HER STORY #75 - anonymous
I am a Palestinian, and I live in the Gaza Strip. I was born in 1988. I’m around 30 years old.
I work as an Arabic teacher for foreigners. I graduated from Al-Azhar University, in the Department of English, and that’s it.
I’m from Rimal, in the middle of Gaza.
I studied English in order to become a teacher. Actually, I didn’t choose that. My family chose that for me. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to study law, but all the members of my family are teachers, including two aunts of mine.
One of my aunts is a Hebrew teacher as well as a supervisor.
I have committed to follow this path, and my grandmother also wanted me to follow this thing.
However, when I was a freshman in university, I discovered that my English wasn’t that good. I couldn’t even catch up on the lectures or discuss in English with colleagues. My English was weak.
And I’m one of those people, who believe that in order to study a language, I must find native speakers that can teach me the language, but unfortunately the bad situation in the Gaza Strip doesn’t allow for me to travel outside [of Gaza].
You need a permit to leave Gaza, and it takes time. I know these things, and I didn’t want to go through all these things. So that’s why I told myself: I have to find native speakers in Gaza. Because Gaza is a closed place, you, unfortunately, don’t find many foreign people in Gaza that you can practice the language with either.
As an English student I must speak English very well – to practice, so I decided to only approach international people, who can come and visit- and leave Gaza easily, who work with international organizations. So, I started approaching these internationals, and then I started marketing myself.
In the beginning I started with a smaller group of people. Initially I told them that my problem was that I wanted to be an Arabic teacher for them, but at the same time I wanted them to teach me [English].
Prior to this I considered applying for scholarships [to study abroad]. I applied, but I didn’t finalize the application process, because I know colleagues of mine, who tried and failed. Most of them didn’t go [abroad], only the luckiest of my school mates or my friends managed, after many efforts.
I want to go abroad, but I don’t have a permit, and if you don’t have a permit, you can’t leave [Gaza].
You know what? Psychologically it’s really destroying you, when you are waiting for a permit. You wait and wait, so I don’t want to follow this path.
I applied. I won’t deny that. I applied but while I did, I heard one of my friends say: “Oh, they rejected [my application. I can’t leave. I lost the scholarship,” so I stopped my application process. This is what happened to me.
I would like to study in London, because of the language. London or America. Those are the best places for me to practice the language and to learn the language.
When I went to high school my aunt always told me that my character reflected that of a lawyer, when she had to describe me.
My aunt always told me: “You have a very strong character.”
Since I was a child, and there were arguments at home, I would defend family members, including my siblings. That’s why my aunt told me this: “Ah, you will be a lawyer.”
There is a very famous lady called Hanan Ashrawi. She works in human rights and is a politician, and my aunt always said: “You will be like her one day.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t follow this path, but I still have the dream to continue my studies [in law].
When I started to teach Arabic to foreigners, my purpose was to improve my English. That’s it, but now it has become my job. I have started to like the language and to like teaching.
A year later, my English became much better, because I started to practice the language with foreigners, and I was very lucky to be able to do something like that.
When my English improved, I applied to many different programs in Gaza, such as programs for youths, internships – targeting the English speakers. Compared to the situation of many others living in Gaza, my English is very good.
Many of my students, of those working in human rights, began asking me to write about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, so, for example, in 2008 I wrote an article, where I expressed how I feel. My cousin had died, and the situation was bad. I didn’t want to die.
During that time, I received a call from the Kofi Annan Foundation, and they made an interview about me during the war. Kofi Annan, himself, called me. And the first thing he said was: “Oh, your English is very good.”
God bless him. May he rest in peace, because I respect this guy a lot. He had a lot of humanity in himself.
2008 was my first experience of a war [reference to the “Gaza” in 2008-09]. I had never experienced it before.
Gaza had been occupied, but I was a child at the time. So, the [war] experience started for me in 2008. It was the first war that I saw, and it was hard, particularly because I lost one of my cousins, and I really felt like I was going to die.
There was random bombing, and I heard bombing close to my neighborhood.
It was really the first time I experienced this, so it made it really scary.
I talked to one of my friends, and I told her that wars are the best things that happened in my life, and the worst things that happened in my life. I know this sounds crazy.
During the war all my family gathered together. Half of my family evacuated from their houses, and they came to our house. And we all slept together – my siblings, cousins.
Now they [cousins] have left Gaza, and we are alone, and I think that if we have a war, I would die alone.
But I still remember that during those days [of war] we brought mattresses to one room, and me, my siblings, my cousins and my aunts all slept in the same room. This feeling is very warm, and at least it wasn’t scary. I wasn’t thinking about dying. I thought that at least if I die I will die hugging. They will hug me, and I’ll be in the middle of them, so that’s why it wasn’t scary for me. At least we’ll die together.
But during the war [in 2014] we didn’t have any water. There was also no bread. And we were busy in trying to figure out how to bring these things.
There was a curfew, so you couldn’t go and buy things, and the curfew lasted one month.
During wars you can’t leave, because the airstrikes can happen in any place, and you can’t know if the place belongs to the government or not, and if they [Israelis] are going to target this office.
During ceasefires people go out to the streets in order to see their houses, or sometimes people go to the supermarket in order to buy stuff for themselves, and during the war in 2012 it was Ramadan. It happened in the middle of Ramadan. We would buy canned food and cook at home.
I live in Rimal, and most of Rimal was unaffected [by the war in 2014].
The people who are affected by wars [in Gaza] or attacks are people, who live close to the border, as well as people who live in Shuja'iyya and Tel al-Hawa.
My area has been called the safe area. That’s where all the international offices are located, and when they place all the international- and UN offices in an area, it becomes a safe area in Gaza.
Actually during the war there is no safe place in Gaza, because you can’t know which places will be bombed.
I want to say that I’m lucky. Why? Because if they would launch F16 rockets, many houses would get destroyed – not only the targeted places. But we are lucky, because they don’t launch these rockets. They launch drone rockets, and the drone rockets target specific places. That means that we are not affected.
Our house only had windows destroyed.
I am lucky. I still have a house. I know it sounds crazy, but I always say “Alhamdulillah, I’m safe this time.”
However, I know that in the future maybe I’ll be one of those, who are affected the most.
I have a startup, where I teach Arabic for non-Arabic speakers. That’s my job, and it makes me open-minded in terms of understanding both the Eastern and Western culture.
Gaza is in its worst situation, socially and economically. Unemployment has increased, and before this startup, I had a low income, but this job enabled me to become a teacher – a profession that gives me an income. It helped me pay all my university expenses, and I even helped my family.
I have faced many challenges since 2008 until now, 2019.
Each time we have an escalation in the Gaza Strip, the first people who have to leave Gaza are my students, because of their safety. They are internationals, VIP.
During the first war in 2008 they had to leave, so my business stopped, because there were no students. How could I teach? And it’s really difficult to do marketing for yourself and to go to the international organizations, because it’s all very sensitive, and the people who come to Gaza come for serious missions. They work within humanitarian fields, and so it’s difficult to tell them: Oh come, I want to teach you Arabic. They don’t come to Gaza to learn Arabic, so to market this is very hard, and when my students left Gaza in 2008 [during the war], they didn’t come back.
When my students leave, I don’t contact them. My business stops, and I have to go and market myself again and to bring new students – new clients for myself.
This happened in 2008, 2012 and in 2014.
In 2018, there was a crisis with the UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]. The US decided to cut many of the salaries of the UN people working in Gaza, and then they [Palestinians in Gaza] organized protests, and then because of these protests students left Gaza for their security, and then I said: Okay, now I don’t want to be at the mercy of the political situation in Gaza. I have to find a solution in order to make my business sustainable, so I decided to change my business.
I decided to create a platform for myself, and I have two partners in London, who are activists as well. One of them, whose name is Frank, is a lawyer, and he is very pro-Palestinian. The name of the other one is Ben, and he is doing a PhD in economics and political science.
I want to make my business sustainable, so we are thinking of a wider platform. We want to help university graduates, who are unemployed, with getting an income by freelancing. They can teach Arabic for non-Arabic speakers via this platform, and these two foreigners in London are bringing me clients, the students.
This platform has solved two things for me. First, the situation in Gaza has made my students leave, so if I have a platform, the lessons can continue via Skype. Second, many people are interested in teaching Arabic and want to make an income for themselves, because the unemployment crisis in Gaza is growing. You know, in 2018 unemployment reached more than 50%.
So, this is how my start up has been affected by the bad situation, and this is the solution that I found in order to solve the problem.
Two Weeks Ago
Just two weeks ago we had an escalation, and there were bombings. I can’t deny that it’s even affected my business, because my students left Gaza.
At that time [two weeks ago] I was really destroyed, psychologically. I couldn’t give lessons, even by Skype. It was hard, because I was scared, but then I had a meeting about the business with my partners. I told them that I wanted to cancel because of the escalation. A building very close to my house had been targeted and bombed, which I told my partners, to which they suggested that I write about it.
I used to see this place every day, when I walked to work in the morning. Even when I drove home with a taxi, I would tell the taxi driver to drop me off at that place, a hotel.
I have a very strong relationship with places. That’s why I hate to see places destroyed.
I ended up writing about my experiences, and one of my partners contacted his friend and had my writing published. It talks about how I felt, when they targeted that place.
Waiting Is Really Hard
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post on Facebook about how I was hearing drones, ambulances and firetrucks in the streets, and that I was hearing bombings and people in the streets shouting.
These things really destroy me psychologically, as I don’t know which places they will target. You have to wait, and waiting is really hard. I don’t like to wait. I wanted to sleep, to wake up and to find out that they had finished.
I don’t want to hear bombings. I don’t want to wait and hear about who died, and what was destroyed.
The place that was destroyed two weeks ago was our home, our old home. It was my family’s home but long time ago, before I was born. My family used to live in that place.
I have a strong connection to places. Maybe it’s unique.
For instance, there is a very famous restaurant in Gaza called “Masag’.” I like this restaurant, and it used to be a very simple restaurant, and I’d go there to have my coffee. Or if I wanted to study – to escape from the university – I would go to Masag’.
“Masag’” means “mood, and I liked this place, but after some time they moved the place to another place, and it changed. It became very fancy, and so I stopped going, and then the waiters working there would tell me: “You were our fan. We used to see you every day, back at the old place.” “Yes, go back to the old place. I don’t like the new place,” I responded. “But we developed the new place for our customers,” to which I responded: “No, I liked it how it used to be. Why did you change that?”
I have a strong relation to places, but they destroyed the place, because they wanted to “improve,” to “develop.”
In order to be on the safe, I don’t mention Israel or even Hamas in what I write. Also, Israel targets journalists. So, I express my feelings, but I don’t mention Israel. However, if you find a mention of Israel in one of my articles [online], it’s an addition by the editor. It’s not me.
I once worked as a volunteer for the media “We Are Not Numbers,” and they published many articles for me. I still go to their activities sometimes, but I’m too busy with my startup, so I go less.
They [We Are Not Numbers] became more political. That’s why I stopped writing for them, because I don’t think I’d be allowed to travel, if I wrote about politics. They used to be more focused on social and humanitarian issues, but now they are more political.
It’s for my safety.
I Would Like To Hug You
My mind has completely changed with regards to politics.
Long time ago, before I was an Arabic teacher, I was strict and close minded. I didn’t want to talk about Israelis, but now I’m quite flexible, when it comes to that.
Recently I applied to a program, funded by the US, called “Our Generation Speakers,” and this program is fantastic. It focuses on the ideas and startups created in cooperation with Israeli people, mostly youth. It’s about working together in the same businesses.
It’s something that I like.
They [Israelis] think that Palestinians are close minded – that they are all bad and terrorists – so I wanted to join to show them that: No, we are not like this. We are good. We are not terrorists. We want to talk and to talk about our feelings. We have no problem with Jewish people. They are not our enemies. We are open minded.
The people who are close minded are the terrorists, who are killing us, and I understand many Israeli people, who are against their government, against violations, against the wars and the attacks, and I would like to hug you, and I hope that you feel the same.
I Cross My Fingers
I have no problem with this concept. I belong to a very open-minded family. We are open-minded, but the problem with people in Gaza is that they still think that Jews are an enemy. They don’t differentiate between religion and nationality, and it will take time for people to understand. We need awareness about who our enemy is.
You need to educate them, but at the end of the day, God willing, we want to live in peace. One day, God willing, it w