Khan Younis—Over the past eight days, tens of thousands of protesters in Gaza have breathed life into a place that is slowly being depleted of it. We have come together, chanting and singing a lullaby we’ve all longed for—“We will return”—bringing all that we have left to offer in an attempt to reclaim our right to live in freedom and justice. Despite our peaceful marches, we have been met with and clouds of tear gas and live fire from Israeli soldiers. Unfortunately, this is not new to Palestinians in Gaza, who have lived through many wars and a brutal siege and blockade.
Gaza is home to almost 1.9 million people, of which 1.2 million are refugees who were expelled from their homes and land during the establishment of Israel 70 years ago, known as the Nakba (catastrophe) to Palestinians. Since the beginning of the siege almost 11 years ago, the task of simply surviving each day has proved to be a challenge. To merely wake up and have access to clean water and electricity is now a luxury. The siege has been particularly hard on young people, who suffer from a 58 percent unemployment rate. What’s worse is that all of this is a result of Israeli policy, which can be changed. This harsh and difficult life does not have to be the reality for Gaza.
Fishermen cannot go beyond six nautical miles, making it a challenge to gather enough fish to sustain their families. After Israel’s wars on Gaza, in 2008-09 and then again in 2012 and 2014, and all the killings that happened in between, the people here aren’t even afforded the chance to rebuild, as Israel has tightened its hold on the entry of construction materials. The state of hospitals is alarming, and patients are rarely given the chance to seek treatment outside. This isn’t even to mention the perpetual state of darkness we live under, with barely any electricity or clean water. It is as though displacing us was not enough; it’s as if the entire memory of Palestinian refugees must be contained and erased.
I was born in Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. My parents are from the city of Ramle, in what is now known as Israel. Like most Palestinian refugees, I heard the stories from my older family members about being brutally displaced from their homes during the Nakba. No matter how many decades pass, they, like hundreds of thousands of others, are never able to forget the horrors they witnessed during their dispossession and all the violence and pain that came with it.
I have never seen my family’s home in Ramle, and my children have never seen anything beyond the confines of Gaza and the siege. With my eldest just 7 years old and my youngest 2, they do not know a reality beyond the sound of bombs, the darkness of night with no electricity, the inability to travel freely—or the fact that these things are not normal. Nothing about life in Gaza is normal. The Nakba is not a just a memory, it is an ongoing reality. And while we can reconcile that we all must eventually die, in Gaza the tragedy is that we don’t get to live.