Doaa Mohaisen is a 22-year-old Palestinian. She is a contributor to Novell Gaza and a writer for We Are Not Numbers , a Facebook Group where Palestinian writers and artists from Gaza and Lebanon team up with mentors from around the world to tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news. Doaa studied English Language and Literature at IUG, is currently doing an MA at HBKU, Qatar, and works as a freelance translator.
As an English teacher, myself, who lives on the Israeli side of the border, and cares deeply about what happens here, I read “We Are Not Numbers” often. I read it with compassion, frustration, even anger sometimes – but read it I do- because I think it is a valuable opportunity for the Gazan youth who participate in the project, to express their fears, frustrations, hopes and desires in a constructive way, (which is exactly what I am trying to do, when I write a blogpost). And for me, it enables me to peek through another window into their lives and spark my compassion and empathy, while continuing my own struggle with this conflict. Even when I am being targeted with mortars and rockets. Even when I am being smoked out by the kite arson. Because these youth who write there – they have not had the experiences that their parents had of coexisting, visiting and hosting and cooperating with Israelis. All that they have in their banks of memories and experiences, are connected to Israelis who are wearing Khaki, who let them cross through border crossings (or not). They cling to the myth that they truly know who we are. Or to the so-called fact that when things explode where they live, Israelis are totally responsible for those explosions.
When I read the latest piece, by Doaa, I was struck by the parallels that exist between our stories, and decided that I wanted to reach out to her. I began it as a PM on Facebook, but then thought that it was something that more people should read: her take on the story, as well as mine. So here is my Open Letter to Doaa, and the link to her blog post, as well. Because the more informed we all are of how BOTH sides of this two-sided story, conceive it – the better we will be for it.
My name is Adele. I just read your very moving piece: “If Gaza were a story”. Although I am an American-Israeli, and I live on the border with the Gaza Strip, I hope you will agree to communicate with me, or at the very least, read what I have to say.
I was truly touched by your writing, and the part I actually understood and identified the most with was what you wrote about when you met students in your new class in Qatar: “One theatrically announced, ‘You are all heroes!’ The statement irritated me, reminding me of the sort of rhetoric you see in Arab newspapers. ‘We are not heroes,’ I snapped. ‘We are simply humans who have been presented with this obstacle in life and are expected to endure it. We haven’t endured it because we are heroes, but because there’s no alternative.”
Because you know what? Israelis and Jews from around the world, say the same thing to me, for living on MY side of the border. I blog and give interviews and have gone on lecture tours, talking about our lives here. I often get that same response, which while intended to be expressions of empathy and appreciation, I always feel they totally misses the point, despite their good intentions.
Granted, I have a choice. I do not live in an open air prison. I am free to live wherever I like in Israel or, perhaps anyplace in the world (almost). I have two passports and could easily go back to the United States. But THIS has been my home for over 40 years. And I am a Zionist. (Which, by the way, is not a dirty word in my lexicon. It is the belief that as Jews, we need our ancestral homeland.) I moved here so that I could live in my homeland, the land of my forefathers, the land for which the Jews have yearned for thousands of years. The ONE place in the world where we can STOP running from persecution and anti-semitism. Having said that, I firmly believe that there is room enough for a Jewish State AND a Palestinian State.
One of the problems that you so eloquently explained, is the lack of international support from among the Muslim nations, because a Palestinian State is NOT central to the Muslim community. No – as you pointed out: Gaza is not a story, and Palestinians are NOT characters in it. Freedom for Palestine is an even more uphill battle, because it does not feature in the same central way that Israel has, for millenia, to the Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora.
I understand the philosophy behind the Great Return March, however instead of being the grass-roots, peaceful mass demonstrations that they were meant to be, and that would really impact public opinion both here in Israel and abroad, the concept has been kidnapped by Hamas, who have encouraged, instead, tire burning, causing more pollution to our air (yours and ours), tampering with the internationally recognized border fence, and the releasing of incendiary kites and balloons, which burn the land, the fields, the nature reserves and kill the animals of this land which the protesters claim to love. If love is the guiding force, why are they trying to destroy it all? All this is pushing us closer and closer to a new war – far bigger, more destructive and devastating for the Gazans than was the operation of 2014.
I truly believe that your original, instinctive reaction to the march, was the right one: “At the beginning, I told (Ahmed) people should not go. Why risk their lives when they could live and be of help to their country?” I realize that people in Gaza feel they have nothing to lose, nothing to live for. But why do they see the root of their suffering as stemming from Israel? Why are they not protesting more publicly against the Hamas policies? If the Hamas were to stop shooting rockets and attempting to infiltrate by building tunnels of terror, if they were to adjust their philosophies, if the Hamas were to openly recognize Israel’s right to exist, while insisting on Palestinian right to a homeland, the Israeli government would not be able to ignore that. If the Hamas were to enable Israelis and Palestinians to approach a table for negotiations, rather than calling for Israel’s destruction, and promising Gazans that they will one day be able to return to the homes of their grandparents and great grandparents, in homes that are now part of Israel (and have been for over 70 years) maybe we would be able to stop this vicious , endless, cycle of violence. Maybe we could begin to make a better life for ALL of us!
Not that I believe that Israel has no responsibility for this situation. My government’s lack of strategy for arriving at a long term solution is something I protest. I fully expect my government to be more proactive in reaching a two state solution.
Refugees are people who are forced (for whatever reason) to leave their homes and relocate against their desires, be it due to politics, geo-political changes or natural disasters. Nowhere in the world does “refugee status” get passed down to their descendants…. nowhere but with Palestinians. That is what is keeping you all captive in open-air prisons and countries that do not want you. As you rightly said, unfortunately, Arabs or Muslims in other countries “In reality, …. couldn’t care less.”
The tragedy in Gaza is not only the Hamas who are keeping you all hostage (and those of us in Israel who live on the border, in many ways), but the rest of the Arab world, who are not stepping in to help with solutions that could really solve the problem. Violence is never a solution. Another war will not solve this conflict. We have had 3 horrible wars in the past 11 years. We have seen how the situation only gets worse with each war. Tunnels, infiltration, rockets, kite fires…. none of those will enable the founding of a State of Palestine. When our separate brethren tell you (or me) that we are heroes, on the one hand they are certainly expressing empathy and support, but in some way it serves to distance the speakers from taking responsibility for finding a solution that could be mutually acceptable. The only solution can be political. As I see it, Gazans need to “knock on the sides of the tank”, but the side of the tank they are knocking on is not the side where the tank driver who holds the keys that could liberate them, can hear them.
I thank you, Doaa, for sharing your thoughts. I encourage you and your Gazan peers to continue writing, but I beseech you, please step outside the tank – take a good look at who’s forcing the Gazans inside and help shift this paradigm so that we can work together to alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza and their Israeli neighbors. Because war, as opposed to natural disasters, IS avoidable.
Yours in peace,
Western Negev, Israel