Virtual Majlis Students in Gaza talk about their lives with American University students

US University students: What's going on there, what are you guys going through right now?

Yasmine from Gaza: We have a cease fire… temporary cease fire.

Haya from Gaza: Hello everyone, can you hear me? First of all, I am Haya al Jarah, a university student. To start about our situation in Gaza last week we witnessed bombing from Israelies. The past two days were a hard time. Many places have been bombed, but now we have cease fire… it’s very quiet now but the last two days we had bombing.

Kareem from the US: What’s the target now? Haya: The target was civilians, the places were sometimes houses or police stations.

Sheffy from the US: How are you affected by that…..?

Yasmine interrupts: I just want to add that the bombing targeted little kids in Al-shegaya- three kids; two brothers and their cousin were killed in the last bombing. They were playing football on the street doing nothing to the Israeli soldiers. You can watch that on youtube or whatever, the media mentioned that.

Sheffy: So how are you personally affected by that? Does anyone know the people that died?

Yasmine: No…nobody knows these people.

Sheffy: Okay.

Kareem: [in Arabic] Can someone please explain how he or she was personally affected by what happened last week. How was your family, yourself and your house affected?

Abdullah from Gaza: Ok… I will talk about the last bombing in Gaza and what was happening. Actually it was last Thursday and it was about 11:00 PM Gaza time. The Israeli airplanes started flying in Gaza sky, their noise was very abnormal and very loud. I wasn’t able to sleep, and within just one hour there was bombing in Gaza. They also bombed the building of intelligence security in Palestine, which was built by Americans. It’s a strong building, but with just three bombs they changed it to dust and sand. The noise of the bomb was very loud; my family couldn’t sleep and the children were crying. We were so sad about what happened in Gaza and we wish things will go well this week.

Tim from the US: Abdullah, when we were talking last week about what was going on, I was asking what you needed from us… it was almost difficult for me to hear. I kind of felt helpless… I want to do something. I want to help you. It just doesn’t sit with me to hear: “I am being bombed right now”. It makes me feel totally helpless. It’s hard for me to not be able to do anything I guess; I only have my words to help you. So I feel for you very deeply.

Sheffy: It’s also really hard to hear you say, “I hope this week gets better.” I just don’t understand how you can you say that with so much ease.

Abdullah: Well, yeah we are used to hearing the sounds of bombs. We are used to Israeli airplanes bombing Gaza every day or every week… It’s now something normal to us. I wish everything will go right and there will be no airplanes in the Gaza sky and no bombing in Gaza. This is what we aim for … to live in peace. Nesreen: This may be hard to you, but this is our normal life in Gaza for the last few years.

Laurie from the US: How do you have the inspiration or the strength to create things in your life and in your future, while things are being destroyed around you?

Yasmine: It’s our only choice, we have to. We say it over and over again; it’s our only choice… what are we going to do… sell our lives? Life goes on no matter what happens.

Abdul Raheem from Gaza: When anyone puts you in the corner you have two choices. Either you sit and cry or build your future. I think that the Palestinian people chose the second choice- that they wanted to build their future and improve their lives themselves. As you can see, we are doing things to let other people know what we are going through- like our conversation right now. I want to add something, one of you said that she has nothing but words to help us. You have to know that the Palestinian people are not sad only because of the striking and bombing from Israeli soldiers…but it’s also very harmful that we experience these very bad things and then people from other countries say that we do bad things to Israelis and that Israelis bomb us because they want us to be good to Israeli people. If you understand our situation, if you understand our dreams, if you understand what we live in, I think this is very supportive for us. You think they must be just words but they are a great help to us. Regarding the last bombing, as Abdullah said, it was very loud and since Gaza is very small, it has been heard all over Gaza. The bombing was in Almaqosi area, and I live just 100 meters from this area… When I got bored from studying in my room, I took a printed lecture and went down to study. At about 11 PM, they started bombing, and when I heard it, I threw down my work and went upstairs. But then I remembered that my lecture work was downstairs and I couldn’t get it. So I said to myself; this is the last lecture I am going to study today and just watched the news. If we choose to sit in the corner and give up, I think we will live 100 years in the same situation but we choose the other option; which is to go on with our dreams.

Abdullah: Let me add something; last time I was talking to Tim over ‘Oovoo’ and there was bombing in Gaza at the time. I was smiling and Tim was surprised, he said, how can you smile while they are bombing Gaza? I told him, when you are talking about Palestininan people, you are talking about strength. Laurie: We know that this is normal for you and a part of your daily life, but I would like to know when did you first know about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

(Kareem translates …)

Yasmine: I don’t remember any specific time or moment in my life where I learnt this, but we were raised knowing, and we were born in this life of terrible conflict in Palestine.

Nesreen from Gaza: The first time I knew about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was when I became a refugee. It was when I went to school and I heard the other students speak different accents to mine, so I learnt that they were from different hometowns and that we were all refugees. Until now we have been refugees from different villages and hometowns. I think that every Palestinian kid now knows about this conflict. Day by day, when I was 4 or 5 years old, I started knowing and asking my father things about why we were in different countries or why people have different identity cards? I knew that this was because it was hard for young people to get identity cards so they left other countries to work. I think that’s when I started to learn about the Israeli conflict and how our lands were stolen. Then when I grew up enough, I read many books about the Arab-Israeli conflict and now I understand it for myself. Now, my nephews and nieces ask me when they hear bombings, ‘why are they bombing us?’ So, they too now know why this is happening. They know that we have an enemy because the reality of the Palestinian life obligates us to know.

Sheffy: How do you explain the concept of an enemy to a child? Nesreen: I think that you don’t have to explain the expression of an enemy to a child when the child wakes up in the night because of a fear of airplanes and bombs. The child would think that someone is trying to kill him, or someone who killed his friend in the classroom or someone who is killing his father or mother. Even if you don’t use the word ‘enemy’, they would express it as ‘Israelis’ because they understand that these people made us cry. All this stuff makes the children here grow up before their age and understand political conflict which they shouldn’t have to know about, like all the other children in the world.

Mohammed Hammouda from Gaza: Can I add to what she said? As a Palestinian who grew up in Gaza, I remember that there was bombing on a daily basis, but I think that the Israelis are doing a great job explaining how to be an enemy. The most significant thing I remember is when I was seven and my brother was six. We were with my father going to the West Bank just for a three day vacation after we finished our exams. The West Bank is about three hours drive from Gaza and there is a border between Gaza and the West Bank. I remember that when we got to the border, they had already given us the permission to go, but they said that my father had to take one son with him, not both and my brother and I had to make the choice between us. We were seven and six, so you can imagine how this has been left in my heart and mind until this day. I don’t actually recall my father ever telling me, ‘these are your enemies, you should kill them’, but we simply know from these daily practices. In fact, I have never seen a Palestinian telling his son ‘these are your enemies; hate them and kill them’. I remember that when I was 10 or 11, I was an expert politician of the politics in the area. I don’t think this is actually normal, but the situation around us made it normal. Until last year when I was in Gaza the most lively discussions between us were about politics, and we were asking each other, ‘what do you think will happen?’ and ‘when do you think the next upcoming war will be?’ or ‘are you able to travel or not?’ It’s all in our daily life and there is no escape from it.

Kareem: Could you please explain to us the process of getting ID cards? Explain what it means to have ID cards, how you get out, what your passport’s like? Who has a passport?

All in Gaza: We all have passports; as long as you have an ID, you have a passport.

Lubna in Gaza: Not all of the Palestinians have passports; some of them have ID’s , some are Arabs of which we call ‘Palestinians of 1948’, some of them have Jordanian passports. The purpose is to dissect the community even further so that there is not one strong Palestinian stronghold. Nesreen knows about the procedures of getting an ID; it’s just painstaking. She is going to talk to you about how to get an ID card.

Nesreen: It’s very complicated; you can’t even understand it. Palestinians in Palestine have two identity cards; blue and green. Those who live in “Israeli land” and Jerusalem have blue ID’s. People living in Gaza and West Bank have green IDs. Every Palestinian who is 16 or older must register to get an ID. They also have to be approved by the Israeli government. Can you imagine that you should be approved by the Israeli government in order to legally be a Palestinian?! The refugees have something called “watheqa”; it’s a document, but it doesn’t have a concept. It’s just a document that says that you are a Palestinian living in Egypt or Lebanon or Syria; which are the countries that the Palestinians fled to in 1948.

Abdullah: To have an ID in other countries it takes one or two days. But in Gaza it takes more than two or three weeks, sometimes months, because they want to know about you and make investigations about you. Also, it’s made by Israeli authorities. It also has Hebrew on it.

Nesreen: Can you imagine people from a different government to yours is signing your IDs and has their language written on it…? This only applies in Palestine!

Abdullah: If I want to travel from Gaza to West Bank, it’s impossible. It is easier to get a Visa and to travel to the US than to go from Gaza to the West Bank; from my country to my country!

Nesreen: We used to say that Australia is much closer to us than Palestine. Hours by car is much more further than Australia which is a totally different part of the world. But we are lucky to have ID cards. (shows Green ID). This is an ID card of my friend Haya, here it’s written in Arabic and Hebrew. This is a green ID [shows passport] which is written in Arabic and English. The ID is the main document for Palestinians, and you can’t get the passport without the ID. Most Palestinian refugees don’t have an ID. The ID is very difficult to get and if you don’t have it, you can’t travel to any part of the world. It’s like you are in prison, because if you can come to Gaza without the ID, you can never leave it. And if you leave, you can’t come back. You will be kicked out of your country... can you believe this?!

Sheffy: You said that they go through investigations to get an ID, what are they investigating?

Mohammed Hammouda: Getting an ID is a very difficult process. It takes at least 3 weeks to get. When I got mine, it took three weeks to arrive. First of all you should get all the documents, like your birth certificate and your parents IDs together. You then have to give them to an office in Gaza and when they stack a lot of applications, they pack them together and give them to the Israelis and they check them one by one. They make sure that you are a ‘clean’ citizen and that you have no ‘terrorism related activities’ and they also make sure that you are a good citizen and deserve the ID! They have all the records, every Palestinian who is born in Palestine is recorded and his history is recorded. Same applies when you apply for a driving license and passport. They write Hebrew on these documents in order for them to be able to read them and have full access to these documents. They also want to make you feel dependent on them and that you belong to them. Some of the restrictions that could happen, include being related to someone who was killed in action, being a martyr.

Lubna: So lets assume that my brother, for example, is a martyr, my ID is taken and I am restricted from access to some areas; so you’re guilty by association.

US student: Any final thoughts from Gaza?

Abdul Raheem: You are here talking to us and if you have nothing but words, these words give a lot of support to us. I want to thank you, and I am very happy to meet you. I hope to continue with this program until Americans and foreigners  know that palestininans are humans and not just people who live under israeli government, and that we have an identity, we have our future and we want to improve our selves.

Abdullah: I want to thank you, our American friends, so much. I enjoy talking to you on skype and this means a lot to me. I am so happy that you understand me and who I am. I am so happy for that and thank you.

US students: Thank you!