Eight months ago, I achieved a dream: I was admitted to the graduate program at Southern Illinois University and actually “escaped” the blockade of Gaza—unlike so many hundreds of others who try and fail. But these days, it is hard to feel happy about it without feeling angry and guilty at the same time as I watch the news of what is happening back home.
Initially, I thought I’d never be able to leave the blockaded enclave that is called the Gaza Strip to attend my political science program. During the three weeks when I anxiously waited for news that my exit permit would be issued by Israel, I've never felt so powerless; I received one rejection after another. What Israel did was strip me of my dignity as a human being, of any sense of personal agency. The Israeli military occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza Strip are designed for this sole purpose, to take away any sense of control over our own lives. We leave when they let us leave. We return when they let us return. Everything requires their permission. And when permission is given, it is under specific, limited conditions, as if to tell us, “just because you're allowed to do this now doesn't mean you can do it as you'd like.” For example, when the Israeli government finally gave me a permit to leave the Strip, it forced me to leave my electronics behind, including the hard drive that contains all of my data. Nothing could be taken with me but my clothes, my phone and its charger. That's it. To add insult to injury, my belongings had to be carried in bags without wheels and containing no metal. No reason was given. But I can’t really complain: Imagine the Palestinians who require surgery outside of the Strip and are denied permits; that's literally a death sentence.
Yesterday, I read the news and watched the video footage coming out of Gaza. March 30 was the launch of a nonviolent demonstration called the Great Return March, so named because its goal is to raise awareness of the continuing desire of Palestinians to be able to visit or move back to their ancestral homeland (from which most of their families were forcibly evicted to make way for the creation of Israel)—a right enshrined in UN resolution 194. The protest is planned to last until May 15, the anniversary of the Nakba (“catastrophe”). Already, 16 Palestinians, mostly youths, have been killed by Israeli snipers just for getting too close to the border, although none of them were armed.
I saw one video of three young Palestinians trying to grab a car tire, mostly so they could burn it and create a smokescreen between them and the Israeli snipers who kept shooting at them. One of the guys was able to grab it and run away from the border with the other two. As they ran, a sniper shot 19-year-old Abdul Fattah, killing him. He was literally running for his life in an open field. My first reaction was to wonder what the soldier was thinking. What kind of upbringing did he have, what kind of life events led him to this moment, when he thought it was acceptable to shoot and kill another human being running for his life as if he was a moving target in a shooting range? How dehumanized must he be?
I honestly do not think Israelis even see Palestinians as humans. We're treated like wild animals, maybe sub-humans at best. It is sickening. Literally sickening. I slept all day the next day; I couldn't get out of bed until 7 p.m. What's worse, the media described the one-sided bloodshed as "clashes" and "confrontations." To the media, even when we protest nonviolently, we're committing acts of terrorism. (Even boycotts of Israeli products and going to international court have been called a “war” on Israel.) When we try to restore a shred of our dignity by doing the one thing we can still do—protesting and venting our frustration—we’re committing acts of terrorism. What options, then, do we have?