Nostalgia to travel and a fear of homesickness are two conflicting feelings I constantly have. As someone who has lived in Gaza under a blockade as old as my children (12 years old), longing to travel for good should be my most ardent wish, but I'm sorry to say it isn't.
The Rafah crossing has been opened through the whole month of Ramadan and still into Eid, but it is not without pains. Travelers spend at least two days on the road on their journey to Cairo through Sinai. Typically, and under normal circumstances, the road trip would take approximately seven hours.
However, with the recent checkpoints planted every 100 meters where people sit in cars waiting for long hours, this excruciating journey now takes at least 48 hours. So it is no wonder that when my son pleads that we travel, I don't give him any hopes and I tell him what people endure on their journey and then I drop the subject.
Many of my friends and acquaintances have indeed taken this rare opportunity of the opening of the Rafah crossing to travel despite all the suffering. Many aren't coming back, and many are. I found my conscience questioning me: what about me? If given the chance, would I return or not?
Denial of Movement
This denial of movement has led to hundreds of man-made crises which could have easily been prevented, the worst of which has been that those with critical illnesses are denied access to travel for treatment. Among the endless repercussions of the 12-year-old air, land and sea blockade has been the lack of expertise in doctors and medical equipment. This shortage has rendered hospitals across Gaza strip inadequate to treat serious illnesses.
Cancer patients die waiting for access to travel, or waiting for a medical transfer to be processed so they may get treatment in Israeli hospitals. In the event that the patient is denied the permit, the Israeli authorities only justify this rejection by saying it is for 'security reasons,' as if that phrase alone is a non-negotiable holy scripture.
The dreams of young people are crushed at the closed borders. Their only demand is that they be given the freedom to travel to continue their education or seek jobs. Our collective demand as Palestinians is to be given our basic human rights, but instead we are treated as a subhuman category so unworthy of living.
I've lived in Gaza all my adult life and I can openly testify to a number of facts about my people here. For one, the people of Gaza are life-loving. They love beauty and freedom. Their main goal is to provide for their families and to live in dignity. Our youth love education. Higher education doesn't come easy. Parents save money to pay for their kids' tuition fees. And with the increasing unemployment rate (60 percent among youth alone), there's a lot of fierce competition among holders of high degrees. To tackle this, years back, some universities tried to alleviate the isolation by inviting visiting professors from abroad, but this endeavor eventually came to an end when internationals were warned against travelling to Gaza because of the volatile situation on the ground.
Another thing we as Palestinian parents are accused of is sending our kids to get killed. Being a mother myself, I can say that mothers here do not send their children to die and I believe that no mother in the world would. And here comes the big BUT: the young generation has grown up under an Intifada (uprising) in 2000, a blockade and three major Israeli aggressions. In other words, they have seen family members get bombed, or killed by Israeli shelling of their house over their heads. They also have not been out of this open-air prison all their lives. They have learned at a rather premature age the political reasons behind their misery, that is: the Israeli occupation. So what did they do? They rose and revolted against this life of depravation and actively engaged in legitimate resistance as guaranteed by international laws, conventions and a myriad of UN resolutions.
So the question that still begs here is why would anyone choose to stay in this abyss of suffering and misery when they could just immigrate? I don't have my head in the clouds when I say that I wouldn't choose to immigrate. However, I see how young people here do immigrate to find a better life and I don't blame them in any way. The blockade has devastated the economy to a deplorable state. It's a 70-year-old calamity which has turned over 700,000 Palestinians into refugees who rely on UNRWA relief to live. But for many like myself, I would never give up on my homeland and walk away, because, to me, this amounts to disloyalty. And with the growing anti-foreign sentiment in many countries, I would always be viewed as the other and my kids would have to struggle every step of the way. At this point in life, I've come to realize that living in honor and freedom are the two most priceless things in life.
My wish for my people and I is to get the chance to taste the sweetness of freedom, to be treated as human beings who have rights just like people elsewhere. I wish to travel to attend a conference, a workshop, to meet new people, or to take my kids to places which they only see on television. I can't take them to visit their own country, Palestine, but maybe I can take them to other places. And after I travel, I will always come back to the only place I can call home: Palestine.