Basman Derawi | 13-03-2017
This is my Palestinian story. Like many Palestinian stories, it involves struggle. For Palestinians, there is always struggle.
Both of my parents lived in Gaza before I was born (my mom as a native and my father as a refugee from Beersheba, before being forced out by Israel). However, as about 400,000 other Palestinians did, my parents moved to Kuwait when my dad was able to find a job as a teacher there. I was born in Kuwait in 1988.
During the Gulf War in 1990, however, we left Kuwait for Jordan. Due to the war, it simply wasn’t safe anymore. (About 200,000 Palestinians fled Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion, and nearly another 200,000 more left after it ended—in part due to the government’s displeasure with Yasser Arafat’s decision to support Saddam Hussein.) A year later, on February 27, 1992, my father died of leukemia. We had to return to Gaza, where my mother’s family lived, because they wanted her to be close. I only know my dad by his photos and my mom’s stories.
Growing up without a father was hard, but my mom did her best to be both a mother and a father. Because I was a small child when we moved to Gaza, I can’t remember my life outside. As the years went by and I got older and the Gaza situation got darker, I learned to escape through books (Arabic novels and discussions of religion and philosophy were my favorite), photos and my mother’s stories.
But 2013 was my “lucky” year. It was the first time in my life I was able to leave Gaza, and it was the most exciting experience of my life. I have chronic eczema, a medical condition that cannot be treated in Gaza, so I was allowed to go to Jordan for treatment. Never before had I been thankful for my illness!
It was the first time in 20 years I was able to see my uncle and cousins. The first time I could visit where my father is buried. Words cannot describe how I felt.
My trip was in July of that year. The summer was hot, and there was a lot of waiting and humiliation at the hands of Egyptian security officials as they inspected our suitcases. The car ride to the airport in Cairo took seven hours. But I enjoyed every second of it. It was the first time I had tasted freedom outside the open-air prison of Gaza, and for me it felt like a deep breath of fresh air.
My treatment took two months. During that time, I enjoyed everything—meeting my relatives, hearing their stories of my father and sharing their food. I loved the open spaces without soldiers or checkpoints. I tried hard to ignore the nagging fear that it might be my first and last opportunity to travel.
But it ended. On the way back. I felt happy and sad. Happy because I love Gaza. Sad because I love freedom.
The border closures have become even tighter since then, and I have not been out of Gaza again. But I dream of seeing my relatives once more, and of visiting the rest of Palestine, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Canada and the United States. I want to see the world! How can I change and grow if I spend my life in one small place?
Posted: March 12, 2017
Mentor: Kate Casa