In Gaza, we dream of a world where our voices are heard
In a place where dreams often seem like unattainable fantasies, I dreamt ambitiously.
I longed for the day when I could travel and dared to dream of seeing a world beyond the limits of war and siege, determined to amplify the voices of my suffering people on an international stage.
Fortunately, when I learned my permit had been approved, it felt like a ray of light cutting through the constant uncertainty of my hopes, only to find myself embarking on a journey far more challenging than I had ever imagined—a complex interplay between dreams and reality.
Leaving the Gaza Strip is a very complex and intense mission. As the borders are tightly controlled by Israel, getting travel permits is a long and often uncertain process.
"For an entire population in Gaza, the ordinary has become extraordinary, and the extraordinary has become a daily occurrence"
For Palestinians in Gaza, these permits are more than just pieces of paper; they’re our lifelines to the world outside. More than an opportunity, each approval is like a rare glimmer of hope in our daily lives.
As a journalist and writer born and raised in the besieged Gaza Strip, my bucket list was shaped by the reality that surrounds me—the sounds of explosions and the hovering of F-16s through our skies were all too familiar since my early childhood days.
For my entire life, Gaza has never known peace and safety. I was born amid the constant threat of fear and terror, and for over two decades, I have borne witness to life during wartime more than five times.
Throughout my existence, warplanes have consistently blotted out the sky under which I took my first breath. If I had been cognizant of the horrors—and losses—that come with living under siege, perhaps I would never have left the sanctuary of my mother’s womb.
Growing up in Gaza has made me believe that beneath the breaking headlines, political manoeuvres and military aggressions, there exists a web of struggles that extend far beyond the physical scars and shattered homes.
For an entire population in Gaza, the ordinary has become extraordinary, and the extraordinary has become a daily occurrence. While the term ‘siege’ often conjures images of mediaeval castles and ancient conflicts, Gaza is a modern-day embodiment of an enduring tragedy that has persisted for sixteen years.
‘Siege’ here isn’t merely a linguistic expression; it’s an unrelenting reality that alters every facet of life. Within Gaza’s confines, 2.3 million grapple with critical shortages of essential supplies such as clean water and electricity, almost cut off from all vital resources.
Upon arriving in foreign land, I felt a newfound sense of freedom and excitement. It was a day I had dreamed of, a chance to experience the world beyond what I had seen on social media and the Internet.
Shortly after, I began to search for a job and establish a life—a safer one—in my new place. However, I was taken aback to discover that my identity, my place of origin and my professional experience were not the ‘advantages’ I had hoped they would be; instead, they became barriers that rendered my efforts to prove my qualifications futile. I couldn’t escape the feeling of being an outsider.
As the months passed, this sensation of loneliness only grew, as I continued to face further silencing and discrimination.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning of an odyssey that would test my resilience and redefine my understanding of the world.
I was now far from home, in a place where my identity was not just a part of who I was but the defining factor. Being a Palestinian in a foreign land meant navigating the complicated landscape of stereotypes, biases and misconceptions.
My attempts to integrate with a new community involved breaking through the obstacles of unexplored cultures and peoples. As I navigated through, I began to understand the depth of the challenges my people experience at large.
"Very few understand that Palestine is more than just a place of struggle; it’s a cherished home, in which a population dreams to live peacefully"
It was a stark reminder that even the pursuit of something as fundamental as the right to travel is marred by the complexities of our political reality.
Applying for jobs, I soon discovered that discrimination based on my identity and the cause I deeply cared about was widespread. I aspired to secure a position in journalism as a writer (with the foolish hope of weaving my homeland’s struggle into everything I penned).
Perhaps it was because many foreigners whom I met knew Palestine mainly through the lens of geopolitics, often overlooking the human stories that lie at its core. It was disheartening to learn how these broader narratives consistently overshadowed our own.
Very few understand that Palestine is more than just a place of struggle; it’s a cherished home, in which a population dreams to live peacefully, without the unending quest for the removal of the military siege and checkpoints.
Very few know that what we seek are essential human, civil and political rights. Equally urgent is the need to empower our hopes, as an occupied people, for recognition and dignity worldwide.
This empowerment hinges on our capacity to be heard, especially in a world where information often gets distorted. Here too the aspirations of the youth are left in ruins, to the extent that they have come to accept the absence of basic human rights as something tragically normal. Access to medical aid abroad, for example, is entirely contingent on the ever-changing political and military dynamics.
The truth is, I could not secure that kind of job, or even one that is remotely aligned with my ambitions. So I took refuge in freelance writing, at the time during an Israeli invasion in Jenin last July, when my people and country were enduring a brutal raid and intense hardship.
Firstly, I couldn’t simply stand by and watch without writing about the atrocities my people faced there. And secondly, it was my only refuge to support my family.
Many, including unidentified sources, urged me to quit my freelance writing.
Freelancing was far from a walk in the park. My pitches and writing were often rejected, citing no reason other than a violation of ‘community standards’ and ‘anti-Semitism’. I couldn’t help but wonder, whose community standards?
What the world fails to understand is that when our voices are silenced, especially by influential tech companies and governments, our ability to express ourselves, hear others and be heard becomes severely hindered.
In a foreign country, I dedicated my time and made efforts to raise awareness for the struggle of my homeland and was surprised by how little the international audience knew about our pain.
I am fully aware of the risks and fears that come with seeking this attention, as exposing Israel’s crimes against us further puts our lives in jeopardy. But we persevere because our safety and lives are already at risk.
Those who cared to listen were very few. There was across-the-board ignorance about how Israel’s attacks against Palestinians in Gaza, Jerusalem, Jenin or other parts of the West Bank, are protracted, often going unnoticed by global eyes unless we Palestinians make them known.
I struggled to tell how the Gaza siege permeates every aspect of our lives. People often limit its definition to a physical barrier around our land, but the siege also embodies settler colonialism, aimed at displacing the indigenous to make way for others.
In addition to that, Israel has constructed a complex system that infiltrates our daily existence by exercising control over our water resources, affecting even the simplest acts like washing our faces or accessing clean drinking water.
Our daily routines are entangled with Israeli military rule and schedules. This pressure, mistreatment and humiliation are enough reasons for us to not be able to live normally, even a little bit, and to make us auto-consider leaving.
As I look back on my time outside Gaza, I see it as a testament to the resilience of the Palestinian people. Our struggle is ongoing, and I am hopeful that as more voices join the chorus, our voice will no longer be overshadowed.
"As I look back on my time outside Gaza, I see it as a testament to the resilience of the Palestinian people"
One year abroad tested my resilience and challenged my hopes, but my unwavering determination to make our voices heard and cared about remained steadfast.
One year abroad, having confronted these challenges, one more key realisation struck me: the struggle for Palestinian visibility extended beyond politics; it was fundamentally about storytelling.
Our narratives, the stories of everyday Palestinians striving for a better life, often exist in the shadows, marginalised by dominant geopolitical and stereotypical portrayals.
Yet, it isn't in only sharing our stories that we find difficult to tell; it’s in ensuring that these stories are heard, acknowledged and afforded the recognition they rightfully deserve.
The efforts to erase us from digital spaces and stifle our voices abroad mirror the systematic practices we resist in real life. Expressions like ‘Free Palestine,’, documenting discrimination and apartheid, and calling for an end to settler-colonialism are unjustly labelled as ‘incitement’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ by Israel and its allies.
Now that I am home, it seems, after all, that Palestinian journalism terrifies Israel and its allies. For us Palestinians, it is resistance and a means of survival, otherwise the simplest rights like studying abroad or even falling in love with someone within the occupied territories in our homeland, or even marrying who we want, would still be a dream forever.
I now genuinely believe it is so critical to seize as much space in the world and the media as we can to provide testimonies and evidence of the physical, psychological, economic, social and political violence and abuse.
No matter the limitations, we will continue to dream and we will continue to make the world listen.
Mohammed R. Mhawish, a Palestinian award-winning multimedia journalist from Gaza City, is a freelance writer and researcher, and a guest author of the book 'A Land With A People'
Follow him on Twitter: @MohammRafik
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.