June 10, 2016
It was a sunny day, and I spent most of it on the beach with my family. I thought of how much I loved the sea and the feelings it brings me, especially feelings of freedom. I wished I could be a wave that comes and goes whenever and wherever it wants.
When we got home, I decided to make a plan for this imagined vacation so I’d know how to spend my time. The list included reading, some sports, workout, visiting new places and some other simple things but it didn’t feel like enough. I needed to join a club or something so I could make new friendships and get more experiences. While I was scrolling on Facebook for ideas just before sleeping, I found a post that said, “Do you want to learn programming and design thinking with international instructors? Do you want to spend two weeks in Jericho learning and enjoying?”
It caught my attention, and I didn’t feel sleepy anymore. I jumped out of my bed and clicked on the link to learn more. It was 10:30 pm and I found out that there was less than two hours until the close of the submission period. I was able to submit my application ten minutes before the deadline. I spent the whole night thinking of how much fun it would be to get into such a program. The idea of leaving my city for the first time made me the happiest person in the world. But I told myself, “Arwa don’t get too excited, you’ve just submitted the application!”
June 29, 2016
This will be a special day forever because I received my acceptance into Code for Palestine, a program that lets Gazan students leave Gaza City and go to an academy in Jericho. You can never imagine how impossible it was for this 15-year-old Gazan kid to believe that she could visit other Palestinian cities and villages that she had only heard about from her grandparents and parents and had seen through their eyes but never in her own.
Visiting every part of my country was my dream since childhood. My parents used to tell me about the beautiful beaches of Acre and Haifa, the antiquity of Jericho, the weather and the oranges of Jaffa, the life in Ramallah, the sanctity of Bethlehem, and the cultural and religious diversity in Jerusalem. I started imagining myself traveling alone as a young lady who wanted to see more than the borders, to visit all the mosques and churches, and to live with a passion that will never fade!
I started packing my suitcase for the departure in two weeks. I was excited to meet American instructors in Jericho—people with different cultures, languages, and experiences.
July 11, 2016
On this day came the results of tawjihi, which is the exam at the end of the last year of high school. My brother was a tawjihi student, so we were really worried and then extremely happy because he received a great score. Everything was really at its best on that day and my travel was just a couple days away. I checked my suitcase 100 times, I was so excited. My family members were really excited for me, too, as we discussed how I’d spend the two weeks and what I should pack.
But that night I got the worst call ever. It was from the Code for Palestine administration: they told me that the students would not travel, and the program would be held in Gaza instead. The Israelis had refused to give us—children!—permits to travel outside of Gaza. For the first time I shared the feelings of the many people in Gaza who lose opportunities only because they come from a specific geographical area. I cried all night and hoped the situation would change back.
This call made me very depressed and I felt that I had lost my passion for the program.
July 16, 2016
On my first day in the Code for Palestine program, I was excited to meet the instructors, who came from a great institution called Stanford University. At breakfast I sat with four people and we introduced ourselves to each other. They started telling me about their travel journey and how beautiful they found the cities of the West Bank. It was like they were relaying the vacation plans I had had in my mind when I thought I would make it to Jericho!
To be honest, I felt a little bit jealous and angry that I, the Palestinian, can’t enjoy and see my land and country, though I was happy for them as they were nice people. I started telling them about the feelings I had when I learned my travel opportunity had been canceled. They couldn’t believe that most of us never left Gaza, as we were intelligent students. I explained that it is never our decision but rather, a decision for the ones who do not have the land but have the weapons. I’ve always loved to tell about my country, life, city, and our cause, the Palestinian cause, and this program gave me the chance to tell people the reality. I loved how they got the true, real, and warm picture of Gaza and how I tried my best to correct their misconceptions about Palestine.
Four years later: 2020
Today I’m a teacher’s assistant with Code for Palestine. I’ve spent three years as a student, met many new people, had an interesting intercultural experience, learned a lot, changed for the better, and loved every moment. My experience in working with the American people has expanded the limits of my thinking and changed my way of seeing and noticing everything. Yet, I’ve always felt that this program is incomplete and we’re missing a part of it.