HER STORY #12 - manal

Best Place On The Globe

My parents are from Jerusalem, but I was born in Gaza City. I feel very connected to Gaza, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, as I feel that Gaza is the best place on the globe. Without all of the wars and bombings, Gaza is a beautiful place. It could have even been the best place ever. It was like that during the 90s. There was so much potential. Despite the suffering, the unemployment, and the general hardships, people here are very connected and humble. In Gaza, you are somebody.

I believe that I am blessed to have lived here, because where there is suffering there is generosity and talented people. I wouldn’t wish to grow up anywhere else. I’m very connected to this ground.

Staying

I have had many options to leave Gaza, but my family and I have chosen to stay here. After the last war, my dilemma of whether to stay or leave grew even bigger. I wasn’t so scared for my own life, but I was for my children’s lives. I couldn’t bear the idea of losing them. I just wanted to take them and get out.

What kept me from doing this, however, was the fear of splitting the family. At the time, my daughter was having a second child, which meant that if I left, I would have to leave her behind. I don’t want to leave this place, because it’s important to keep the family united, and my family and I agreed not to uproot ourselves from our home.

This image "shows love and connection in the family."

This image "shows love and connection in the family."

As a Muslim, I believe in destiny. Your life and death is entirely in God’s hands. From the day you were born, everything is already written. It’s meant to be. I also believe that everything is planned—what Gaza is going through is according to a plan.

Mind Under Siege

I am a very open person in comparison to many other women here. But that’s normal. We live on a tiny piece of land compared to the large population on the same piece. We have no access to the outside because of the blockade. Even the mentality of people is under siege, as it has become more conservative, more ignorant, even though Gaza is considered to be one of the best places in the world in terms of education.

I am open, because I have permits. I can go through the Erez crossing. This allows me to see people on the other side, and I have seen the good in them, the human in them. People that are kept as hostages, they don’t see the human, only the killing.

This has also happened to me.

I have four girls and one boy. My oldest daughter is 27 years old and my youngest son is 12.

My Boy

My son has lived through three wars. What do you think he has witnessed in life? Killing and demolition everywhere in his city.

During the last war, we sat watching the TV for 52 days, which included seeing remnants of childrens body parts. My son told me then, “I want to go and kill Israelis with the Al Qassam Brigades.” I was continuously convincing him not to do that, because age 12 is a very difficult and important age. Instead, I helped him acquire a permit to go and see the other side with me, to see the human part.

The Israeli government, with its blockade and the war in the Gaza Strip, is creating a generation of extremists, and that is what happened to my son.

You know, when you take away the most precious thing, which is life, you lose sight of what is important. That leaves people with nothing left to lose. At the time, my son didn’t appreciate life. That is why I took him out to see the human side of the other part.

"What's Between Your Legs?"

Ten years ago, I was different and I could only see the suffering. Ten years ago, when I crossed the Rafah border crossing, Israel still controlled it. I was disgusted at how the Palestinians were treated by the Israeli soldiers.

One experience that I recall clearly was when I went through the Rafah crossing with my mother and sister. Everyone on a bus, including the bus we were on, had to go through a scanner. When it was my mother’s turn to go through, I was still on the bus, and I saw and heard an Israeli soldier shouting through a microphone at my mother, “What’s between your legs?!” My mom had had her period, and I think her tampon had leaked.

I leaned my head against the window, and for the first time ever I actually told myself, “Now I know what you feel like when you chose to go and bomb yourself.” At that moment I felt like turning my body into a bomb. I felt like my dignity had fallen on the ground. It was the first time I really felt like this.

Naked

Once, at the Erez crossing, there was also a form of scanning machine. I was wearing pants with something made out of iron, like a zipper, so I was taken to a room, which actually still exists today. It had a window, which doesn’t allow you to see out, and only somebody on the other side can see in.

A female Israeli soldier asked me to take off all of my clothes, except for my underwear, and to walk around the room. I cried and said that I couldn’t see, who was watching through the window. She began laughing and said, “No one is interested in seeing this!” I replied that it was my right not to get naked in front of her, to which she answered that even if I were to go back home, I would still have to do this. And so I took off all of my clothes, except my underwear, crying.

Male Authority

I am a liberal woman, but I don’t even represent 2% of the women in Gaza. I think it’s a natural development after eight years of a blockade. It has resulted in a furthering of narrow-minded mentality here.

There is unemployment and poverty, and education cannot be financed. When men can’t find work, the oppression creates a vicious cycle, which makes the men dominate even more and mistreat their wives and daughters.

Additionally, women aren’t able to see the outside, and they become provincial in their thinking too. As daughters and sisters, women try to escape their brother’s and father’s authority by finding a husband, but the husband is no different than their father and brother.

My Jewish Friends

I have a lot of Jewish friends, and I like them for the human beings that they are. I try not to talk about politics with them, and instead I prefer to look at them from their human side. As long as there is respect.

I was born in 1969, and I used to go to Ashkelon with my mother to have coffee. I would go to Tel Aviv, where I bought everything that I needed for my wedding.

Today, because I have a permit, I always go to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I often take the train from Ashkelon to Tel Aviv. I like to talk to people there, and when they find out that I am from Gaza, they are amazed. That is how I know that we have a lot in common, and that is why I think that the leaders are our problem.

I believe that Israelis have the right to exist, and so do we. We need two states, and I know that even if I were to pray for Israel to vanish, it won’t happen, and we need to be on equal footing.

Picture of Karma [daughter]. "It gives me lots of hope in the future."

Picture of Karma [daughter]. "It gives me lots of hope in the future."

Healing

We need to get rid of the hatred. We’ve tried wars and many other methods. I’m doing my best because I’m the kind of person who believes that you can heal pain with love. It’s time to try different kinds of weapons, to convey peace and love. We need to express this to our leaders, and Israelis need to do the same to their leaders.

I always believe in better times. I’m very optimistic. Sometimes things go up, sometimes they go down. We must see the end of the tunnel. I think it’s about time to heal people from the inside