Shahd Safi | 01-04-2021
This essay was written as part of a collaboration with Jewish Voice for Peace to protest Facebook's censorship of the voices of Palestinians and their supporters.
Three wars. Too many smaller assaults and invasions to count. Attempts to protest met with deadly fire. Water not clean enough to drink. No jobs. And then on top of that, violence in my own home.
How does a person deal with that? Over time, I literally began to fear everything: memories of the past, thoughts of the future, meeting new people, risking love. I was frequently afraid to even leave the house, and when I met new people, my hands and legs trembled.
Mental health care is complicated in Gaza; many people here are reluctant to seek help, but I am not. I just could not afford it. This is my inner struggle, one I was once afraid to open up about but that I now am confronting. We Are Not Numbers is partnering with the USA Palestine Mental Health Network to provide “conversation partners” and I am so grateful to now have a professional “ear.” There is no escaping the causes of my mental anguish—which are, I have learned, mostly just the experience of growing up in, and being confined to, Gaza. It deeply aches that my identity as a Palestinian refugee living in Gaza is itself a sort of mental affliction.
I now see that even the domestic violence I witnessed when I was young is related in some way to our cultural trauma. My parents were excessively harsh on me and my siblings, but I’ve come to understand the pain, fear and instability that have been passed down through my family, from my grandparents, who were uprooted during the Nakba, to my parents and now to me. Untreated trauma can feed a sort of narcissism, so now I can almost sympathize with my parents. And I can forgive them as well.
Today, I live with the same fear and instability. The economic situation of Gaza is unbelievably dreadful. We aren’t allowed to export most goods, the goods that we are forced to import (because we can’t make them here) are so expensive, and often not of good quality. People are so poor, overall, that their consumption can’t support a totally internal market.
For me personally, it's hard for my family to afford my university fees; two of my siblings are studying in universities as well. I've always been a very creative student but recently I'm losing my spark because it's really tough to focus during my lectures when I see people I love suffering.
Meanwhile, I’ve been daydreaming of travel since childhood. It’s my ultimate wish. My soul seeks traveling. I wanna live that experience but because of the Israeli blockade, I cannot seem to manage to bring my dream alive. I’ve lived in so many areas in the small “neighborhood” that is Gaza and my eyes are hungry to enjoy some new places. I wanna feel new, fresh, unpolluted air.
I want to love life. I am afraid to live, but I don’t want my fears to control me. I'm trying my best to understand my fears so I can cope with them in a healthy way. But it’s a struggle. I'm now almost 10 kilos overweight. Some of it is due to “stress eating,” but I’ve also realized that the majority of our food is not healthy and that's a result of poverty. Fast and starchy foods are easier and cheaper to get than fresh, healthy options.
Sharing such personal details is difficult but it’s part of my healthy healing, just as are projects like We Are Not Numbers and its cooperation with Jewish Voice for Peace. We’ll never achieve justice unless Jewish and Palestinian people understand each other. But how can we do that if Facebook and other social media shut us down when it finds us “offensive”? We need MORE communication, not less! That’s vital for my own health—and as an international community that must somehow live in peace.
Posted: April 1, 2021
Mentor: Pam Bailey