Growing up occupied in Gaza

Palestinian youth fly kites during a summer camp in Gaza City, July 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

It was a very sudden moment when I realized that I was no longer a child. Occupation, intifada, Israel, enemy, Zionists, curfew, revolution, all these words were repeatedly spoken everywhere and I was very confused trying to understand what they all meant. No place to play or to meet my friends, no freedom. I could no longer go to the fields to pick oranges and grapes and have barbecues with my family and our friends’ families and I was forbidden from going to the sea after 7pm. It was a long list of restrictions that killed my childhood in one moment. Coping with all these dramatic and sudden changes was never easy. When someone misses a dear friend or a loved one it takes him or her a long time to recover, but when one loses one’s childhood suddenly and without notice, one can never recover.

“The intifada started, we have to sacrifice to get back our stolen freedom and end occupation,” my father told me. I was eight years old, the days became too long and the nights were very heavy and even longer. I felt that there would be no mornings. I was terrified, anxious and expecting the occupation to come at any time to raid and destroy our beautiful house, like they had already done to our neighbors when they arrested the father and his oldest son. I was too scared to look from my window to see how close they were. I learned to resist my curiosity as a child. I learned also to cope with the new safety regulations and to stay in my little room, in our house, in our city, or in other words in my cell in the big prison that is Gaza.

Suddenly and very quickly, they came. They didn’t need my father to open the gate as they climbed in quietly. My mother was very frightened and I was silent, expecting the worst. My father was very strong. He was not only a pharmacist, but also a very strong resister. He taught me how to be courageous and stand up for myself. He refused to close his pharmacy in the city center when the soldiers imposed the daily curfew, he refused to obey the orders of the soldiers until they came and pointed their guns at his head. He closed it, as he knew there were many people who loved him and wanted him to remain alive — not only his family but also his patients. They came to our house and in their attempt to insult and humiliate him they started beating my father in front of our family and neighbors. They did not know that this incident only made him stronger, and after, we loved him more than ever. I will never forget the way my father looked at the soldiers at that moment. His eyes were saying so many things. They said, I will remain, I will resist and I will teach my kids to do the same. My mother transferred her fear and rage into love and care. Our house was full of love, care, warmth and hope. We were not exceptional in this. My parents, my two brothers, three sisters and I were a small family, but the big family was the entire people of Gaza who took care of each other.

Gaza was very dark and sad. I used to see the occupation’s victims off daily, never to see them again. I learned to stay calm and to keep my rage and tears inside me. Although dangerous, throwing stones at the Israeli jeeps probably was the best way to express my anger and it made me feel better when I returned home to listen to the dozens of radio stations covering the news events as they developed.

Going to school was adventurous and risky. At first, I used to follow the narrow roads to avoid seeing the occupation. However, I gathered my strength and eventually decided to go via the main road without paying attention to them, and equipped myself with my father’s words and the belief that this is my land, they are the invaders and I can walk on any road that I like. This was not easy but gradually I overcame my fear and became strong enough to ignore them and their threats. I became very mature very early and learned to be responsible for my life. The massive sonic booms, which often break windows and shake the entire house, were so loud and terrifying, but I learned even to cope with them. Their message was very clear: “Your safety will cost you your land.” And our response was clearer: “We shall remain.”

Twenty years later, today I talk to my nephews and nieces on the phone. They are going through what I went through and even worse. They also learned what I learned, and they too will remain and resist. When I speak with them, I don’t feel that I am talking to little kids. They know everything about politics but nothing about childhood. They know about the policy of double standards, silent Europe, occupation, oppression, rockets, bombs, Apaches, tanks, curfew, siege, negotiations, resistance, revolution and injustice. And even if they haven’t enjoyed them, they also know and appreciate justice, freedom and dignity.

It is Gaza that taught them and me all these things and it is the Israeli occupation that murdered my childhood very early as it continues to do the same to all Palestinian childhoods.

Today, I live in England. But Gaza, including my family, lives with me. I will pack up and go to Dubai where Gaza will always remain with me.

Ahmad Abed was born and raised in the Gaza Strip. After graduating from Birzeit in 2003, Abed received the Chevening Scholarship in 2004 when he traveled to the UK where he received an MA in Conflict, Governance and Development from York University. Abed now lives in Dubai.