking about the weekly protest called the “Great march of return”, which is taking place every Friday here in Gaza and being very violently repressed by Israeli forces. Many of them had friends or relatives who were among the thousands who had been killed or injured so far.
They all supported the idea of the right to return. Half had actually participated with their friends or family members . But others admitted they were scared to go. A few volunteered that they weren’t sure the March would be successful. They all feel the world has forgotten them.
When I asked them about whether they actually wanted to return to today’s Israel, most said they wanted to be able to visit their villages and relatives in Israel or the West Bank, but only a half dozen or so thought they might actually want to live there. Several said they liked Gaza and would like to stay with their friends and family if there were jobs and security and saw a future here.
Of course they all wanted the right to travel. When I showed them a touristy video about Canada, they were entranced by our huge, peaceful, green and democratic country. They all suffer from the claustrophobia of the blockade of Gaza, the frustration of not being able to visit relatives in the West Bank or Israel or to travel or study abroad, and economic privations of living in blockaded strip.
After my class, I received a poignant thank you note from their teacher. I thought you might be interested. I have reprinted it below.
Thank you for visiting my class this morning. The students loved the session and I hope you and other peace loving people can come back in the future.
I know your time here is flying by too fast, so I thought I’d send you this message. It’s a message I want to send to the people of Canada and the rest of the world which exists outside this big cage of Gaza.
I write this as a Palestinian woman living under the blockade and the terror of Israeli occupation.
You likened your visit to Gaza to visiting a hospital where many people are suffering. Although it’s the painful truth, I think this realization made my heart bleed. So after class, I ran out to the gym which is where I go to relax, but my instructor looked unusually sad and I asked her what was wrong. She said her cousin had been killed. At that moment I gave up trying to be superwoman and just stood beside her crying.
Anywhere we go, whomever we meet, this episode of murder and horror follows and haunts us. There’s no place to go where you would just forget about it all. It’s entrenched into every detail of our lives.
I got home and slept for two hours and when I woke up my kids had come home from school. My daughter, Nada, said to me: “ They just said on the radio that the journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein has died.”
We sleep and wake up to horrifying things. Ahmed was shot two weeks ago when covering the protests. He had been in hospital ever since.
I’m sorry but this is the kind of life we live and having come here, Peter, you have seen it for yourself.
Despite all this, my people have the willpower and determination to live and fight if they have to. Because in the end, we will only live in honor. My people are peaceful people. How many Israeli soldiers were hurt in the past three weeks? None. Not even a scratch.
But as the people continue to peacefully protest they get killed for no reason except for trying to exercise their right to live as humans which the UN says is a human right. They want their children to breathe freedom. They want to be able to go in and out of Gaza to their own country and to any place around the world just like people do elsewhere.
When you showed the students the video about the most famous tourist attractions in Canada, you may have worried that it might be boring, but for my students and myself I can tell you that we only see these kind of places on the internet or TV.
I asked them at the beginning of the year how many of them had travelled before and only 3 had lived outside Gaza before coming back to reside here. The others have never even been out of this tiny strip of land surrounded by Israeli walls and soldiers.
Between Israelis and Palestinians, there are not two equal sufferings. While Israelis enjoy freedom and the fruits of the lands of our parents, Palestinians have been made to suffer for the past 70 years.
Rana Shubair, English instructor
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