By: Haneen Zaqout – Grade 10, Friends School, Ramallah
We all spend a lifetime trying to figure out what makes someone who they are, and what defines them. Is it their characteristics, appearances, or behaviors? It may be a combination of all…for regular people. But for people who come from where I come from, figuring out who they are is not a choice for them. I come from Gaza City in Palestine, where surviving each day is a huge struggle for all Gazans. Leaving Gaza was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, partly because I miss my old life, and partly it is the guilt kicking in.
When I left Gaza, I had to go through this checkpoint. It’s not ANY checkpoint. It is the Erez Checkpoint and its there to imprison the people of Gaza because as soon as the Israeli soldiers see a Gaza ID, that person is automatically considered an utter terrorist. Without knowing who they are, without any idea whatsoever about those people, they decide that they are criminals. Who has the right to take a person’s identity from them? Or to judge them based on a piece of paper or nationality? How can they take away people’s choice of trying to figure out who they really are? I don’t know… but as I was walking through that long tunnel in that checkpoint, I realized that no matter what I do, no one will accept me for who I am. In that tunnel, they make no difference whether I am a terrorist or a person who is yearning for peace, not only for my people but also for the Israeli people.
I had the “privilege” to leave Gaza that others dream of having. Not because they don’t love Gaza, nor for the fun of it, but because it is so hard to live there. Home became something you want to escape from instead of being the place you can run to when life gets too hard. As soon as I was through that checkpoint, after being treated like an animal, after being “numbered” like baggage, checked out by all the screening machines that never occurred to my mind that I would ever see them. I now live in Ramallah, which is only 2 hours away from Gaza. I left that exotic part of the world called Gaza; but still have it on my mind every second of the day, still influenced by my past there, and still motivated by its people’s strengths.
On the news, the talk about how Gaza has NO fuel, NO food, and even NO electricity; but the TV is just a source of information to pass on how people are suffering…does that mean that anyone outside Gaza understands what the people are really going through? No, they listen to that devastating news, ‘feel bad’ for the people going through it, and continue on with their lives like nothing happened. Maybe some people can pretend, but as for myself I can’t! This is the main reason I’m writing this for as much as I know that words can be inconsequential, they can also make a difference in many people’s lives.
I hate that I feel guilty every time I eat a piece of chocolate, knowing that a friend or a little child is craving one. I hate that when I’m bored I can open the TV or the computer and waste time, while my friends have nothing to do considering they have no electricity. I hate how I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, even outside Ramallah, while my friends are stuck at home because they have no fuel to even go around Gaza city! I hate buying new clothes, because my friends can’t. I hate that I’m absolutely and utterly helpless.
However in Gaza, regardless of the situation, you always find love and hope, you find people struggling for their lives. A mother trying to put a smile on her child’s face, a father trying to get the strength to protect his child’s little body from a missile. In Gaza you find those mixed feelings between love and hatred, between hope and despair, between frustration and satisfaction. In Gaza, you find people smiling when they cross the borders, even when it takes them hours and even days to cross. In Gaza you find just what you need. You find home.