Torn Loyalties: What Future of Gaza?

After Cast Lead. Gaza City, January 2009.

These days, I hear everyone talk desperately about leaving Gaza (except they say “damned Gaza”). The people of Gaza have lived through three brutal wars and we have had enough. Life in Gaza is a vicious circle and we are getting dizzy from the endless cycle of violence and boredom.

I’m not sure people on the outside realize how monotonous life in Gaza is. Every day seems the same, except for when Israel drops its bombs or shoots its missiles. There are very few forms of entertainment (no theatres or playhouses like I read about in other countries), and those that exist are not affordable. I can’t even pay for transportation to another town.)

Until recently, the crossing between Egypt and Gaza was closed most of the time. Now, suddenly, it has been open since the start of Ramadan (15 May), and so many people seem to be selling their houses and belongings so they can leave Gaza quickly before it closes again. (12 May, 8,788 people have left Gaza through Rafah.) Although we hear the crossing will stay open at least until Eid El-Adha (an Islamic holiday that falls on 20 August this year), we have been conditioned to expect it to close without warning, so people are rushing to raise money, settle their affairs and try to leave.

I went to my parents’ house Wednesday, taking a taxi with a driver named Mohammed who is in his 30s, is married and has five children. He drives his taxi from 6 AM to 10 PM, but barely covers his expenses. He wants to give his family a better home and life but feels helpless. He tries his best to give his children happiness, taking them to the sea every Friday for a picnic lunch. His kids play and enjoy themselves, oblivious to the lack of prospects for their future. “I wish I could leave Gaza for good,” he kept saying. I asked, “What about your relatives?” The driver responded, “They can’t do anything to help our lives here and I barely see them anyway, I work so hard. It won’t hurt to leave them behind if I can have a better life for me and my kids.”

Destroyed classroom. Gaza City, August 2014.

I kept thinking about what he said. So many people are like him. They don’t have any idea where they would go or what they would do; they think anywhere else is better no matter what. I wish for a better life too. Neither my husband nor I have jobs and we can’t even afford fresh fruit. But if we all think that way and left, who would stay? Who would make a new future for our country?

I took a deep breath and stared at the empty land along Salah El-Deen Street. My 2-year-old son Zoher was looking through the window too, his eyes dreamy and a big smile on his face. I felt a sense of relief and squeezed his hand.

After arriving at my parents’ street, my kids ran quickly to their grandparents’ house. Nana, my 4-year-old daughter, took a moment to catch a flower to give to me.  As I sat with my family enjoying the time, the subject of my father’s friend, who is leaving Gaza, came up. My father never liked the idea of immigration; he used to travel to Egypt all of the time when I was 15 and he always came back. But this time, he supported his friend’s plan and said anyone who could find a way to go anywhere should, to create a better life. I was shocked, but I understood. Even it was only for a short time, I long to see something different.

There are still some, though, who would never even consider leaving. My husband’s cousin Yousef, who is 25, divorced and still doesn’t have a good job, says that “If they try to drag me out of Gaza, I won’t leave. If they starve me, I won’t leave. If they give me all money in the world, I won’t leave. It’s my Gaza.”

So where is this road going to take us Palestinians? Will it be the road of fighting for a better life in our country? Or escaping as soon as we can?

Only God knows.

This article originally appeared in We Are Not Numbers and is republished with permission. Photographs courtesy of andlun1 and Jordi Bernabeu Farrús. Published under a Creative Commons license.