Tamam Abusalama | 29-07-2017
On the 10th of July, the youngest and most spoiled member of my family, Mohammed, turned 22. The last time I saw him was when he was 18, still a teenager. That was four years ago, when the border with Egypt was open with some regularity. I never thought I would not be able to return, to see him grow and mature.
Such a blessing were those days! When I left to study in Turkey, he was still acting childish and the shortest among us, at least shorter than me. (I cannot believe he is now almost 190 cm tall (6 foot 2 inches)—15 cm taller than me!) He was (and still) is the most pampered but the most loved by the extended family—brining life and joy to our neighborhood with his antics. Mohammed was known for making the best and most balanced kites; in fact, he turned it into a small business. Likewise, he turned his love of bicycles into a repair operation in our garden.
Mohammed was different than the rest of us siblings, who were all striving for higher grades with a dream of getting advanced degrees abroad. Since childhood, he was interested in fixing, repairing and building things. My parents suffered through all of his school life, having to force him to work harder so he would pass his classes at school. But his stubbornness and interest in hand-work were stronger than their nagging. Today, it is extremely hard for me to accept the fact that Mohammed now is a mature young man who depends on himself and manages to find work opportunities in construction or as an electrician, despite the high unemployment rate among youth in Gaza. That broad social network came in handy.
But the ongoing Egyptian and Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip prevents me from witnessing his physical and mental changes.
I hate how borders always prevent me and so many other Palestinians from having a normal family life. Sometimes I wonder what have I committed or done to be punished in this way. Why do I have to miss my parents for years without witnessing their wrinkles being drawn on their faces? Why was I born a Palestinian in Gaza? Why Gaza particularly? I mostly tend to fall back on the teaching that “God put these hardships in our way to test our patience and to make us sympathetic with those who suffer”—the saying my mum always repeats. But I am not very religious, and while I remind myself how thankful I should be for what I have, I also am not able to stop thinking how unfair this life is.
My brother’s birthday is not all that is feeding these existential questions. Mohammed—that boy who is still so “little” in my mind—also just got married. He prepared for his wedding for months without the help and support of his siblings, because we are living in different countries of the world. And the Israeli occupation and Egyptian authorities decided 11 years ago to punish all 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza—depriving us of our right to free movement. If we could get back in (the Rafah crossing from Egypt hasn’t opened since March), we probably couldn’t get back out.
I have been far away from home for five years now; I wanted to be a part of my brother’s wedding preparations. I wanted to witness the little fights between Mohammed and Dad as the “big day” came closer. I didn’t want to only imagine Mum trying to calm them down and relieving the stress by preparing sweets and Palestinian coffee. Why do I instead have to settle for videos that relatives took during the celebrations? Why do I have to feel the abnormally fast heartbeats of excitement and bittersweet memories while watching these videos, and not in real-time?
Usually, I think twice before writing about this hopelessness I feel about the international reaction to the Palestinian cause, because it never changes and I don’t want to bore my readers. It seems like my stories have probably became clichés and won’t attract the attention and importance they deserve. There are just too many stories like this, and let’s face it, people have become jaded. Palestine has been occupied for 69 years and Gaza has been shut down for 11 years. It’s not “news” anymore.
Yet, we Palestinians continue to resist. I pause for a moment and remind myself that releasing my anger through writing can motivate people to continue to stand with us against oppression.
Posted: July 28, 2017
Mentor: Pam Bailey