A painful message to Canadians from a Palestinian English teacher trapped in the “big cage of Gaza”

IMG_0240While 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.


English Instructor Rana Shubair is seated in front, on the left. She is the author of one published book in English “In Gaza, I dare to dream”. She is the mother of 3 children – two girls and a boy. Triplets!! She went to one of the protests with her 3 kids. She is currently working on a novel.

Dear Peter, 

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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  1. And why is it again that Canada continues to condemn Hamas for being a “terrorist” organization inside a huge open aired prison, yet we plant gardens and trees in Israel to honour the current residents who support that open prison system but don’t even recognize that most in that prison hail from the very places where our garden and tree plantings are flourishing?

    And why is it Canada takes a warm and friendly relationship with Israel even as it’s leadership authorizes the shooting and deaths of Palestinians because they won’t sit still and shut up about the recent past -70 years – which is my lifetime on earth.

    Is it because Canadians who often think of themselves as moderate, environmentally sensitive human beings who believe in freedom for everyone, are today caught up in a mad anger over pipelines.

    Yes, pipelines that will release earth destroying greenhouse gasses, but for some reason we refuse to even acknowledge that reality.

    Of course, that “some reason” being our perceived personal gain from the economic benefits of the pipeline, which is devoid entirely of any thought to the environmental damage it will impose on our children, grand-children, etc.

    I raise the pipeline because much like the crisis playing out in Gaza and environs Canadians appear to be opting to ignore the hard road of thinking through what Israel is doing to the Palestinians just as we want to ignore he science that tells us we are killing ourselves and our offspring.

    Perhaps what it all adds up to is a salute to money and it’s ability to dissuade us from the correct path by painting the other option as more positive and certainly less onerous, a hurdle good consumers see a way around.

    That, and of course, our lack of leadership on such issues , which has been handed over pretty much to the Americans to explain to us.

    1. I don’t think we should underestimate our natural “tribal” tendancies. We see Israelis (many of the Israeli leaders and spokespersons, like Netanyahu are European or American) as “like us”. The Palestinians – swarthy, Muslim, etc. are “others”. I think this is a big challenge. A challenge for the Palestinians, and also a challenge for all of us.

  2. Gaza is adjacent to Egypt and has, at times, been under the control of Egypt. Israelis seem to have forgotten their own Bible stories. When Israelites were imprisoned in Egypt, their Lord sent Moshe (Moses) and his brother to tell the rulers to , “Let my people go”. The rulers of that day ignored the request. In the next step, the Lord of Israel created rivers of blood. The Israelis seem to have forgotten their bible and have been creating new rivers of blood by shooting Palestinian people. It is time for them to treat the people of Gaza as their spiritual ancestors wanted to be treated. Israel must start to let those people go.

  3. Thank you Peter for sharing your experience. The letter tells us all about the injustice and inequality in the Israeli apartheid society. The suffering of Palestinians continue as normal. Animals are loved more than Palestinians. What a shame and what a disgrace for all those who continue to support unconditionally the Israeli occupation, genocide and murders of innocent people. Bigots like US, UK, the Arab world dummies and of course our beloved Canada show no mercy to Palestinians. Are they not enough humans for you?

    How long Canada will keep its imbalance and blind backing of Israel‘s brutalities? How many more Palestinians need to be killed? How many will be too many for Canada to stand against this massacre? Canada show your humanity as a civilized, peace-loving nation that care for human rights.

    According to Israeli Minister “no one in Gaza is innocent”, so everyone is a victim. Would that mean that criminals win over humanity? If it is, then we all miserably failed.

  4. “They all feel the world has forgotten them.” Sadly, they’re under no illusion. I used to wonder how in Germany “good people” could have stood idly by. Gaza answers that question of Canadians.

    Thank you Peter. So thought provoking, and a beautiful expression of solidarity that treads under foot the evil of the siege of Gaza.

    As former Anglican Vicar of Gaza 25 years ago, I can attest that life there has only gone from bad to worse, to unimaginable.

    My hope, however faint, and prayer is that Gazans’ non-violent March of Return will cut like a two-edged sword into the Zionist conscience, or lack thereof, and the world’s.

  5. Dear Rana,

    There are many Canadians who think about you. People in Gaza in the past few weeks have led a heroic courageous popular struggle. You are determined to be free and live the life you deserve. This is inspiring. We, and the rest of the world, have not done enough to support your just struggle. However, history teaches us that people who fight for their dignity and rights, will eventually get that. As you fight for these basic human values, you are teaching us all how to be better human beings. For that, THANK YOU!

    Stay well, dear Rana with the rest of your class. We will not forget you in the this difficult time!

    1. Thank you for your heartwarming words. I know that with more supportive people like you, our world will eventually change. One day, even if I don’t witness it, I know that my people will gain their freedom and right to self determination like people elsewhere.

  6. Dear Rana, I was moved by your heartfelt letter and just want you to know that I and many Canadians stand in solidarity with you and your fellow Palestinian brothers and sisters. Sadly on the other hand our Prime Minister continues to stand on the side of Israel for obvious political reasons. I hope in my life time we will see justice and freedom for all Palestinians.

    Take care and stay safe!

    1. Tanya,
      Thank you for your kind message. Please know that I’m someone who believes in every little effort made to educate people on the truth. I realize that western media is biased towards Israeli occupation, something which makes it hard for the general public to follow up on what is happening in Palestine. But, I also acknowledge that change is a long process in which every small step counts. You and other great Canadians can do so much just to educate people on what is happening here in my forgotten part of the world. History has taught us that ordinary people are behind every great change in this world. I must say that my people appreciate and admire every effort other people make to support our just cause. They demand their right to live in freedom and dignity.
      Thank you again for your message and I hope one day we all celebrate love, peace and justice together.

      Love from Palestine,

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