HER STORY #59 - Maisoon
My name is Maisoon, which means "the innocent beautiful face." A couple of weeks ago I celebrated my 25th birthday.
I am from Palestine, from the Gaza Strip, and my town is called Deir al-Balah.
I’m proud to be from this country and this town. It’s a very beautiful town, and I’ve lived here since I was a child.
Of course everyone will say that she/he is proud to be from the town that they come from. I like my town because of its many date palms and its history, but my house also used to be near a settlement, so I was born in a very difficult situation. I really love my home, my town, and a lover sacrifices his life for his lover.
Even with every difficulty in Gaza, I feel that Gaza is a beautiful place. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because of the people and because of the memory of my late father.
The people here are very kind. They would like to struggle and accept challenges in their lives, and to be able to feed their kids, to educate them, to live their dreams. I think that this is the normal desire for any person in the world to have. But also, to raise the voice of Palestine, to teach life and love to the world.
I Am Not
As a child, it was crazy because when I opened my eyes in my house and opened the windows, I saw a settlement right in front of me, and the soldiers and the people living in the settlement, so it made me feel like I was growing up in a special way, not like other children.
That makes me love this place – because of how much I have suffered and lost. I love it a lot more.
I really have a special relation to this place, and it makes me proud. I am not the person that people think I am or are thinking about when they think about what I have been through in my childhood. I’m not aggressive. I’m a very peaceful person seeking to achieve my dreams. I still face difficulties, but I still have the desire to do more and more.
My home was near Kfar Darom [was a kibbutz and an Israeli settlement within the Gush Katif bloc in the Gaza Strip], and the Israelis occupied my home for five years until the withdrawal [of Gush Katif in 2005], so during that period of time I lost my childhood. And I kept that child inside of me until now.
The Israeli soldiers occupied three floors of my home, a home which is made up of four floors. We were only allowed to use the first floor, but they still put all of my family in one room. We could not leave. I was afraid. You feel like you’re not a person. I didn’t have human rights or anything like that, but despite all of that, I kept smiling and loving my life. I kept working for my dreams, and I achieved some of them, but still I would like to do more and more.
I was a lucky girl, because I have such good parents. They allowed me to do many things and taught me the stories of prophets such as Abraham, Jesus, and the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them), about peace, about not to think aggressively or about anything bad. This is our land, and you have to fight for your land, but not in aggressive ways. I believe in what the great Mahatma Gandhi said: “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
I don’t like blood. I don’t like war – so I feel like my character has developed in a special way, in a very different way than others.
People always talk about the withdrawal [of Gush Katif from the Gaza Strip] and they ask me, “Don’t you have any psychological problems? Are you sure that you are really like us?” For five years, I saw things that the person or the mind cannot imagine.
Imagine that they put all of my family in one room every day, and that they tried to kill my father. Imagine that they tried to shoot my brother in his back, and he still suffers until today, and another one of my brothers was shot in his foot because he tried to extinguish the fire in the garden of my home, which was around the beginning of the Intifada or the uprising in 2000.
They didn’t allow us to get medical help for my grandmother, and the next morning she died. They ruined our greenhouse and our trees in the garden. Imagine all these things, and how a person would turn out. This person would absolutely fight for his home, but my fighting was not aggressive. That’s the point.
I am a peaceful person, because if you want to live in peace, your actions must reflect that, but when I say that I believe in peace and want it, it doesn’t mean that I’m weak. I’m just fighting in a peaceful way, without any blood.
I’m very strong, and I fight to stay in my home – because this is my home. Fighting with my words, with my pen, which to me is stronger than any other way, because in history everything can be forgotten except for words.
My peaceful way includes being against killing, war, and blood. I respect Jews and their religion, as long as they respect my religion.
I am open-minded because of my religion, Islam, and what I have learned about Palestinians, which has told me to be open minded, and to accept everything, regardless of nationalities, color of skin, or religion. This makes me feel peaceful, and I accept differences.
This is something that my father taught me, and until now it has helped me. I fight with my words, and I think that it’s a very strong way of fighting. Fighting aggressively just brings more aggression, and then it will never stop.
A very famous Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, came here. She came to our home and conducted interviews with my family. The Italian journalist, Manuela, did the same thing.
And before she came to my home, she interviewed Israelis [according to Manuela] in one of the settlements next to us, and they said that they dreamt about the day that they could open their eyes and see my home damaged, completely damaged. They dreamt about the day that they would see us leave our home, leave this place.
When I heard those words, as a young girl, I was surprised at how these people could think like that. We are really the opposite of what they portray in the media. I don’t know why they think like this, but even hearing that, I still am the way I am, the way that my father taught me to be: peaceful. I cannot feel any hate towards them or towards any other people, although they have [towards me], and I don’t know why. Even if they came for our land, they still hate us.
When the Israeli soldiers occupied our home, they refused to let anyone enter our home or to visit us—only journalists could come in with a permit.
This happened for five years. From six in the morning to five in the evening. In those hours we could go to school and do everything we wanted, but we had to be home before five [in the evening].
In the evening the soliders came in and forced my family into one room. And if we wanted to go to bathroom we had to get a permit from the soldiers, who then would stand in the front of the bathroom door.
There’s a film called “Private” [directed by Saverio Costanzo] that was made in 2004. It talks about my story, about my family, and the film won a prize in 2004.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has lived like this, but I think we were a crazy case.
They refused to let us use the other floors of our home because our house is a tall building, and from our house we could see everything happening in the settlements. We could know what they [people in settlements] were doing, and they [soldiers] didn’t want us to know.
My house was a like a military place for them and they put their flag on the roof of the house. They [soldiers] came to let people understand that this [house] was for them. I don’t know how to explain it, but they did many things to create propaganda and to make people understand that this place was for soldiers and not the house of a Palestinian.
When the soldiers first came, my mom was very scared and worried for her kids. She told my father that she could not stay in that house in that situation. “My kids are studying, and their teachers say that they are excellent students. I don’t want to lose my kids. I have to leave this house.”
My father told her, “If you would like to leave, then leave, but I will stay in my home, and anyone who wishes to stay can stay with me. I don’t mind either way. You are free to say yes or no, but I will stay.”
My mom didn’t want to leave my father, but as a mom she had to think about her kids. This is a mother’s feeling, but the following day, my mom said, “I cannot leave you. I will stay with you. Whatever happens, we will stay together. We started together, so we will continue together.”
The first two, three, four, or five days were really horrible for us, and because my father thought that it would be too much for me and my brothers and sisters, he tried to make a game out of it and tell us stories about the prophets to make us forget that we were living like this under Israeli soldiers.
At that time, as a child, I began thinking about difficult questions, such as why they [soldiers] were dealing with us like that, and why they asked my dad to leave our home. I also thought about the guns, the heavy and bad sounds of their shelling everywhere. And why did they damage our greenhouse and the swing in the garden that my brother, sister and I used? Why did my dad stay at home? What is the meaning of home? What is Palestine? - which I fell in love with after this experience.
I remember how they came into the kitchen and took everything down, and my mom was so angry because the kitchen meant a lot to her. She doesn’t like to see any disorder in her kitchen, so all of this was a very bad memory. They did the same in the rest of the rooms of our home as well, and killed any personal space.
I am just one person of the Palestinian people who lives in Gaza, and without electricity you sometimes feel like you’re not human.
People don’t care about us, and we lose everything, and we’re just waiting all our lives. It’s either waiting to be able to work on a paper for university or waiting for the internet connection because of the lack of electricity, or waiting to have hot water because for that we need electricity. All of my life has been about waiting and talking about electricity.
It’s so cruel and I don’t know how long we will live in this poor situation.
For students it’s very difficult because you can be working on an essay and then suddenly the electricity will be cut off. For example, sometimes I would be writing something and then suddenly everything that I had been working on was gone because of a cut in the electricity.
Sometimes I feel angry, and sometimes I try to laugh because it is crazy, so what should I do?
To be honest, it’s become normal – whether we have electricity or not, that’s fine. It’s like a habit. It’s become one of our habits. What should I do? I have to deal with it to complete my life.
I have just finished my studies in translation to become a translator. Now I am a freelance translator and journalist, as well as a writer.
My plan in life is to complete my studies outside of Gaza, not because I don’t like Gaza, but because there are no chances here in Gaza. They try to kill every chance of living here in Gaza, so I would have better chances if I left.
Right now, it is hard to leave under this current, serious situation. Indeed, I am not happy about that,but on the other hand, I believe that success is not only about achieving a dream or not. Success is the destiny to continue and be a successful person in your community—being able to help yourself first and then your community, to change your way of thinking—all of that just to achieve your dream in the end.
I would like to be a successful woman, showing first a positive image to the world of an Arab Muslim wearing a hijab, and a second image of being the voice of my country, a peaceful voice of my people, the women of Palestine, and the women here in the Gaza Strip. I care about them and the children because I used to be one of those children. I am still a little child inside, since I didn’t live my childhood because of the Israeli soldiers. So, I think that children have to live their lives as they would like to be.
That’s why I also write a lot about my childhood and about children here in Gaza. I share their stories, and the stories of young Palestinian people as well, because the situation in the Gaza Strip is miserable. Yes, they are strong, and they work very hard to achieve their dreams, but they can’t find work in Gaza, and they cannot travel, and even if they get a permit to travel, the borders are closed.
Psychologically the young people in Palestine are in a bad situation. They are very tired and depressed, even if they try to show the opposite. But the beautiful thing is that even though we live in this bad situation, people still laugh and joke, and I feel something good here, something that gives me hope to start again.
My dream is to travel to the U.K. I don’t know why. Since I wasa child, I have watched many different British films, and one day, while watching a British film, I thought about this. I like the classic British culture, and I think it would be for me. I fell in love with the classic age.
I was supposed to leave Gaza [in 2014], but just when I was about to leave, I wasn’t able to. I lost the scholarship to study in America because the Israeli side didn’t give me a permit for an interview [at the American Consulate] in Jerusalem, and a week later, the aggression on Gaza began [reference to war in Gaza in 2014].
Later on, I received other scholarship opportunities, but ultimately I lost them as well.
My dream would be to complete my studies in the U.K one day, and to be the voice of my country, the representative of Palestine all over the world, trying to counteract the media. My dream is to be a journalist to raise the voice of my people, but also the voice of anyone around the world because of the misunderstandings that are represented in the media about the reality of the Palestinians.
The media misunderstands what really happens here in Palestine, and in the Gaza Strip especially. For example, many of the stories that were published during the war [in 2014] showed the opposite of the reality in the Gaza Strip.
How can you believe the falsification of facts? How can you believe anything without even seeing or listening to the other party? It’s very weird. The media doesn’t always show thetruth to the world, and the Israelis try to show the bad picture of the Palestinians, as terrorists and aggressors, and that we don’t like peace. But from my experience, and as a Palestinian living here, Palestinian people aren't terrorists and they really want peace. We are not aggressive not are we terrorists.I don’t know how they can refuse to accept that fact.
I respect all people, and everyone has a right to their opinion, but you have to try and open your mind, and to say the facts.
I am not a judge. I am a normal person, and I would like to be a journalist because I believe that a journalist has to seek the truth.
Thinking Out Of The Box
Most journalists that came here said that they were from America. They had Jewish origins, and I accept that. I don’t mind, but I know why they said that they were Americans.
I don’t have a problem with that– as long as you respect me. I am thinking out of the box, because I believe in tolerance, peace, and harmony in the world.
In general, I don’t refuse to speak with anyone, but it depends for what purpose. I would like to speak with someone who respects me, who thinks that I’m a person, that this is my land, and that I have rights, just like them.
I can talk with someone who is different than me, even if we don’t agree. I don’t mind, but you will need to accept and recpect me. Otherwise I think that the discussion would be a waste of time.
I don’t carry any hatred in my heart to anyone, because in my dictionary there is no hate towards any human like us, but sometimes I feel like they are living their lives. They have everything. They can travel. They live their comfortable lives and they can do everything they want to do, and I ask myself ‘why’ without getting any answers. To those who occupied my land and killed my people, I really feel upset because no one would accept killing his people and children without his feelings being affected.
This is my land and my history, and I also have to feel comfortable and to be happy in my land. They [Israelis] are living fully and have electricity all the time, and they can travel and do whatever they like, but I can’t.
When I got a scholarship [to study in the U.S.], I asked for the interview [for the visa] to be in Jerusalem, just because it was my dream to go to Jerusalem, and they refused to give me the permit to go to Jerusalem.
I was so depressed at that time, and I kept saying that I wasn’t the person who would kill them [Israelis]. I am not a terrorist. I am not a bad person. I’m just following my dream. I am not doing anything bad.
For a long time, I sat in my room, depressed and sad, and I tried to get answers to those questions.
It’s still a dream of mine to go to Jerusalem. Every time I see pictures of Jerusalem I think to myself: Please let me go there.
I have a funny story.
While we were living under Israeli occupation (for five years), most of the people that came and that I saw during my childhood were journalists, including cameramen, and I got to use one of the journalist’s camera.
I liked how they used it. I was nine years old at the time, and I was taking photos, which were also used by the journalist working on the “Private” film.
The journalist told my father that I had a good eye, and that I would be a good photographer in the future.
It was something that really amazed me, and until now I’ve always loved taking photos, and I have a camera that my brother gave me for my birthday.
Besides that, I also love to read and write stories.
I’m not saying that I’m the only one suffering from the Israeli side since the uprising in 2000 [reference to Second Intifada]. I’m sure that every Palestinian family living in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in Jerusalem, suffers.
It’s just different in the West Bank, because there they have a lot of checkpoints, and a lot of people are arrested. It’s difficult in the West Bank in a different way, because the settlements there bother the Palestinians, and their houses are occupied, so everyone [Palestinian] has their story, but in general everyone suffers. Everyone has a story.
We are one. We are Palestinians. Gaza is an integral part of Palestine.
We Just Go On
I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’d be the person that I am today, even if I lived elsewhere, because of the difficulties and the sufferings in my life and in my childhood. These things gave me the chance to be a person who became stronger and a bigger dreamer.
I’m not like the person who could do everything in his/her life, so maybe this is what makes the Palestinian people and the Palestinian women the way they are. We have difficulties, but even with those, we just go on. We keep on dreaming and smiling, and we keep on going for our dreams.
There are five boys and three girls in my family. Mohamed and I are twins.
Even with the challenges we faced as a family, we still completed our education, we go for our dreams and our dreams keep growing.
It makes me feel proud. Whatever I face in my life, it’s okay, because I remind myself that others suffer more than me, and I’m still okay.
I guess I would have liked to have grown up somewhere else, perhaps in the U.K., if I had had the chance, but then I would never be the person I am today, the person I feel so proud of.
My mom is a very beautiful and strong woman. She taught me how to live my life and how to feel proud of my life.
My brothers and father also had very feminist values, and they taught me to feel proud of being a girl, and to speak up, and not be shy. I think that my parents are a really big part of my life and my character.
I have a crazy relationship with my mom, because we can fight 24/7, but I know that I cannot do anything without telling my mom, and she cannot do anything without me. She is my friend. We have a strong and really crazy relationship, but it is amazing.
After my father’s death, my mom was really worried about me and my life, but she trusted me.
She was in a car accident last year and ended up in a very serious situation. There was also a problem with the operation, and I was beside her in the hospital the entire time.
I don’t know how this accident happened, but it happened right down from the street from where I live. I remember seeing the whole street covered with my mom’s blood. It was horrible. I wrote a story about it, which you can read. It’s called " My mother, my self: a daughter's tribute.”
For three months I spent time with my mom at hospital. It felt like our roles switched. I am now my mom’s mom, and she is my daughter. I feel like this is the feeling she had towards me before, when she was worried about me and would tell me things like, “Don’t do that, you have to be careful about your health and eat.” Later I traveled with her to Germany to complete her treatment—after a long time of trying to leave Gaza while the borders were closed.
Even though I fight a lot with my mom, I still believe that I have a strong relation with her, and I can’t imagine living my life without my mom, especially after my dad’s death. My mom is someone very important in my life. She is one part of my heart. I lost one of the parts of my heart, and I don’t want to lose the other part.
My mom has suffered a lot in her life, and she felt like all she had in her life was my father and her kids. When my father died, I felt that her health was deteriorating, and that I had to stay with her, and this accident made things more complex for me.
Thank God she is recovering, but she needs help. Her walking is not so good. She is okay but not so well.
I don’t like to talk about it, and I don’t like to remember it, but it happened at night during Ramadan.
I was in tawjihiyah, in high school, and it’s interesting because tawjihiyah [in Arabic] means “to start your future.” After trawjihiyah you go to university or another specialization, so it literally means to end a life and start a new life.
My father died when I was in tawjihiyah, in 2009, which was the time when I needed him by my side the most.
It was in the holy night of al-Qadr [during Ramaddan]. We prayed all night until breakfast, which we prepared together, and then I woke up my siblings because it was time for the Al Fajr prayer. I used to pray with my father. Then I told my father that I was going to sleep. Just 30 minutes had passed, and that was enough to change my whole life. When I opened my eyes, my sister told me, “Maisoon, dad” and I argued with her saying that I had just been with my father a couple of minutes ago. I could not believe that my father had died. Suddenly he had died.
It was very shocking, and after his death, I always felt like something broke inside me—even now, when bad things happen to me. For example, during the last couple of days, I feel like something is lost and I am also lost. I really need my dad beside me, because my father is strong, and psychologically he can help me, and I need this to support me.
My father was the one who really supported me. I can’t say that my mom doesn’t support me, but right now she needs someone to support her, so it makes life difficult for me. I would like to help my mom, but I need support too.
You know how much I suffered in my life, and until now I haven’t been able to find what I want exactly. I keep fighting and losing time, because I’m trying to fight for my dream, and to get a scholarship to complete my studies, and every time I lost it for a reason – a political reason – so I have often felt depressed. But even with that, we have to smile and go on .
We Don’t Be To Start, We Have To Start To Be
Experience is the best teacher in life because you will make mistakes and these mistakes will teach you. You will never forget what you have done. You learn a lot more from living life than in academic studies.
When I shared my first story, people from all over the world followed what I do and said, “Please write more. We like your stories. We like how you write.” I feel so proud of myself that I am doing something and that people come to me.
One of the things that my father told my sister - and I don’t care how people perceive it – when she travelled to study in Germany, was, “We don’t be to start, we have to start to be.” There have been times when I applied for scholarships or for other things, such as when I was at university, and some people would tell me, “You are still young” or “you are this and you are that”. No, I don’t believe this. Age is not a thing. We have to live now and not think that there will always be more time in the future.
Despite the hardships of life in Gaza, I still dream. If there isn’t a door, I will build a new one and open it.
Interview conducted on July 10, 2017