The cursed five hours

The definition of freedom is entirely different, and the concept is much more precious, if you are imprisoned for years in a place called Gaza.

Four years ago, my brother left Gaza to complete his education in Turkey. When he left, we thought he would finally be free, and everyone wished to be him. I was even envious of him.

Gaza girl in Jerusalem at last
Salsabeel in Jerusalem at last!

Yet, after a month, he was feeling lonely and upset. He missed my mother and longed for just one minute to hug her. But coming back was too much of a risk. I would be highly unlikely he’d be able to leave again to return to school.

Four years later, but he is still suffering, always calling us and wishing to be part of our celebrations, to eat my mum’s food. One day he told me, "As a Gazan, even when I get out of Gaza, I am imprisoned forever."

That sounded ridiculous to me. I want to travel also. I want to earn my master’s degree at a good university. I am the real prisoner, I thought.

Soon after, everything changed for me. I was invited by the U.S. consulate to a workshop on social media in Jerusalem. (Gazan Palestinians are prohibited from visiting the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem without special permission, which is rarely given.) It was my first time to be out of Gaza in all of my 23 years. Despite my yearning to leave, I was afraid that to travel alone for the first time in my life, to an occupied land—the place I had dreamed of since I was a little girl.

The way was to Jerusalem was long, with many stops at checkpoints. Yet at my first stop out of Gaza, I sighed deeply and said to a companion, "The air is totally different!" She smiled. "It is freedom, nothing more."

My heart beat so hard. My eye stared hungrily at everything I saw. The green lands, the trees, homes and buildings. It was my first time to see a metro, a bridge and a huge shopping mall. I tried to take a picture of everything, but I couldn't. Instead, I settled for capturing pictures in my mind.

My permit to leave Gaza was only for 12 hours—7 a.m. to 7 p.m. But since it takes an hour and a half to go to and from Jerusalem, I only had five hours in the city I had imagined for so many years. When 5 p.m. came, and it was time to leave, I felt so down in the dumps. I was crying, thinking that five hours wasn't enough time, that now I had to go back to prison (Gaza). I remembered my brother’s words: Even when I am out I cannot truly enjoy freedom!

Rafah Crossing is closed most of the time

I tried to go back to my ordinary life after the trip, but something was very different. After that small taste, I wanted more freedom. Those five tantalizing hours made my life a hell; every minute that passed in Gaza reminded me that there is a whole world outside full of many things I had never experienced—and want to.

Today, I have received a full scholarship to earn a master’s degree in political science and international relations in Qatar—my dream come true. But school started four days ago and I am still in Gaza. I was unable to get the necessary permits to leave via Israel, so the Rafah crossing into Egypt is my only chance. On November 23 my visa to enter Qatar will expire, and I wait desperately every day for news that that Rafah Crossing will open.

I am not seeking freedom anymore; I am just seeking a life I can choose.

Posted October 5, 2016

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