HER STORY #56 - lara

Journalist / Art

I am from Gaza and I am 25 years old. 

I have worked as a journalist in Gaza, as well as a fixer and translator to any foreign journalist, who have come to Gaza. I have translated stories for them.

Besides journalism and photography, I’m an artist. I paint, and I used to make jewelry. I studied English language and translation when I was in university.

My parents are journalists too, which I think helped me a lot and gave me a lot of experience in being exposed to journalism. My dad taught me a lot, and since I was a kid I’ve been used to seeing my father sitting on his laptop, reporting and talking on the phone in intense times and during wars.

When I graduated from the school I decided that I wanted to go to art school. I realized that it wasn’t helpful for me to be an artist in Gaza. So I thought that in order to have a good future, journalism would be the way, and today I’m happy that I’ve experienced this field.

I have written many op-eds in NYT and Al Jazeera America, and The Atlantic.

Lara, after three months in NY, USA, faces the sun after a snow storm in January. 

Lara, after three months in NY, USA, faces the sun after a snow storm in January. 

Too Much

I also used to work with Medical Aid for Palestinians, with whom I worked until last year. I wrote about the health sector in Gaza, the Shifa Hospital [Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza], and anything related to medical stories. It was all very helpful, but I got to a point where it all become too much for me because I was living in that place, and living it day-to-day, and I saw what it meant to be covering the stories every day.

Since I had to translate for journalists, I would go and speak to a family, and sometimes I would have to go to the same families twice or three times to ask the same questions for different journalists. This was traumatizing for me and for the family. It would remind me of all the bad things that had happened, so at the time I didn’t know if I should be a journalist or something else that could help my people somehow.

Stuck in Their Mind

I’d rather not work in journalism as a writer/translator anymore, but perhaps instead within photojournalism. That would allow me to show people's feelings and show them as humans, not just stories.

These are fast times. People are busy and they don't have time for reading, but photos can be stuck in their minds for a while and can make them feel, so I would like to work in something more related to photography.

Out/Borders

I’ve been here for six months now [in the U.S.].

I'm now seeking my asylum here, and it will be hard for me to go back to Gaza because I won't be able to get back out of the prison [Gaza].

In order to get out, we waited for the Rafah crossing to open. It’s on the border with Egypt, and it’s not opened that often – perhaps twice or three times every couple of months. Last year it was open only once in the entire year, and there were more than 18,000 people who wanted to get out.

Even if it’s open for two days, the Egyptians are also creating many restrictions about who is supposed to go and who’s not. Israel does that as well on the Erez crossing.

The borders control everything. I don't understand why the idea of borders exists. It's never been fair to lock two million people in that small place, without any reason.

There are many normal people [in Gaza], and there are those who are still stuck and need to get out, such as students, people who need medical treatment, and those who need visas in order to see their families. Many people can’t see some of their family members because of borders, so this affects our lives a lot.

Even if I’m in Gaza and I want to travel, there is this feeling of being stuck between borders from all sides, and you can’t decide whether you want to leave or not. This is hard and not normal for a human being.

Permits and Visas

Jehad, my husband, works with IMEU (Institute for Middle East Understanding), and last year in October [2016] we were both invited for a retreat. So we applied for Israeli permits to be able to go to the American Consulate in Jerusalem, but every time we apply for a permit, we can’t go through Erez [Erez Crossing] so the first time we applied, our application was rejected.

For about a year, we tried to leave by applying for permits. It’s impossible to reserve a flight because you can never know when you can get out, and the border issues are also something that makes the process of getting out of Gaza slow. It’s almost impossible.

We contacted Gisha [Israeli NGO, whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents] and they were not that helpful. We didn’t have much time to apply for a second permit, and at the same time they [Gisha] were a bit slow in responding, so we missed the deadline for applying for a permit last year [2015] as well as this year, in August [2016].

Then the IMEU issued an invitation to us again for us to meet the staff and to have meetings in the U.S., and Jehad applied for an Israeli permit this year [2016] in February. We applied, and according to Israeli law, the security check takes 60 days. We had applied in February, so that we could have our interview [at the American Consulate] in April. So we contacted them [the American Consulate] to get a visa interview.

I remember the day: April 27th. I got permission [Israeli permit], but Jehad’s was rejected. So I went to the Consulate and I got an interview and came back alone. Although it was for his work, and he had been invited (I was invited with him as his spouse), and I had been approved and hadn’t.

So he tried to apply again, although he was very disappointed and we were both out of energy. It made us feel how we were never going to get out from this place, because you try so much and you’re not sure of anything.

His application was rejected again, and then he applied for a third time – it was rejected again. Every time he had scheduled the visa interview with the Consulate. And each time, he had to apologize to the Consulate since he wasn’t able to make it to the interview on the dates that he had booked.

When you apply for a permit after the first time, the security check takes about thirty days, which is half the period of the first time.

After being rejected for the third time, he still didn’t know why his application had not been approved. He is a journalist, and he had never done anything wrong that would be a threat to Israel. So he contacted the PCHR [Palestinian Center for Human Rights], as well as Gisha again, to tell them that he had received another invitation and that we had to go, as we had missed it the following year.

Gisha asked us to send them our IDs and the invitation, and they would send them to the Israeli side. At that point I didn’t feel like they were making a difference, because I had basically already received permission, while Jehad’s request was rejected. So we contacted them again and asked them what to do, and they told us to have him [Jehad] apply again. We’re a married couple, and Israel doesn’t like to allow couples to leave Gaza when they don’t have children, as they are afraid that they will escape to the West Bank or Israel. It’s related to security, and many Gazans leave Gaza [with a permit] and go to Ramallah or to other places in the West Bank to work and stay there illegally.

According to Gisha, if we had children in Gaza and we applied for permits, while leaving our children in Gaza, it would guarantee that we would come back, and then they would have considered giving a permit for the two of us. Instead, they only gave a permit to one of us because they didn’t want both of us going to Israel or the West Bank. They would have given us a permit if we would only leave for a couple of hours and then go back [to Gaza].

But actually, it doesn’t matter to Israel if we have children. They will give any reason not to give a permit and will just reject it under a “security reason,” which doesn’t make sense for normal, unarmed citizens like us.

When I went to the visa interview in Jerusalem, it was the second time in my life that I had been to Jerusalem. The last time was when I was five years old.

It was really nice to be there and I was happy to have had the experience and to see how Jerusalem was, because although I remember some things from when I was a kid, it was different to see it as an adult. It’s a nice place to be. It’s tense, of course, and the situation there is not easy.

When I came back to Gaza, Gisha told us to try and apply again [for Jehad], so he applied again, and he was rejected, and for the first time he called them [Gisha] and told them that they needed to help him.

I don’t know why, but one of the employees there was a bit moody and made some rude remarks to him, such as, “You can go through Rafah [crossing with Egypt]. Why did you apply through us now? And if you’re going to tell everyone that Gisha is not helping, let everyone else help you.”

One of our journalist friends, who knows some of the employees at Gisha told them to push Jehad’s case and to allow for the permission process to go faster. They agreed to that but they didn’t seem to like having others tell them to prioritize the case of a specific person, so they got mad and in the last conversation we had with them, they told us that they wouldn’t help us and that there were more important people to help.

After Jehad applied and wanted to ask why his request was rejected, the PHCR eventually sent the Israeli side a letter asking why it was rejected. They applied for us and after two days they got a response. The Israeli side told them that he [Jehad] could apply again, but he would have to use a correct phone number. We weren’t sure if this was the reason why his permit had been rejected, but he got the approval after a couple of days. That was really fast.

Israel/Jordan/Egypt

Jehad’s visa interview took place in July in Jerusalem. He hadn’t left Gaza for 16 years, while I had been to Jordan in 2003 and to France in 2011, so it was nice to see him like it. However, it was a shock for him to see Jerusalem when he went to the interview.

He didn’t get the visa immediately. He had to wait a couple of months, almost two months, because they wanted some missing documents that would prove that we would be coming back to Gaza. Those weren’t easy to get.

He came back to Gaza, and then we also applied for a second time for permits to go through Israel and Jordan, but that took a long time, and we had already missed the actual retreat in August [in the U.S.], so we contacted the Institute [in the U.S.] and told them about this and asked them if there was still a need to go to the U.S. for the staff meeting. They said yes and sent us the invitation again in order to apply for a Jordanian permit.

The first time they [Israeli army] rejected us. We applied again in October [2016], which was a difficult time because of all the Jewish holidays, and most of the time the Erez crossing, as well as the [Israeli] official offices, were closed, so we decided to wait until November to apply for an Israeli permit again.

But then suddenly we heard that the Rafah crossing was open for five days. For me it felt as a sign that we should take the chance and go.

However, it’s not easy, because we hadn’t registered through Rafah before, and even if we had put our names on one of their lists, there are 18,000 people who wanted to travel as well, so instead we paid the Egyptian side to add our names to the list of those allowed to go through Rafah. They added our names.

At the Rafah crossing there are three kinds of lists of names. The first list is for the students, and the people who have been registered for a long time at the crossing. The second list is for people who have visas or have international passports, and the third list is for Egyptians.

We paid $2,600 American dollars each, not to enter Egypt, but only to cross from the Palestinian side to the Egyptian side, which is just a couple of meters.

 Fast

We talked to our families and we made the decision to leave everything, even the apartment and the house and everyone. We just took all of our necessary things. We didn’t want to bring a lot of bags, so that they would think in the U.S. that we weren’t coming back.

It was a very fast decision.

We just got the money from our families, and they talked to the people who were supposed to take this money. They [at the Egyptian border] said that we could leave on a particular day, and the next day we took our things and say goodbye to our families.

For example, I said goodbye to my grandparents, whom I’m sure I won’t see again.

It was really hard and stressful, but we just wanted to be free.

Back

Even if I had a document allowing me to enter Gaza or to leave the U.S., the borders with Egypt are closed and also the borders with Israel, so I would need to apply for a permit again – in the opposite direction—and of course if I waited for the Rafah crossing to open and they would let me in, I’m not sure I could get out again.

It takes a lot of time. You can’t know, you can’t predict.

I would like to go back to Gaza one day and see my family, my memories, the beach, and other places, but also to talk to the people. I think it’s a little bit dreamy for me now – reality is different. It’s not my decision.

I could go there and become stuck again.

Asylum

We’ve been in the U.S. for almost eight months now.

We arrived to New York, where most of the organizations that can help us with getting asylum are located, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists. We contacted them when we were in Gaza, as well as Human Rights First, an organization that also helps asylum seekers around the world.

We contacted many other people, as well as lawyers, and we got advice about what to do. But all of that took almost four months until we found a lawyer in the Bay Area who was willing to take our case pro bono, and be able to represent us. We needed to move from the East Coast to the West Coast to begin the process.

At the same time, we are looking for any kind of jobs that can bring a source of income, although that is difficult as we cannot be employed for six months from the date we apply for asylum, so we need to figure out what to do with that issue. I suppose I could work freelance in photography, so I’m searching for opportunities right now.

Freedom

When we arrived at the airport [in New York] I was in shock. I think I’m still in shock in terms of how I left Gaza, but I think I’m more comfortable here, and I’m able to think more about what I want to do. It’s also nice to meet people every day. You learn a lot of things from them.

I think I felt happy when I arrived here. I can smell the freedom. I can be who I am without trying to pretend or without caring who will tell my family, or who will talk about me, or if I’m going to be arrested by Hamas, or any of these things.

At the same time, it’s a little stressful in trying to focus on what I will do in the future, and in many ways I feel like my body is here in the U.S., but my mind is still there, in Gaza.

Decision/Gaza Is Not the Real Life

I decided that I didn’t want to stay in Gaza after the war in 2014.

During that time, I said to myself that I didn’t want to die. For many days I had expected not to wake up the next day, so I wanted to find another safe place to live.

And my beliefs also changed after that. I don’t believe in God and religion anymore. I have problems with how society thinks in terms of traditions and women. It’s a closed society with more pressure and more restrictions. It makes relations between people in Gaza stressful.

Besides, my husband was stopped and arrested by Hamas many times while doing his work on the ground.

I started to see that life is not like this. Gaza is not real life. There are many things going on around the world and many things you can miss while believing in things that control your thoughts and your perspectives on life.

I Want to Be Myself

I also used to wear hijab in Gaza, and I don’t want to do that.

I wore it when I was 16. My family is not religious, but at the time I felt that I was doing something good, that my family would be happy for me, and that I was a good girl by doing that. But when I think about it now, I was 16 years old back then, and I didn’t understand anything. I just wanted to do it in a very simple way and satisfy my grandmother, and to satisfy society around me in order for them to think that I was religious and not to see me with my hair.

So I did that, because I was afraid of judgment, and this is one of the reasons why I want to be myself.

Jehad’s family is religious too, so this also affected me. I put a mask on and said, “Yes, I pray” and “Yes, I’m religious.” This wasn’t easy, because I started to feel as if I was pretending in front of everyone, and I was afraid of voicing my opinion about religion.

It’s also because we are under the control of Hamas, and it’s really dangerous to talk about such things in Gaza because it’s a threat to my life. Gaza is a very small place, and since 2014 we just stayed in our apartment mostly, meeting with our journalist friends there and trying to be isolated from the streets, from people around us.

On a daily basis, these things are very stressful, and it’s not me. I don’t want to be this person all my life. I feel like I’m wasting time. These things made me think about leaving that place [Gaza]. It was a turning point.

Scared

Once, I was on the beach with a journalist friend. We had decided that she would take photos of me at different places in Gaza and with different outfits. I wanted to do something fun and related to the arts.

Image credit: Edmee Van Rijn Lara wears her grandmother's dress and look behind to check no one is around. 

Image credit: Edmee Van Rijn

Lara wears her grandmother's dress and look behind to check no one is around. 

We went to the beach, and I wore my grandmother’s dress. It was white, and her mom had made it for her, and I wanted a photo taken of me on Gaza’s beach, which looks exactly like the one in Tel Aviv (the same beach basically but with less privilege of security and clean water). She took a picture of me while Jehad and his brother were swimming in the sea.

Suddenly a group of men with beards, looking at us angrily, started to complain and asked other people there who we were. At that time half of my hair was covered, so I was afraid that someone could see me without my hijab and that that would create a problem.

They came over, and Jehad and his brother came out of the sea and went to talk to them to ask them what was wrong. My husband told me about their conversation. I didn’t hear because they only talk to men, and I was standing on the side with my friend, feeling scared and nervous.

They told him, “First of all, when you want to talk to us, cover your chest.” Jehad was wearing shorts only, as he was swimming. “Second of all, you shouldn’t be in this place, and Al-Qassam [The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, military wing of Hamas] know that you’re here, and you’re not equal to me. If you did anything wrong, you will be fucked.” They also said, "There's no place for you here. Go to infidels’ countries.” They threatened us, and if we didn’t leave, they would have called some other people.

I was so scared that day. It was the first time I had tried to show my hair.

My young sister doesn’t wear hijab, and she encounters a lot of negative comments about how she’s not a good person because she’s not wearing it. The government doesn’t do anything directly to anyone who’s not wearing a hijab, but some areas are known to be areas that Hamas people love to be in, so if I had been there and I had been different, they wouldn’t have liked it and it could have caused problems for me.

On that day [on the beach] I was scared. I didn’t want this thing to develop into something bigger or for there to be a fight, so we just left.

Wars

The many wars made us feel differently as well, especially the last war [in 2014]. We didn’t feel safe in our houses. It never felt safe anyway, but it was crazy [in 2014]. The bombing was constant, and people were killed all the time. Anyone could be killed.

The building in front of our building had crashed completely [because of bombings], and we had to leave our apartment and take a bag with all our necessary things, such as passports and important documents.

I remember a night when I couldn’t sleep and I was so scared because I could hear the bombings, the warplanes (F16s), and the drones. I can differentiate between each one [planes]. The Zafer 4 building was bombed, just in front of us.

During the first war in 2009, it was scary. I don’t remember everything about that war, but I do remember that it’s the same for each war – they [Israeli army] will bomb anywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s in an area with civilians.

This time, we knew that things only were happening close to the borders [with Israel] and in the middle of the Gaza Strip, in military areas. I was in high school, while also beginning my career in translation and photography, so I wasn’t really aware about what was happening.

In 2012 [during war] I started to become more aware of what was happening, but it only lasted for eight days.

The last war was the longest one among them. It lasted for 52 days, and it was a nightmare. I felt like it wouldn’t end. It was every day. You would wake up to bomb sounds, and you would hear about kids being killed here and there.

It was everywhere, and everyone was affected. You also couldn’t say that there was a safe place. We, of course, don’t have shelters.

We were live streaming what happened in our apartment. We were living on the 11th floor at the time, where we could see the eastern and the northern parts of the Gaza Strip. It was a fire. There were light flares from bombings, especially in Al Shojaea, and I watched the bombs falling there.

I didn’t go out during the war too much. I mostly stayed in the house and reported from there. The days that I left the house were during ceasefires, so only for a couple of hours. I would go to the schools, to see families who had been evacuated from their houses and were staying there [in the schools]. It was crazy. Can you imagine what it would be like to receive a call in the middle of the night saying, “We’re going to bomb the house. You have a couple of minutes to leave your house”? People just ran out to the streets and heard the bombings.

You could see in people’s faces how scared and shocked and traumatized they were, and each family had lost at least one or two family members, especially those from the borders areas, in the east, in Beit Hanoun, Sejahiya and Rafah in the south. It was all over the Gaza Strip.

Painting: "I called it the balcony, this is a scene from the war in 2014, when the Israeli warplanes were bombing light flares bombs in the night and it look like a day light but in a nightmare."

Painting: "I called it the balcony, this is a scene from the war in 2014, when the Israeli warplanes were bombing light flares bombs in the night and it look like a day light but in a nightmare."

Sometimes you sleep because you’re too tired and too scared. I didn’t sleep that well at night because of the bombings, but at the same time there’s something that tells you to sleep. And I used to convince myself to fall asleep by telling myself, “It’s happening around here but not here.”

There were many nights when I didn’t sleep. So I was mostly using my nighttime to Tweet, for Vine videos, and to live stream. I think these things made me feel less stressed.  And when I wanted to sleep, it was mostly in the morning.

It didn’t happen every day, but when Jehad would go to take photos, I would go and see my family or they would come to my house. It had to be before sundown, because it was very dangerous at night. There was no one on the streets, and you would only hear the sounds of ambulances and the bombs.

Sometimes I would also go with journalists and translate for them, helping them cover stories. For example, we would go to UNRWA schools and we also went to Al-Shifa hospital. Shifa is one of the biggest hospitals in Gaza, and it doesn’t have all the medicine needed. There is a shortage in many things, and [during the war] there were injuries all the time.

Injured people used to be put together in one place, and you can’t imagine all the horrible things I saw there. Many people lost body parts, and there were many hand and leg amputations because there wasn’t enough time to help them all. And you can’t imagine the number of people who were killed as well.

During the war I also spent time with an organization that helped people to receive blankets and food. I took photos for them because they wanted someone to document the process.

Older

I feel older. I think that there are things that I’ve seen in my life that have made me more aware and stronger, and at the same time, traumatized.

During the first couple of days in the U.S., the sound of passenger airplanes made me recollect many events in my past. I feel the trauma of expecting there to be a bombing when I hear them [planes in New York].

When you feel like you’ve been close to death, you can appreciate life more, but at the same time it’s not been easy being stuck in Gaza for all these years.

It was not an easy decision [to leave Gaza]. My mind had to figure out what was right and what was wrong. I’m not angry, but I just want things to be a different way. I don’t want wars. I don’t want more people to be killed. I want things to be easier on people [in Gaza], also in terms of expressing ourselves.

People Who Are Suffering

Here in the U.S., many people don’t know anything about Gaza. Some will ask, “Is Gaza in Israel or in Palestine?”

We were stuck in Gaza and no one knew about it, but if I lived in a different place I’d know about people who lived under pressure. I would know about people who are suffering. I would try to help them in any way, even in gaining knowledge about them. So perhaps these people need to receive more information [about people in Gaza], and I think it’s my time to talk to them about it.

On the other hand, I learned that I can’t judge anyone, because I know what judging means in my hometown [in Gaza].

Family

I’ve made friends here (also while on previous vacations in the U.S.) and now when there are holidays in the U.S., everyone goes back to see their family in their home countries. I’m here, watching, and I can’t go. I can’t take that decision easily, to see my family for a couple of days and come back.

It feels terrible, because if I want to see my mom, it’s only through Skype.

They [family] encouraged me to get out. Of course it wasn’t easy for them to say that, as we didn’t know when we’d see each other next.

The generation of many of my family members, including my sisters, and many of my friends is not one to live in Gaza. I remember that my parents told me that they used to go to Israel, to Jerusalem, to any place in the north of Israel and Palestine. It was easy for them, and they told me stories about how Jews came to Gaza on Saturdays, partly to shop for vegetables and fruits.

But after 2000 it got worse, and in 2000 was the first time that I heard bombs. It was at the beginning of the Second Intifada, and then the division of Hamas and Fatah, and then war after war after war - and a blockade.

So they [parents] encouraged us, to go and live our lives, to have a future, to find ourselves because we can never plan our future in Gaza. It’s sad, but good at the same time, as it made it easier for us [to leave].

I have a twin sister who left Gaza a year and a half ago. Her name is Sarah. She’s in Canada now.

I’m close to her, but she also began seeking asylum a couple of months ago, so she can’t come to the U.S. easily. Perhaps if she got a travel document then she could come. It’s the same for me, but at least we’re closer to each other, physically.

Mom

My mom has had breast cancer for a year and a half. She has been through all the stages of chemotherapy.

It wasn’t easy to be in Gaza and have cancer. There is a high percentage of cancer there, especially breast cancer.

When she discovered that she had cancer, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to have the treatment in Gaza. She wasn’t sure how the doctors would deal with her, but she did the chemotherapy in Gaza, as well as the breast removal surgery. It wasn’t an easy experience for her, especially as she had to go to Al-Shifa Hospital every three week to have chemotherapy.

You find a lot of people in the same [hospital] room. Everyone is at a different stage in their cancer and with a different kind of cancer, and there is no psychologist who can help them feel better or at least give them support. The medical situation in Gaza is really sad.

Lara's mom, pause at the beach and her t-shirt says "be ready to whatever comes next" "and I think this is what she's doing, after she has discovered that she has breast cancer and went through chemo last year- and also this picture is part of my photoproject about how my mom was batteling cancer in Gaza." http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/25569/battling-cancer-with-spirit-in-gaza 

Lara's mom, pause at the beach and her t-shirt says "be ready to whatever comes next" "and I think this is what she's doing, after she has discovered that she has breast cancer and went through chemo last year- and also this picture is part of my photoproject about how my mom was batteling cancer in Gaza."
http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/25569/battling-cancer-with-spirit-in-gaza 

She [mother] used to see a lot of people suffering around her, but she had no other option. She didn’t get the approval to go to Israel or Jordan. They told her that there was no need, since there is chemotherapy in Gaza. But there is no radiotherapy in Gaza, so that’s why she went to Jerusalem for that.

She went with my father – he was her patient accompaniment. She was going to Jerusalem for 40 days. I wanted to go with her, but for someone my age it’s hard to get a permit, as they don’t allow any young people to accompany patients.

For 40 days she had the radiotherapy there.

But it was a good experience for her to be in Jerusalem, because she met other patients from Palestine and she met other people who had other kinds of cancer, and they encouraged each other.

She also used to describe to us how the situation in Jerusalem was, politically. She didn’t want to go back to Gaza, except for my father and sister, although my sister is now in her last year of university and is of course thinking of leaving Gaza after that.

My mom is fine now. She came back a month and a half ago, and I spent a lot of time with her before I left.

I made a photo story about her, about her spirit in battling cancer in Gaza. I took pictures of her while she was in the house: eating, putting makeup on, sitting, thinking, on the beach, or with my dad and sister.

Bad Luck

Gaza is totally different than the West Bank, because in Gaza we don’t face the soldiers, although we can hear them and we can see the bombs and feel the borders. We know they are everywhere, with their warplanes, drones, tanks, and watch towers on the borders and balloons [surveillance balloons] to watch us all the time. So we can hear and see their bombs, but not the soldiers obviously.

But in the West Bank they can talk to them [soldiers] and look them in the eyes and scream or protest and can express their anger somehow.

I’ve met Palestinians here [in New York], and it’s sad, because they don’t really know what Gaza looks like or what the situation there is exactly. They only know things from the media, so we [Palestinians] are not so connected in that sense, but we share the name of being Palestinians, and we share the bad luck I think.

Israelis

I’ve only met Israelis when I went to Jerusalem, but I haven’t had any real interaction with them, including with Israeli soldiers.

Erez [crossing with Israel] looks like a very strange border, because it feels like it was made for rats, in terms of how they deal with people, who are entering the crossing. You can’t talk to them [Israeli soldiers], because they are all sitting above the crossing and looking at you from above. It’s a little bit weird.

I have Jewish friends, and my father has a Jewish Israeli friend from Tel Aviv, and I remember that before 2000 he used to come to Gaza with his children, and we would swim in the sea together.

Once, I had a bad experience with one Israeli on Facebook. Before this I never tried to speak with any Israelis on Facebook, perhaps because I’m scared – this is how they taught me, never to talk to them [Israelis], because it’s bad. I think this is happening on the other side as well, but I had a conversation with someone during the war [in 2014], and he was cursing and talking very badly, so I know that there are many crazy Israelis who don’t understand how to talk.

Also, a couple of months before I left Gaza I met a friend through social media who lives in Haifa. He’s Israeli Jewish and a very nice person. He’s an artist, and he doesn’t believe in violence and wars and such things. He believes in equality, so I’ve had small experiences of meeting Israelis.

I don’t feel anything particular about the other side. It has to do with my poor knowledge of what it looks like, how people’s (Palestinians and Israelis) lives are besides the knowledge that I have about Israeli violations in the West Bank through media and, of course, through wars on Gaza.

I definitely have feelings of being scared and of hating the war and hating the soldiers who were causing all that horror in my life. This is what I know about Israelis, but I never had a real interaction that gave me a full idea of what the other side is.

I would like to talk to someone and have more talks about what we should do and not about what happened.

The Other Side

I think people feel scared, or I feel scared of talking to any Israeli.

We know that anyone who has connections to any Israeli won’t be in a good position, and I think that we’re all paranoid that somehow we could be randomly stopped by Hamas, and our phones or laptops will be checked, which has happened to us many times.

At some point they announced that no one should publish any article with the Israeli media, and at the same time people have always been afraid to talk to the other sides, since they are suspicious of them being spies.

Also, the other side has a bad history of recruiting collaborators to commit crimes towards people in Gaza. This is how the fear of speaking with the other side grew.

Life

I would like to have a very peaceful life, to be in a house close to the beach and to have a dog and a study with paintings inside my house with a small garden. Maybe this is a dream.

Before any of that however, I would like to be successful in art, whatever kind.

I’m still figuring out where to be, whether to continue in photography, painting or jewelry-making or even in makeup, but I’d like to do something that I love and keep doing it and giving more to others.

I just like to make people happy.