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

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

Stay human and keep your home inside

Nedaa Al-Abadlah | 20-11-2018


Me with my daughter Eileen and son Sharaf Eddin

Most nights, I prepare dinner in the dark. I’ve gotten used to feeling my way around the kitchen, sometimes with a candle to light the way. But when my daughter, Eileen, asks to watch the TV show “Tom and Jerry,”my heart breaks a little when I have to tell her no: "The electricity is out again, my dear. I’m sorry.” Most children elsewhere can watch any cartoon with the push of a button; children in Gaza must wait.

I feel a kinship with all mothers across the world; the bond between a mother and child is universal. All parents want to fulfill their children’s basic needs and simple desires. Sometimes I cry because I can’t even give mine cartoons. 

What parents worry about in Gaza is different than those in most Western and other developed countries. They worry that their children will get hurt in football (soccer) practice or maybe mix with the wrong crowd at school. They worry about whether the choices their kids make today—like what club to join, school to attend or major to choose—will help them achieve their dreams. 

Here, we worry about our children becoming ill with a disease that cannot be treated adequately in Gaza, then being denied permission to leave….hurting themselves when playing on the many destroyed buildings we can’t afford to reconstruct…or becoming so frustrated with their lack of a future that they tempt fate and participate in the border protests that already have killed or maimed thousands of youth. 

I wanted so much to protect my young children’s innocence from the grim reality of life here. My daughter, Eileen, now 3 years old, came into the world with the brightest smile and an exuberant love of life; I didn’t want Gaza to take that from her. One day, she said to me, “Mama, ‘toukh’ in the window.” My heart broke. “Toukh” is an Arabic word that children use to describe the sound of a gun or bomb. Most children elsewhere tremble at the sound of thunder. My children tremble when our home shakes from nearby explosions.  

One day I spoke with a volunteer Italian doctor who sees the many youth who are injured in the Great Return March. “I want them to be normal kids, not Palestinian kids,” I said.

He was confused. “What do you mean?” he asked 

“If you give any child from Gaza a piece of paper and ask him or her to sketch,” I said, “what do you think they will draw?”

“Flowers, blue sky,” he guessed.  “Maybe the sea, or a house.”

I shook my head with a sad smile.  

“When I was young, I drew guns, warplanes and martyrs whenever I had a pen,” I told him.  “My life has been all about those things for as long as I can remember. I don’t want that for them.” 

Muhammad al-Durra and his father

I was about 10 years old in 2000, when I began to hear the name “Muhammed al-Durra” on everyone’s lips here.  Then I saw the scene replayed over and over on every TV channel.  Muhammad al-Durra was 12 years old, he and his father crouching behind a concrete barrel after being caught by the gunfire of Israeli soldiers. For more than a minute, father and son hugged each other amid a barrage of fire and dust, the boy wailing as his father begged the shooters to stop. Then, the boy collapsed onto his father's legs. As the world watched, he died in his father’s lap. That scene haunted my dreams for years. It still does. 

Likewise, every time I see the photo of 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi being dragged by Israeli soldiers to prison with her head held high, I feel the pride her mother must feel in her courage. I know my daughter has that courage—but I cannot bear for that to be her life. My life has been filled with stories of brave Palestinians dying much too young. I want my children to know their homeland, to be proud of Palestine. But with every day that passes, martyrdom is what they know and I can’t bear it. 

I know that the difficult circumstances I have survived in this place—war, occupation, frustration and harm—is what made me the strong woman I am today. Kahlil Gibran says it is not happiness that creates us; it’s our sorrows. It’s our sadness, grief, disappointments and pain that connects enables us to access our humanity and see it in others.  

While we live in Gaza, my promise to my children is to continue fighting for freedom for innocent people, and to continue to teach them the many reasons to be proud of their homeland, despite its painful history. I want them to know about their grandparents who left their homes in Jaffa, Acre and Nazareth and keep the keys to their houses with them even now.  But I also will teach them about other people in need around the world—fellow victims of conflict and other calamities, who have become refugees and face hunger, violence and uncertain futures like ours…and worse.  

I want them to accept that there is pain in the world and work to change that, but I also want them to know hope. And I hope that day, we will walk in the streets of Jaffa and remember this article together and smile. We will smile through the pain and sadness that we’ve survived, we will smile because of the humanity it taught us, and we will smile because we have our homes back—in Jaffa perhaps one day, but in each other, always.  

Posted: November 19, 2018

Mentor: Adiel Suarez-Murias

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