search
Steven Aiello

Gaza Perspectives 7: Aminah’s Jazz

This is the seventh narrative in the series. While the prior six narratives were written almost years ago, this one was written during the ongoing war. This is also the first by a woman in Gaza. As always, name is fictional and where necessary details are changed to protect identity. I have added a few notes in brackets to assist in understanding the story, but aside from that and minor editing, the story is entirely that of the narrator. The previous post can be read here.

Aminah’s Story

Ten years ago, I said “yes” to you, dear husband. I have never regretted my decision. On this day, I would like to share with you, our children, and the rest of the world, my story.

I was born in 1990, the second child of my parents. My older brother was four years old and was initially excited to have a younger sibling, but was soon disappointed that I couldn’t speak or play football with him. He begged my parents to take me back to the hospital, but they wanted to keep me. 

My father is a teacher of mathematics and my mother is a pharmacist. Growing up in a large family, I had great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins around and every Friday we had a big family gathering – much to my mother’s dismay, as she would rather stay at home with us and watch movies. However, every seventh week it was our turn to host. Three more sisters and one more brother were born into the family.

When I was six I started school, a religious school for girls. I learned to read and write. The imam was always talking about how a true Muslim girl behaves: always submitting to Allah, and faithful to my future husband.

Even from an early age, I was fascinated by politics and international affairs. Though my mother didn’t necessarily like it, I enjoyed discussing these topics. The strict religious school I attended was often at odds with my curiosity about the world beyond my land. The imam often became a bit irritated with me asking so many questions, and wondering about how events in the world were connected with religion.

My parents were encouraging during my childhood, and dad enjoyed that I liked to discuss politics. I often sneaked in with him and the older men sitting there listening to what happened in the world. It was boring to sit with mom and her friends hearing about “Fatima’s son’s latest adventure” or how “Latifah’s daughter wants to become a doctor!” or that Nadima had seen “Rashad outdoors ALONE with a girl!!!”. I got bored.

I had a handful of Christian friends, and my parents were always grateful that I had the opportunity to befriend people of different faiths. That meant that I was never without a friendly face during festivals, holidays or days off from school.

We would often talk about the differences between our beliefs and the similarities between our cultures. I would stay at their homes at different times, exploring and learning more about the world beyond our village. My parents were always encouraging of my academic pursuits, never halting my journey of discovery.

I value the time I spent with my family and friends of different faiths, helping me learn more about the world and my place within it. Their encouragement has helped me to be a more compassionate and understanding person, a lesson I still carry with me today. But it wasn’t until much later that I understood that my Christians friends were a minority. Many fled Gaza when Hamas took over the power, and when Islamic Jihad began their assaults on Christians with kidnappings, murder, destroying and burning books stores, and attacking people on their way to church.

What about the Jews? They mostly stayed away from us. A few encounters happened and were almost always negative. With older boys throwing stones at us and calling us all sorts of insults. Sometimes me and a friend went to a nice big playground and played. A family of Jews came by and stood looking at us. We didn’t think much of it, until some men came by and grabbed us and told in broken Arabic that now the Jews wanted to play. 

I told mom and dad, and they tried to make some excuse. That maybe the Jewish children were shy, and we were older. I wasn’t sure about that excuse. Another encounter was me being slapped in the face by an older Jewish man, for walking in front of him and his son. “Arabs need to learn that they always walk behind Jews”. I avoided them carefully ever since.

The Second Intifada began in the year 2000 when I was ten, but it felt like it had been a long time coming. For as long as I could remember there had been fear and constant tension in the air. We were surrounded by violence and death, but it was never so close to home until that fateful year. Or maybe I felt it was on its way because that is what dad and his friends discussed. 

Ever since 1994, when Israel initially erected a fence on the border as a security barrier to regulate the movement of individuals and products between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which greatly incited the fury among us Palestinians. I still recall the debates about changing Gaza into a zoo and that a fence between us will only exacerbate the detachment. My Dad escorted us children down to view the fence being constructed and reassured us that one day, we would be able to travel freely again. No fence is permanent; it will eventually disintegrate.

Year 2000… I remember it like it was yesterday. The intifada began with the Camp David Summit in July of 2000, when Ehud Barak, offered Yasser Arafat a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the offer was rejected by Arafat, the conflict escalated into the Al-Aqsa Intifada. For those of you not knowing that.

It was a shocking experience, particularly for someone my age. The violence of the intifada was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before. I remember hearing the sound of bombs late at night and in the early morning hours. I remember firsthand the fear I and my family felt as we heard news of friends and family members who were killed in the violence. Mom had to be comforted by Dad, who also had to comfort us. There were angry people mixed with terrified people all around the streets. I saw people bleeding to death on the streets, but we had to run to safety. Dad told us to look straight forward to not see too much. But we all watched… even my then youngest sibling, three years old, remembers certain scenes, especially the run from our home to a hiding place.

The intifada was a huge turning point in my life. Not only did it drastically change our lives in terms of safety and security, but it also changed the way I view the world. I began to understand the true meaning of hardship and suffering, and it has become a part of me ever since.

At school the intifada was explained from both sides, and in one class we had to do little role plays. And discuss what we would do if we were the “others”. I loved that teacher, unfortunately his full name has left my memory. I remember we called him Abu Sameer.

The year that I turned 18, the Internet got to meet me. And I finally had the chance to reach out a bit more and check the outside world. I read up on the conflict between us and Israel. From school I mainly learned about how a movement called Zionists suddenly decided, out of nowhere, to create a state for the Jews. And that state could be wherever, it did not matter. The Zionists I am not going too deep into now, but suffice it to say that the narrative here in Gaza is quite different from how Jews perceive Zionism.

[We were taught that] Land was stolen from already occupied Palestine, and in the end of the 1940’s the Nakba happened. Which we spent six years or so studying, having old people born in the 20s and 30s telling us their stories. Reading articles, books and being told that this is the reason we have to be loyal to Palestine. Because if we put down our weapons, we will get destroyed. If Israel on other hand put down their weapons, then there will be peace.

Suicide bombings or well, the “freedom attacks” were seen as heroic, and something to really be proud of. Besides my parents mumbling about obvious injuries of civilians, I heard mostly support. Well that was so until people found out how to use the Internet. 

In an effort to stop Internet usage Islamic Jihad carried out numerous attacks on Internet cafés and Hamas tried to censor a lot. But I and many others found tricks. And soon we were out on platforms like ICQ, MSN messenger, MySpace, and Skype, and later on Facebook (which would change my life forever). I always ignored the raising voices of non-humans coming from groups of younger people. I viewed them just as dumb. I was naive. If I had thought more about it, I guess I would have debated more. My dear father was right, isolation didn’t bring us closer to a peace deal. Instead hatred got rooted.

Gaza was considered free by Israel. And Israel claimed that we had everything to be able to build up a nice space for ourselves. Even now in the year 2023 I hear people say that Israel left airports to us, when they left in 2005. Don’t you remember 2001 and 2002? And what happened to the airports? Three years and some months, that was the lifetime for the airports here. [Gaza International (Arafat International Airport) was destroyed by the IDF in 2001, leaving Gush Katif airport, which was apparently abandoned and eventually destroyed to build a sewage treatment plant in its place].

Also greenhouses were left, well 50% of them. The other 50% the Jews destroyed before being forced away by their own government. A fact they also seem to have forgotten. As the years went by Hamas and Israel, together, made sure that Gaza became more of a jail and a jail itself. Controlled by land, air, sea, and underground.

I remember the tension in the air as the election of 2006 approached. Everyone had their own opinions and everyone was making sure their voices were heard. Even though I wasn’t allowed to vote, I was still aware of the issues at hand. I heard stories of people worried about the outcome, and many of my Christian friends were fearful. Hamas suddenly showed up as “Change and Reform” [political party], and many thought that it was an offshoot of Hamas. Their promises were filled with changes, hope and better schools, health care, roads, homes and infrastructure.

There seemed to be such a sudden divide between the people and it was no longer a unified Palestine. Hamas had promised change, and I was told by those supporting them that they would do their best to support Palestinians, but at the same time, I was worried. I knew that with any new political party, there would be hardships and I was scared for my family and the future of Palestine.

A year before, the Jews were removed from Gaza. Many were against it, but at the same time, many of us were relieved. I was one of them. There had been a lot of hatred between Palestinians and Jews, and I knew that it would take some time to heal. Mom and Dad were very much against it, they were of the opinion that then it would be easier for them (Hamas) to isolate us away from the rest of Palestine. And there were also families with a Muslim Palestinian father and a Jewish mother. My grandfather was hiding a few of those families. Since they wanted to stay.

My friends all had mixed feelings about the situation. Some were understanding, while some were angry and resentful. As time went on, I did my best to understand but had a hard time supporting Hamas, even though I knew there would be a lot of criticism from all sides. I had been growing up in a time of conflict and wanted to do my part to make sure that everyone was given equal rights, regardless of their religion.

The election of 2006 showed me that our people wanted to change and that change was possible. As time progressed, I saw new developments in infrastructure, education, and social welfare. The election made me hope it was possible to create a society of tolerance and respect. That wish died very fast…

The civil war was so disgusting, disturbing and the murder of people supporting Fatah sent shock waves all over Gaza. Also naive people understood later that Change and Reform, was in fact just Hamas 2.0 with a fancier name but with the same goals.

The more Hamas restricted things, the more curious I became. Since some of the things that weren’t allowed anymore suddenly became very interesting.

Music.

Before I listened to anasheed [traditional Islamic music] and later Zain Bhikha (don’t worry; voice only). On something called CDs (youngsters, google it). Then I found YouTube… and I was lost.

And I am sorry dear people of mine, but nah. Music, Meh we will maybe one day catch up to other nations. Then one day while scrolling around daring to explore something else than Bhikha I found him… well I found the music.

In fact one song that came from auto play. And then was played for 30(+) times in a row in my headphones. Then I was thinking, maybe I should check who made this masterpiece. And found Amos Zimmerman. An American I thought, I mean he sang in English. Read a bit more, and nope. Tel Aviv. I remember giggling to myself. I was being “bad” Not only listening to non-religious music, but listening to music from “that place”.

Then… then it happened.

Jazz came into my life and pushed dear Amos away from me (nah I still enjoy his music). And if I started writing about it, you will have to read until the end of year 2029.

But honestly music has saved me many times from going totally insane. And I easily get lost in the world of jazz so grand, as I sway to the music in my hand. The notes, they blend, a magical sound, lost in the feeling of the jazz all around. The music has taken me far away to a place of peace I can stay, without being thrown away. Lost in the world of jazz I’m found. As I sway to the music’s sound…. I think you understand…

Then Facebook showed up and my ICQ friends left and went to Facebook instead. So I followed them. And ended up in political groups, and understood that there’s far more than Gazans and Israelis discussing politics here. And it seems like everyone wants to tell their opinion, some talking about us [Gazans] either as animals, and the others [portraying us] like a little victim. Like we can’t speak up by ourselves, without others speaking for us. I was being called everything you can imagine, and constantly having to prove myself as not being an oppressed constantly beaten little Muslim woman. Only in Gaza to be giving birth to little Hamas fighters… 

So I spent hours explaining that I am not oppressed, and sure there are marriages in which matchmakers are being used and then it is arranged from interests, and yes there are women choosing to wear Niqab while I chose to wear Hijab. Only when I feel very tired and want to be anonymous do I wear Niqab to freak the family out.

In 2012 I met my future husband online, well actually back then he was married, and had two children. When he lost both his wife and children, our friendship grew stronger and at the end of 2013 we became engaged and in 2014 we got married. And I never looked back. [We share the] same ideas, both love politics, music, and to joke around.

I am someone who speaks my mind. Straight out. Filters usually fall off… But I am tired of being seen as a little oppressed woman from Gaza. Also the things that Israeli soldiers have been yelling over the years to me and my friends, have been nothing else but pure evil and nasty. I met more disrespect from non-Gaza men than men here. Even if there have been some real life coconuts in Gaza as well.

Life has been a roller coaster, but I felt I had good company and I am fortunate having such a large family. I have lost cousins, aunts and uncles due to war. I have been to more funerals than I can count. And I have seen violence I never wanted to witness again, but we humans are literally capable of doing anything to one another if we hate enough.

Gaza has lately been a boiling pot, and anger, hatred, poverty etc. has all given a recipe for craziness. But one must ask, where were the women going into Israel on October 7? Not that I would have supported it all then, but I must wonder. Are men more capable of physical damage, while we are more capable of hurting people mentally with psychological warfare?

No, I did not go over the border even on that day. I slept for a change.

Inshallah, we will soon have three children.

My first born Kareem is eight and trying to understand why we had to leave our home. He wants to go home and play with his toys, he wants to meet his best friend Muhammad and go to school. I haven’t told him that his school is gone, and so is our apartment. We have no home anymore. But at least the UN has arranged so that he and other children can go and meet and play together.

My second child Fatima is six years old. She says that wars are stupid and that her doll has to be saved. I can’t believe we forgot it, she loves that doll and her teddy bear. Her teddy is here, but the doll was left behind.

I am pregnant with the third and it goes well it seems. I have no chance for doctors appointments but I am glad this isn’t my first pregnancy. Little one in the womb has no idea what evil is going on in this world right now.

About the Author
Steven Aiello is the Director of Debate for Peace (www.debateforpeace.org), 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; Jurist.org, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He can be reached via email at sra252@nyu.edu.
Related Topics
Related Posts