Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Gaza, the Wonderland

Slsapeil Abu Lughud | 11-12-2021

Every day is dark, full of tears. Dreams of adventure and journeys shatter around a girl called Salsabil. Her heart is dying, lost in a desert of war. The happy queen in her soul has disappeared. She is struggling, desperate to live in a peaceful world. Salsabil retreats to her room, collapsing into her diary, asking, with a painful tear, why this is happening. The sounds of the bombs rise in her ears, and her soul wants to scream.

Night falls beyond her high tiny window and pushes her deeper into her writing. She’s barely aware of the gust of wind crashing through her door, whirling around her room, pulling books from the shelves, throwing them around her ears, dashing them on the floor. Only when the shadow sits on her shoulder does she hear the icy whisper, “You’re going to die.”

She casts her wide eyes around her room with her heart pounding in her chest, but the mysterious whisper has disappeared. With a heavy breath, she settles again at her desk, trying to forget what she heard. “It’s just your imagination, Salsabil.”

From the silence breaks a blinding light so intense, so warm, so safe, pouring out from the books spread open on her floor. The light embraces her, wraps her body, lifts her gently into the air, tickling her to smile. And a warmth floods her as a whisper reaches her ear: “Follow me to the world of happiness.”

The girl follows the light out of her bedroom, out of her home. The world beyond her sanctuary is a paradise. Mouth open, eyes wide, she walks beside the light, past, surprisingly, the Disney princesses picking olives from the trees. Princess Yasmeen notices her, smiles and beckons her over. The princess takes Salsabil by the hand and leads her to the other princesses gathered in the grove. They celebrate her as the lost queen they’ve been waiting for. Queen Elsa creates a magic circle and leads the royal procession to the Pasha Palace.

But trolls—spies from the Kingdom of Darkness—block their path, stopping their procession, demanding to hear the name of this strange girl.

“I am Salsabil!”

Queen Salsabil,” add the princesses, drawing close around her.

The trolls shove and taunt.“Haa, you are a road, are you? We’re talking to the road, are we?”

Their taunts cut deep, taking her back to her playground memories. Salsabil closes her eyes and stands firm:

“My name means a river in God’s paradise—not a road.”

As she speaks, the olive trees rise from their roots and turn on the tormenting goblin spies, pelting them with their olives, protecting the procession with their ancient branches. 

Still at her side, the warm light walks with Salsabil into the palace, explaining to the princesses that their queen had been lost in another world. Only her desire to escape her own dark destiny delivered her here—only the princesses can keep her here now. And the warm light drifts gently toward the throne. 

Clapping her hands, Princess Rapunzel smiles. “We should throw a party to welcome our Queen Salsabil.”

“The Queen of Gazatopia has returned,” trills Queen Elsa, and the princesses join in song as Salsabil takes her throne.

Elsa tells the knights to spread the wonderful news of their queen’s return. Fireworks, music, magic, pixies, dancing: the citizens of Gazatopia delight in the homecoming of their lost queen. Salsabil’s happiness radiates through the palace, lighting every room, every corner. She joins the singing and dancing and music and smiles her biggest smiles. 

A crash. A rush. A black mist fills the celebration as the goblins, wielding terrifying weapons storm the palace and charge into the room. The citizens cower. The knights faint, hit by magic the goblins cast at them. Darkness floods the halls and the pixies, princesses and Salsabil see the end of Gazatopia loom before their eyes. The princesses tremble and huddle together in a corner.

Salsabil steps forward, picks up a knight’s sword from the ground and faces the goblins’ aggression. Bullets and arrows rain down on the Queen of Gazatopia, but she battles every one bravely until she feels the warm light return to her side, bathing the room in protection  and whispering magic words:

Goblins’ power is falling down,

Falling down,

Falling down.

Goblins’ power is falling down,

My fair lady

Salsabil joins the song, enchanting Gazatopia with her beautiful voice. The pixies, princesses and citizens of Gazatopia unite in their battle, turning on the goblins’ brutal attack. The aggressors flee the palace, shouting threats of their return, promising to come back stronger and take over the land.

Salsabil is furious, but the warm light glows, and  calms her with a golden secret. “The earth and the trees are your soldiers. They will help you. This is a blessing from God. Gather your citizens. Teach them, build their knowledge, share your wisdom.”

Salsabil remembers her books, spread open on her floor. The pages and chapters have given her so many smiles, so much calm. She steps into her duty to save her kingdom from evil. She is determined to create a powerful and magical army empowered by its learning to protect its homeland.

Salsabil speaks to her frightened subjects. “My dears, be calm. Tomorrow, we will gather to nurture your unique powers and build even stronger our magical army of Gazatopia.”

Revived by Salsabi’s words and the joyful warmth of the light’s laughter, the people of Gazatopia are renewed, empowered, hopeful. Happiness and goodness fill the palace, and the girl feels the weight lift from her soul.

The light whispers to her: “This is your homeland.” And tears well in Salsabil’s eyes. Suddenly all she wants is to return to her room, to her books. To her real home of Gaza. The light touches her head, wipes her tears. “Close your eyes and you will see your heart’s desire.”

The Queen of Gazatopia closes her eyes, breathes deeply and thinks of her little room. When she blinks again, the flickering lamp on her desk welcomes her, and a single sentence stands out on her desk, written in her own hand: “Tomorrow Palestine will be free.”

Posted: December 10, 2021

Mentor: Lucy Cripps


Get updates to your inbox. Subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter.
New server