Journalist, 1979, Gaza, Palestine.

Sometimes I don’t dare to say I’m Palestinian

April 14, 2016

I am a journalist fighting for human rights

I am from the city of Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza strip. I left Gaza in December 2014. As a journalist, I was very active in my country fighting for human rights. I testified to the situation in Gaza, working for organizations that support human rights like Amnesty International and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). I was also training young people coming out university on capacity building. In 2014, I read about a scholarship regarding a project funded by the European Union aiming to support mobility and support the exchange of work experience between people from the Middle East and people from Europe. I filled out the form though I had very few hopes. But I had the chance to work in Greece and I wanted to take that chance. I applied and had an interview over Skype. Very surprisingly, I got a permission to go to the West bank and then Jordan where it took a plane to Greece. I never thought I could get that permission, no one can get out you know. I worked in Greece for four months. The project I was working for planned a big meeting in Jordan. The police in Jordan at the airport arrested me. I was not allowed to go back home to Gaza. When I was told I couldn’t enter Palestine again, I decided to go back to Greece.

Refugees don’t need food and clothes. We need the international community to stop this war, set Palestine free. If our counties were in peace, we would never leave them.

I wanted to use that time well and so I looked after refugees, helping them with clothes, food. I stayed for 8 months. I also covered the situation the refugees are facing in Greece by films and reports. My situation was very confusing. I was afraid of being alone in Europe. I wanted to go back to Gaza, back to my life, my family.

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I couldn’t write what I had seen

When I worked for Amnesty as a journalist I shared the stories of many people, not only my story. It was very painful. Covering our situation in the war was extremely painful. The first three weeks of war I cried non-stop. Amnesty needed details in the reports. I couldn’t write it. In Palestine, if you don’t die the chances are big you loose parts of your bodies.

During the last attacks in Gaza, I was so afraid I would lose my children. In the evenings, when we went to sleep, I used to put one child in every corner of the house or in different rooms, so if a bomb would hit our house, I wouldn’t lose all of my kids.

I felt no one cares about my people anyway. I still believe the international community does not care about Palestinians. After the bombings, I went back to my city with my family. It was completely destroyed. This city used to be very green, there were lots of farmers. When I returned, all was gone, it looked like a desert. My uncle had died.

The houses were half demolished. They looked like dollhouses, the facades were gone, you could see the people walk through their home like dolls in a dollhouse. I remember: I wanted to change my clothes but everything was open, there were no walls. People lived like that. They put curtains. They had nowhere else to go

You can have everything, if your family is missing, you have nothing

I have three kids. I miss them. They are doing okay, probably because they are staying in my family with my parents. Before I left, we were living with my parents already, out of choice. My kids grew up with my family members around them. When I left, nothing changed for them except I am not there. They are quite big already and I have raised them to be responsible and independent.

Since my kids were small, I always told them “Look: you have hands, feet, a brain… you can do everything (or nearly) yourself, you don’t need me!”

I helped them only when things were really difficult. That’s how I raised them. I remember my youngest daughter – she’s a cheeky, naughty one – answering her older brother “ You have hands, legs, you have everything…why are you asking me?” when he asked her to bring him a glass of water (laughs). She was nine years old. It is difficult for me without my family, without my children. In Europe I have more freedom, peace even but I can’t indulge. It’s nothing without my family. I’m alone. I feel lonely. Some time ago I was very sick, I was all alone, I didn’t have anyone too look after me. That was not easy. If that happened at home, all my family would look after me, care for me.

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Family is very important in Arab countries

Europe is a good place for Arab refugees. I have good rights here. I have a bank account here, which would for example not be possible in Lebanon for a Palestinian. Arab countries are not welcoming Arab refugees. I’m thankful but I’m also sad. It is not my culture. Arab countries are not good to Palestinian refugees but still, we share the same culture. They know about our traditions, our culture and our habits – it’s like Dutch people understand Luxembourgers.

Here everything is different than what I’m used to. For example, family is very important in Arab countries. We live in big, huge families. A lot of refugees suffer inside, it is new to us to live isolated.

I could have rented a house when I divorced from my husband but I didn’t want to, I was happy to go back living with my parents. I have an excellent relationship with my parents. Imagine you are used to live in a big community all your life with parents, grand parents, cousins, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters… you will need time to adapt to that new situation. Living alone is very difficult. I don’t like to be alone at all. I like to stick with my friends.

Sometimes I don’t dare to say I’m Palestinian

Some people are pro Israel, others pro Palestine, others don’t have an opinion … sometimes I prefer not to mention where I come from. I feel I must take care when I talk, what I do. I know not everyone likes Palestinian people. So when I meet a European, I wait to see his reaction when I tell him I’m from Gaza.

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Why are you unhappy?

I see Europeans have everything and still they are unhappy. Many have psychological issues. Many take medicine. That is very strange to me. Why are you unhappy? You have no bombing, you have a car, you have a house, you have everything… why are you unhappy? I met Europeans telling me “ I’m sad, I’m alone” our “I’m depressed, I can’t find a true girlfriend”. To me, these are no real problems. Imagine all the pain my people went through… by that logic they would have killed themselves. But probably, western people are really alone as everyone lives alone.

All my life I have acted like this: I decide something and I do it

I Getting divorced was not easy at all. Palestine is very traditional. When I decided to divorce, my parents and grand parents didn’t accept it for seven year. So I stuck with my husband for seven more years, I tried to keep my family. But finally, I decided this situation had to stop. I was thinking about my children, it wasn’t a good situation for them. I want my children to live in a quiet place. Being confronted to our relationship problems wasn’t good for them. I wanted my husband to act responsible. But that is no reason to divorce in my country. Even if he is acting bad and wrong, you must stay married. I want and need a real man next to me. Probably I’m too much of a woman! I am a very patient person, I gave him many chances. I told him : “You must change”. I forgave many times but when I say its enough, it’s enough. Then there is no way back.

In my country it is very difficult to be a single mother. I tried hard to stay close to my community even if I didn’t really fit in, I didn’t want to be isolated. All my life I have acted like this: I decide something and I do it.

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Education is extremely important in Palestine

I have a strong personality, my father raised me like this. We have no money, we are suffering since so long, we are poor people but we want our kids to do very well at school and go to university. Education is extremely important in Palestine. My father was very proud of me, he was reading my articles, showing them to his friends. My father didn’t want me to leave Palestine for my work. He was very frightened.

متمرد Mutamarrid

My father taught me to be a responsible person and an independent woman. That is not easy in Palestine. Not because of religious matters but because of the tradition, the habits. Islamic religion on the contrary says men must respect, worship and protect woman. She is like a queen, a flower. She can be educated, she can work, earn money and no one can take anything from her. But no one respects that. We have a bad law, women don’t have the rights Islamic religion gives them. Hamas calls itself Islamic but to me it is not. Hamas uses the Islam, it is a political organization.

You know, I am a “Mutamarrid”, a rebel ;-). That’s how all my friends used to call me! I want to be myself. Express what I want and what I believe in. My father used to tell me “Wafaa, I can’t control you!”. I feel like I am not your father!”

I’m hot blooded. Sometimes, I tell myself “Wafaa, you have to change, you to calm down. But I can’t that’s me. I will do what my feeling says to me. My friends here in Europe advised me to stop talking about Palestine. But I can’t. We must talk about democracy, about human rights.

Build a new life with same aim

I am learning French and I’m improving my English. I volunteer at ASTI. I also write for newspapers, Forum for example. I also work for an organization that fights for peace in Palestine. I have friends now here. I’m lucky I found a very good friend here. She is a Syrian refugee. We stick together. We now even share a room which is great. I used to stay in Redange, not I’m in the Gare area. The place is great, I feel much better since I stay in town. It’s close to all my activities. I have much more energy now again.

Luxembourg’s multiculturalism is probably what like best here. When I see a mixed couple, a black man with a white woman – it’s just fantastic. I feel like I’m in France, in Portugal, in Germany… so many countries and cultures meet and mix here.

I like how Luxemburgish schools care about the kids at school. I like the way all languages are spoken here. I like the freedom. I missed it for a long time. The peace also.

I feel something has changed in me the last days. I feel more peaceful. I feel like I’m building something here. I start to see a different future with the same aim. I feel jealous when I see kids playing around me. I wish my kids where here, with me. I would like them to live here with me and live in peace, build a good future.

I feel like I’m ready to build a new life and become an important Palestinian journalist in Europe. I plan to launch a media production company, that’s my dream. I am a huge radio fan, I would like to launch an Arabic program.

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Foster true integration

To me, real integration works both ways. Refugees must learn western languages but Westerners should also be interested in our culture. That is true social innovation.

We don’t want to erase our culture because it defines us. All communities should be allowed to exist next to each other, meet and share. Tolerance works both ways.

Language is a key element in understanding a culture. For example “Hello” in Arabic is “As-salam alaykom”. That means “Peace be upon you”, isn’t that beautiful? It’s worth knowing, it says a lot about our culture. I believe Westerners should know more about Arabic language. It is an amazingly touching language. Arabic is a friendly, deeply rich language. I would love to teach basic Arabic. Too adults but also to kids.