Gazans: Superhuman, are we?
Going through the stream of Media outlets every morning is torturous. I sit here in the college café, foreign music playing, foreign eyes staring at their facebook pages, but none of theirs-like mine. Incomprehensive languages alienate me even more. Language barrier they call it. Even here, I’m haunted by barriers. I read the news from home and amidst the tranquillity of this place arises a strange feeling of foreignness. An escape from politics is impossible. Being a Palestinian means that we carry our Palestinianness to the furthest spot on earth. We can never dissociate ourselves from Palestine no matter how hard we tried. In the happiest of moments, the misery of home makes us miserable and in the saddest, the joy of memories brings us to life again.
A friend of mine once told me that she will be waiting for my writing from “El ghorba” exile. I find it really hard sometimes to put all of those chaotic thoughts together in one post. Sometimes, I even try to defy it, this feeling of foreignness and alienation that smells out of here. People’s friendly smile yet their unapproachable distance make me yearn to the warmth of home, the closeness of best friends and the daily fights with family. It’s been six months here. I am half the way through. The experience of being here has been illuminating, however. It did change me.
Being born and raised in Gaza, Palestine, I barely had any genuine contact with the world. The world for me was the impassable 360 km. that constitutes the Gaza Strip. My contact with my own country was restricted or rather impossible. The only Palestinians I met were always those residing in the Gaza Strip. This sense of fragmentation that I was part of has somehow reached to the way we define ourselves. The last six years by which Gaza has been held under one of the cruellest illegal blockades has assisted in this fragmentation. The intensity of the Israeli atrocities directed at the Palestinian population in Gaza and the world’s attention that shifts swiftly and severely from one spot to the other, with Gaza getting the bulk of this attention due to the brutality and inhumanity of the illegal siege, the way we started to define ourselves was made to be fragmented as well. And we, somehow, came to think of ourselves as Gazans. Sometimes, only Gazans.
It is mainly the Israeli occupation policies of apartheid and separation that are creating this sense of fragmentation and self-autonomy in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip upon which we are being dragged to believe every day. This, unfortunately or rather disappointingly, or shamefully ( I apologize for I always fail to find the suitable definition of this ) is supported by the internal separation of both governments in the West Bank and Gaza.
I don’t think I am really blaming any Palestinian of this. I cannot. For I am just another victim of a process of linguistic-colonization, and as hard as we’re trying, those long-persisting policies of Apartheid can sometimes lead us to such unconscious linguistic but disastrous utterances.
Last month, while touring the north East of England as part of a “Women of Palestine tour” organized by the Yorkshire PSC, I was corrected by another Palestinian woman speaker, a refugee in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, while giving a talk about education under occupation in the Gaza Strip. Repeatedly, I referred to myself as a Gazan. My friend, irritated, said that I should rather refer to myself as a Palestinian. I felt embarrassed. What gives me the right to think that I, being born and raised in Gaza, am a unique Palestinian?
I do realize that being a Palestinian from Gaza does not give me any privilege. This is what makes of the experience of meeting with other Palestinians elsewhere life-worthy. I was fortunate enough to meet four Palestinian women who somehow resonated some different experience of home. Living together in one small house that was kindly given to us by one of the PSC supporters in Sheffield was one of the best days of my life. When sadly bedding farewell to each other after ten days, we left a thank you note to the lady that said:
“Thank you for bringing together a smaller Palestine in your house”
Sameeha , Gaza
Kholoud, Ayda Camp Bethlehem
Zeinab , Hebron
Kholood, a Palestinian citizen of Israel
The uniqueness of this particular experience is my realization of how variable our contact with the occupation is.
The cultural, linguistic and identity challenges Kholood sarcastically represented while standing to introduce herself as: The Ticking bomb, referring to the way she lived in a state where she is being previewed as a constant threat and treated as a second-class citizen. Somehow before this, I thought that Palestinians in Israel are sort of privileged. At least they didn’t have to leave their houses, I thought. I could never imagine the sense of isolation and the discrimination that Palestinians in Israel are facing on daily basis. It is then I realized: “Well, that is an existential Palestinian experience”.
The very determined Zainab brought with her a Palestinian persistence to discuss water Crisis. Only water crisis. It was her first time out of Palestine, too. She refused to refer to her personal experiences living in Hebron. She, I thought, didn’t even enjoy the heavenly countryside of Yorkshire. She was never impressed by anything, we all judged. “Zainab, look at this” we said, pointing at the mountains, the rivers, and reservoirs while being driven from one countryside to another. She’d look, unimpressed and hum, “Aha”. Irritated by our constant reference to how strict she was, she finally revealed why she was never enthusiastic about anything in one of the talks. “My friends” she said very calmly, “are wondering why I’m never enthusiastic about being in the UK, but I’m telling them, there’s NO Place more beautiful than Palestine.” I was on the verge of crying. We were all are, in fact when she added, “I know that I am only here for a week. Then, I will go back again. I will cross the checkpoint again.”
It was hard to believe how Kholoud could somehow manage to make of her life in Aida refugee camp a bitter-sweet tale. My linguistic abilities are insufficient to portray her delicate smile yet her cunning giggles that startled everyone around. Passionately, she discussed her life in a refugee camp and her work in Human Rights organization, her struggle to get through the checkpoints where sometimes she had to commute for six hours to give a two-hour workshop on human rights. But, she had the same passion to life, jokes, and music.
That’s how illuminating the experience was. That’s why I’ve become very irritated by the way some of us are forgetting about the totality of the Palestinian experience. I understand how intense and inhumane the situation in Gaza is. I’ve lived it. I am living it. But by no means does it give me the right to think of myself as someone who’s suffering more. Fighting to our daily right to electricity should equate voicing out our right to return. Let’s not forget about that.
I was also very irritated by a picture circulated around facebook of a little “Ghazzawi” Gazan child challenging the supernatural Hulk indicating somehow that Palestinians in Gaza are superhuman. We are not. As much as I’d like to think that I am. We are human beings who are being dehumanized on daily basis by the Apartheid policies of Israel. We are human beings who have the capacity and the endurance of human beings. We sometimes feel we’re about to explode. We mourn our dead ones and we value life. Life does not go on as it used to be when a loved one is gone. Something inside us is gone as well with their leaving. But with the daily dehumanization, our humanity elevates.
Ps. That Women of Palestine tour would not have been such a success without the inspiring and persistent work of the PSC in the North East England.
A special tribute is paid to the brave Abu Baker, who’s been vital part of this tour and who sadly passed away while campaigning.
A note to all the other wonderful Palestinian women whom I met while touring: Reem Kelani, Maha Rezeq, and Arwa. “One day in a free Palestine”