Being locked in an “open-air prison” in Gaza, Palestinian youth have lost hope.
I was born in one of the most dangerous places in the world: the Gaza Strip. This is a land where the hopes and dreams of young men and women go to die, where the children work in factories instead of playing, and where old people await death to end their unhappy lives.
In Gaza, it’s nearly impossible not to find someone who has lost a sibling or close friend. And it’s not even about the idea of losing someone, but rather how: in war.
The excessive use of force that is often used on Gaza is unimaginable until you see it for yourself on the ground. The inconceivable amount of explosives that Israeli fighter jets hammer Gaza with are a photographic memory in the eyes of Palestinians—the permanent image of their children, friends or siblings lying dead in the street.
That feeling of powerlessness when loved ones die in such horrific ways is hard to shake. In the first few months, it’s impossible to forget. Years pass and you hear others telling you that it’s a part of God’s plan, but the past keeps dragging you down.
On some days, a scent, photo or a piece of cloth sparks a memory in your mind and brings you back to the moment you lost them—leading to a burst of anger and despair before you remember that nothing will bring them back. A sense of bitterness fills you inside, but then you realize you can’t go back in time to change things.
This is what goes through the minds of those who have lost family and friends. The only way of accepting things is by letting time run its course and changing your life.
Shots on the Beach
Before the Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, my family and I used to drive on the sea front that connects Gaza City to the rest of the enclave. There used to be an Israeli military base in the middle of the street called Netzarim. If the Israelis wanted to paralyze the mass movements in Gaza, they would simply send a tank to block the road. No one from Gaza City would be able to reach the rest of the strip, and no one from the strip would be able to get to Gaza City.
Closing this road meant preventing half a million Gazans from living their daily lives. The Israelis used to force Palestinians to switch off their cars and make them walk down to the beach and then head back to the road in their bare feet
One day, my family and I were forced to do this. As we climbed down the road to the beach, we suddenly heard the sound of a tank firing its machine gun, making us and other families fall flat on the sand. I was a young child back then and didn’t understand anything, but I remember that sand from the beach kept splattering all over my body and I could hear the sound of whistles. That was all I could remember.
Some years later, I was walking with my brother on the streets of Paris and I was asked by one of his friends: “How did you survive? Did something ever happen to you?” My brother responded: “He was once shot at in Gaza on the beach.”
Throughout the night, his answer played around in my mind over and over again. I can now remember very clearly: On that day, I was a child and I was shot at by Israeli soldiers. The sound of whistles that I heard and the sand splattering all over my body were due to the bullets fired at me, leaving a trail in the sand. I always thought that it was something I made up in my mind, but it wasn’t. I could have been killed that day—just another dead child in Gaza.
Anger and the eagerness to seek revenge filled my body that night, but my life had since changed. I was now in Paris, not Gaza. I was in a different city, country and continent—a calmer place than the Gaza Strip, full of people who live freely.
Being in Paris, I had the power and ability to accept what had happened and move on. This is what the youth of Gaza need: a new reality where they are able to live and travel freely. A new life where they are no longer attached to an environment that might remind them of dark memories that spark feelings of anger, grief, fear and revenge.
This is what the Israeli siege is doing to Palestinian youth in Gaza—disconnecting them from the outside world and keeping them locked up in a small strip of land.
In Gaza, the Israelis control exports, imports, goods, fuel, electricity and even food calorie intake. By doing so, Israel has deliberately and systematically destroyed Gaza’s economy. There is no cash to pay for tuition fees for the youth, not even a nickel to pay for the transport to drive them from their homes to university. There are no work or travel opportunities for studying or tourism.
In the end, that pounding memory of losing a loved one takes over. The feeling of powerlessness and being trapped in an “open-air prison” leads to depression and downward spiral. And all of these factors will only have one outcome for young Gazans: joining an extremist group.
The world must not be confused by the symptoms and the disease. The symptoms involve disenfranchised Palestinian youth who want to make a change but end up joining an extremist group, while the disease is the Israeli blockade.
The world must look at these youth from a pragmatic point of view: If political, economic and social factors were equal between Palestinian youth and other young people around the world, it’s likely that both sets would do the exact same thing and live their life like a normal human being.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.