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You might leave Gaza, but Gaza never leaves you

When Abeer Ayyoub left Gaza to study in Europe, she planned to stop reading the news from home and thought she was prepared for anything. But she discovered something else

I was looking for a room in London to spend spring break while doing research studies at Oxford University. I called a friend to ask if he knew of any rooms I could rent in central London. Luckily, he said he had a spare room that I could use.

As he was speaking to me on the phone, his partner told him that the room he is talking about doesn’t have any hot water.

I was expecting a lot more of myself, but a year in Europe showed me just how fragile I am

"Oh don’t worry," he explained to her. "Abeer is from Gaza."

I burst into laughter for a while, and then I asked him if the room actually did have electricity.

"Yes," he answered. "It’s not typically Gaza life in the room.”

Not too long after I hung up, I started thinking about how high people's expectations are that those of us coming from Gaza can endure hardship. Why? Because we survived three wars, one street battle, 10 years of siege and denial of access in and out of Gaza freely.

But the truth is that their expectations should be extremely low because someone like me, who decided to leave all of these painful details behind, is no longer ready to endure any more painful details. I was expecting a lot more of myself, but a year in Europe showed me just how fragile I am.

Never safe

Back in Gaza, I remember a Palestinian friend of mine coming to the enclave for the first time to do some work. We were hanging out a lot, and she would scream every time she would hear a “little” explosion sound. I would just keep typing on my laptop.

“Abeer, are you waiting for the explosion to be just the next door so you can hear it?” she asked.

“Yes, exactly, otherwise I will be doing nothing but following explosions," I told her.

That how it was when I was back in Gaza; the reality was harsh, and the sound of explosions became a daily part of my routine.

Palestinian men look on as a bomb from an Israeli air strike hits a house in Gaza City in August 2014 (AFP)
But when I first moved to Europe, a mere thunderstorm would make my blood run cold, a commercial airplane would scare me so much that I would hide, and a door being slammed strongly made me lean to the ground to try to protect myself.

Someone once asked me, “How does it feel to live in such a safe country like Germany after being in Gaza?” I told him that I don’t really feel safe anywhere in the world; bloody and violent memories never leave me, not when I am awake nor when I am sleeping.

'The place that killed dreams'

Before I left Gaza, I made a decision that I would deactivate my social media accounts once I crossed the Israeli checkpoint of Erez because I didn't want to know anything about Gaza any more. I always thought of Gaza as the place that killed dreams before they were born. I felt like it was too small to have me.

But the complete opposite happened when I departed. I followed more local news agencies. I became a part of more WhatsApp groups, so I could stay up-to-date with everything happening in Gaza.

I failed to be a happy person in Gaza, and I’m failing today to feel like I'm a complete person outside of Gaza

I left Gaza with a large number of my friends at the same time. I went to the wide open world to look for my life outside, but Gaza never left me. I would feel guilty for having the privilege of living outside while reading the news of children dying because they were not allowed to leave Gaza for medical treatment. 

I failed to be a happy person in Gaza, and I’m failing today to feel like I'm a complete person outside of Gaza, knowing I don’t have the privilege to see my family. What happiness can you have when you can’t see your family in their happy occasions because you only have a one-way permit to and from Gaza? 

Even when you leave Gaza, you can't get over it. You can never get over the tens of times you counted seconds, knowing you are likely to be killed now. And now. And now.

The unimaginable

I left Gaza a year ago for a professional fellowship in Germany, and a research paper at Oxford University. It took me two months of chasing up visas and Israeli permits. It was never easy, but I was determined to leave the biggest open-air prison in the world.

I finished both of them now - the fellowship and my research - and I left for Jordan to seek something new. I’m only a three-hour drive from my house in Gaza, yet I am deprived of my right to visit because I will be stuck there forever. My family members are understanding, yet they feel sorry that I have to go through these hardships.

A Palestinian girl peers through a tarpaulin next to her house in Gaza City in July 2017 (AFP)
Every time I am lucky enough to be able to speak my family through Skype during the three-hours of electricity they have each day, they just tell me how much harder it is now, with the hours of electricity drastically reduced. They tell me how sewage water is being pumped to the beach, which is the only place people can visit freely.

“The air smells very bad - can you imagine that even air is affected by the horrible situation?” my sister said.

I truly can’t imagine this - I can’t imagine that two million people are paying with their lives because of the interests of fighting parties.  

-Abeer Ayyoub is a Palestinian journalist from Gaza. She worked as a freelance journalist there for five years before moving to the UK for an academic fellowship at Oxford University. She is currently based in Amman where she is studying new media in a Master's degree programme. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. 

Photo: Palestinians walk on the beach and along the rocky coastline off Gaza City at sunset (AFP)

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