Steven Aiello

Gaza Perspectives 3: Finding the Love

The third personal narrative from Gaza, a tale of leaving violence and hate for religion and love. Names and certain biographical details changed. The previous post is available here.

This is Marwan’s tale:

“I was born on January 1st 1994, the fifth son. I grew up in a house where we lived with my paternal grandparents, and our uncle’s family. Both my parents work for Hamas.

I can’t remember when I started to understand more about the enemies. Those “non-human, creature like murderers that occupy my land and kill innocent people.” I built up something inside I guess, a growing flame of hatred. It was really there and I felt it very well. It’s like an instinct, a murderous instinct. I want to protect myself, my family, my country. Often the words I was told were: “fight, fight for Palestine, fight for your life, fight for your family, fight for freedom.” All this I understood, then came: “and fight for Allah”

My grandparents were religious, and my family always considered ourselves religious. Yet I never really cared for it. I used the words, I yelled about jihad and Allahu Akbar, I yelled with pride when something good happened, that enemies were killed. I prayed 1-3 times a day, there was no time for more. School and after school activities kept me busy.

I was 10 when we moved into Gaza City, into a slightly wealthier area.

I won’t tell you my life year by year or each battle and operation after one another, because you know the history.

I remember when I first met the enemies, and the meeting was very violent. I was so angry, it was literally boiling inside of me. I wanted to slice them open with the knife I was carrying, but I knew from training, that if I did that, there could be more enemies there ready to kill me. The first encounter was gunfire exchange, I shot, they shot, I shot, they shot. Back and forth. One shot hit an enemy, with a lot of cheering from the crowd I was with. Tear gas was fired as well, we answered with putting up burning tires and shooting wildly into the fire towards their direction.

My hatred was so deep that I wrote down long stories about how I wanted to murder. And I was very proud of myself being able to shoot an enemy. Cause injury to one of them.

Together with my brothers I went to meetings to learn more about the enemies, train in shooting, in launching and freedom missions (aka suicide bombings) as well as guarding. During operations we hijacked homes, most people fled out on the streets, some stayed at home because they did not dare to leave. Those that stayed, I forced up on the rooftops to show the enemies, that all humans in Gaza fight against them. I was very angry at the majority for screaming, crying and hitting me because they didn’t want to go up there. I pointed the weapon towards their necks and told them that I would shoot them if they didn’t calm down. This was also against my own education, because I always been told that all people in Gaza supported the fight against our enemies, and I met a majority of people that didn’t want to be part of it at all.

When the Israeli Air Force arrived I proudly showed the victims and that we were ready to fight. One time they attacked the building on the opposite side of the street, causing it to collapse. The man with me fainted; “such a useless person” I said to myself.

After that, I went down to the ground and met some people there; most were crying and screaming, some people were stuck in the collapsed building, and several on the people were dead. A journalist was there and asked me “how old are you?” I replied “I am 15 and we are going to destroy the enemies!” One thing you are taught as a fighter is that you are a human, but the enemies aren’t. Besides their lack of compassion, love, care, sympathy and other emotions, they are also blood thirsty idiots ready to come and kill you. As a child I was terrified that they would come get me during the night; even if we had a fence we always locked, I never felt safe. At school they told us that if we didn’t fight, the enemies could come and murder us or our entire family. We had examples of massacres and murder of innocents to fall back on.

We learned self-control, to hold our breath, play dead and how to deny our natural urges such as hunger, sleep. It wasn’t hard for me, I never ate more than 4-6 times a week. Hardest was to be without water for hours. Toilet issues wasn’t so hard, you just had to keep it in. Sleep you learned to beat. Emotions was a bit harder. You learned over years to not be scared, to not be sad, to not cry. It was a sin to show any sort of emotions towards the enemies.

Some years ago protests began to be more common in Gaza, against Hamas. The focus on fighting the enemy sort of disappeared which was worrying. I was among those that attacked the protesters, shot into crowds, and there were many such attempts. Therefore the leaders and members of Hamas had to be protected, from the people in Gaza. At the same time Hamas and the Brigades split.

While fighting both the enemies and the anti-Hamas people in Gaza, I was also working hard on myself. The death of my two brothers brought me into fighting more, and to commit actions against the enemies. Both of them died while fighting for Palestine. And no, they didn’t do suicide attacks. Those attacks I honored and celebrated by the way.  Anyhow, both died in operations against the enemy. It was hard for me, but I also felt empty. I couldn’t be sad, I felt more like numb and not there. It didn’t bother me.

I started to go to a school that wasn’t owned by the Brigades, and found it to be very religious, and I found out that I knew nothing about Islam. My classmates knew much more than I did.
In any case I didn’t listen much. I was more eager to fight, all the anger inside turned me into a bully. I had a gang of guys, and we chose easy targets. It was mostly physical fights, kicking them, beating until they fell unconscious or just insulting them deeply. The best was if they didn’t beat back but rather cried or tried to get away.

I was warned about my behavior from teachers and principal but I didn’t listen. I didn’t understand the pain I gave others. And I still sort of struggle with that today. I have a hard time to understand when I hurt others. Hurting others gives me some sort of relief from the hatred inside.

The will to kill paid off when I killed my first human. And it was by shooting. He came towards the place I was guarding, ready to explode himself. I shot him several times and he died instantly. I felt proud, hours after I felt something I never felt before, panic. The happiness, the relief I was looking for, didn’t come. I felt just horrible. I felt sick about myself. It was sort of a turning point I understand now.

The second and the third person I killed were similar events, with the same kind of panic feeling afterwards. What I was waiting for was of course the relief of the hatred. But it never came.

Islam was taught in the school, and all the others already had a good knowledge of it. It was like another religion for me. It spoke against almost all of the actions I was part of. That confused me to begin with but later I decided that the fight has to continue, it can’t be stopped. The ongoing attacks on innocent people by the enemies had to be avenged.

In 2012 I got internet in my home, and on school computers. That was the first time I was able to get out from Gaza, even if only by internet. I read international news and joined groups online. If there were enemies there I attacked them instantly, which resulted in being blocked and reported. I was surprised by that, that the “unfeeling, animal-like creatures called enemies” seemed to get insulted. I didn’t like the nice approach by some of them. I liked the confrontations, where I could just turn them down and break them apart. Online I was able to say whatever I wanted, almost without consequences. I also saw that Palestine was discussed a lot in media, and started reading the Israeli point of view as well, that annoyed me because it was all filled with lies, hatred and violence.

At a wedding I met this girl named Shams, we started talking a lot. And later kept in contact online. I felt feelings I never had before, I was confused about them. I tried to control them, but something within me stopped me. She was very kind, listening a lot and I started to like to be with her.

I told her about my life and what I done, and proudly told about my fighting and will to destroy the enemies forever. She asked me what else I like to do? I was a bit stunned, I didn’t think about that. I added internet and I like music. I told my parents about Shams and they wanted to meet her.

Later that day she told me she didn’t want to be together with me, that I wasn’t her type, that I was too concentrated on violence and hating, but where was the love?
She said goodbye and hung up. I felt something within me collapse, and for some hours I fought against my anger which I think was a shield for the tears that wanted to come. I punched things, I threw things and in the end I went with a gang to the border. To throw stones, yell and try to destroy the fence. My anger wasn’t against them as much as it was against Shams, which was in the end, anger against myself.

A few weeks after I felt better and decided to contact Shams, and tell her that I couldn’t get her off my mind, and that I wasn’t angry anymore. She said she wanted to try to start a relationship with me, but it had to be slow. I introduced her to my parents and she introduced me to hers. She was the grandchild of an imam, and a lady who had converted from Judaism to Islam as well as the grandchild of an imam and a daughter of an imam. Her parents were both religious and Shams herself was religious.

She started to give me lessons about Islam and asked a lot of questions. I sometimes said things that really hurt her, insulted her, and I saw the effects of it. And I think it was the first time I felt guilt from insulting someone.

The first hug between us was of course forbidden but introduced me to a feeling that was new for me. In my family there was no such thing as hugging or comforting each other, not “I love you” or any other sort of words that indicated we cared for one another. It was of course there, but not expressed or showed physically or mentally.

I decided to take part in security forces and guarding, the fence attacks felt sort of meaningless. I explained my hatred towards the enemies to Shams, and she started to understand it a bit more but asked me if I made a difference between the enemies and the Jews? I said no to begin with, then I started to think a bit. The enemies I have always seen as the soldiers and the government of the occupying forces. The regular people I didn’t see. I started thinking that probably there must be some, but they can’t be like we are. Because they live in the most hateful, brainwashed, isolated place. The occupied Palestine. I removed the thought about them maybe being humans and felt I don’t care for them. The ones I want to die, are the ones who fight against me.

In the middle of 2012 I studied more and concentrated on my relationship with Shams. In the summer I asked if she wants to marry me, and she said yes. And in the fall we got married.

I discovered true love, and closeness but I felt many times that I couldn’t take it in. Like I know somewhere inside I loved her, but the feeling was difficult to handle. It was amazing the new feelings, to be happy and to give happiness is just wonderful.

At the same time I was struggling a lot, with my feelings, my anger, my hatred, religion and love life. My wish for becoming a father grew stronger and to build a family. Having children, raising them. I had the chance now, when I was married.

At the end of April 2013 Shams, my wife, told me she was pregnant. I was so happy. I had never felt such happiness before. Life started to revolve around the not-yet-born-baby. I began studying harder to get an education, worked more hours and Shams studied to become a nurse. We did a lot. Also we moved to Khan Yunis, got an apartment there.

I started working in a supermarket, joined another organization that is sort of against the Hamas regime. But in secret. At the same time I also worked as a guard.

At the end of that year I started talking more seriously with Jews, in private online groups. I decided to try to see if they are human beings or not. I fight a lot against hatred, anger and the will to destroy them all. And I felt and still feel that I don’t want to be too close to the people that I meet online.

I also started seeing a bit more the consequences of my actions and words. I struggle a lot with it, I need people to tell me right away when they feel insulted, angry or get very sad because of things I do or say. This I use to work on myself.

At the end of 2013, our first daughter was born, Fatima. Several weeks too early, right into a Gaza without electricity and flooding. We were told that she can’t be in an incubator but needs to, all we could do was to take turns, we and relatives of our, to hold her, keep her warm. Make sure she could breathe well.

Thanks to Allah, we managed to keep her warm, healthy and well until electricity and hospitals were back and open. They checked her and said she is doing well.
For her I can do anything, she is someone who needs me. I chose to fight and to protect Palestine. But I can stop with it. And if I stop, there won’t be huge consequences.

Fighting doesn’t give me the love, relief and care I sometimes want. And it for sure doesn’t smile when it sees me, doesn’t fall asleep in my arms. That Fatima does. Even if it isn’t fun for the one who is holding her, when she starts to cry, it feels just great that when she comes in my arms, she calms down, looks at me and smiles.

I am her whole life, and she is my whole life.
And life as a father, is so much more worth than anything else.

There’s a saying that we Arabs love war, more than we love our own children. That saying is not only a hateful comment, it is also a huge lie.

No human loves war. I thought I did, but only those that really have discovered and been right in the middle of war, know you never ever can love it.

Being a father is just wonderful, and if you have had the energy to read all this, you did a good job.

My last words on the story of me, I dedicate to Fatima.
My wonderful daughter, my world, and my paradise.”

About the Author
Steven Aiello is the Director of Debate for Peace (, and a board member of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development NY. He has a BA in Economics, MA in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies, and MA in Islamic Studies. He teaches Model UN for schools throughout Israel. Among his other hats he serves as Regional Coordinator for Creating Friendships for Peace, and Dialogue Officer at Asfar. Steven has also served as Chief of the Middle East Desk Head for Wikistrat, interned for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the American Islamic Congress. His writing has been published in the NY Daily News, Jerusalem Post, Iran Human Rights Review; Berkley Center at Georgetown;, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He can be reached via email at
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