I learned about peace and equality in Gaza

Israel is trying to erase Palestine. 

Abed Rahim Khatib DPA via ZUMA Press

After enduring five massive Israel attacks between 2001 – the year I was born – and 2021, I decided to leave Gaza in pursuit of a better future.

In my eagerness to escape, it did not occur to me that I could lose everything.

It did not occur to me that the bags which I packed and which seemed sufficient at the time would soon prove inadequate.

As I left Gaza, I said, “No need to take all my belongings. I will be back.”

Little did I know that I was saying a final goodbye to my home, my room, my neighborhood, my cherished cats.

I refrain here from mentioning my family as I cling to the hope that they await my return.

Last month, Israel destroyed my home.

All that I have left now are memories of my beloved Gaza.

The scent of the sea from my balcony.

The four seasons.

Traditional dishes.

Abu Ahmad, the baker who sold bread at 6 AM.

Delving into history

Israel’s supporters allege that the Palestinian education curriculum encourages what they call terrorism. The accusation is false.

I was educated in Gaza and learned how to advocate for peaceful coexistence.

I delved into the history and geography of my homeland.

I learned about Palestine’s ancient olive trees.

Lasting for more than 600 years, they are not merely part of our landscape but a testament to our endurance. They are even mentioned in the Quran for their numerous benefits.

I learned about international law and human rights.

Guaranteed by the United Nations, these rights promised equality regardless of skin color, social status or religion.

I learned about World War I and World War II.

I learned about how the laws of war dictate that targeting innocent civilians, bombing hospitals and refugee camps are unequivocally wrong.

Even if our history is erased from books, it will live on in our stories passed from one generation to the next.

My grandfather Salim spoke about the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

He spoke about Israel’s 1967 military invasion of Gaza and the West Bank.

He spoke about the second intifada, which began in 2000.

As a child, I knew the word “intifada” long before I encountered it in books.

The information I had was simple. I learned that an intifada referred to a popular uprising of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, that it was aimed at ending the occupation of these territories.

I also learned about the arts.

I learned about how world-renowned painters expressed their emotions on a canvas, instead of by writing or music.

I learned about technology.

I learned about human relationships.

I learned the difference between humans and other creatures.

My education was similar to that of children and young people in every country.

On what basis can Israel and its supporters categorize my education as encouragement for terrorism?

Callous game?

Palestinians are happy to forgive when we are offered a hand of peace. But we do not forget the injustices done to us.

It has been 75 years since the ethnic cleansing of 1948.

On 7 October 2023, Palestinians attempted to express their pent-up emotions. As revenge for doing so, Israel has now killed more than 20,000 people.

These people are not statistics.

They are people who had dreams, hopes and aspirations. People who had a message for the world.

If Israel truly wished to avoid harming civilians – as it claims – why did it start this genocide?

Is there any justification for harming children? Or is Israel just playing a callous game?

Last month, I went to the Palestinian Authority’s embassy in Malaysia to renew my passport.

While I was waiting for my documents to be verified, an unsettling thought crossed my mind. Was Israel trying to erase Palestine itself?

Diminishing our numbers might strip us of our identity, reducing Palestinians to refugees with ID cards, not passports. The looming threat to our culture is profound.

As an avid reader of international law, I cannot overlook the double standards.

Western governments have used every opportunity to give the impression that they are protecting the people of Ukraine. Yet many of them have not called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

When I was at school in Gaza, I learned about universal values like equality and justice. The selective empathy we have seen over the past few years is at odds with those values.

How many more instances of selective empathy must we witness?

Even here in Malaysia, I am haunted by the stench of death. It is so much worse for people who are witnessing real death in Gaza.

Basma Almaza is a student of business administration in Malaysia.