It was given, yet neglected

Each and every day I scroll down the latest news to enlighten myself of what is happening in this world. As years by I taught myself never to be angry or upset about what is said about us as Palestinians, instead I would write about what I think and what is true to nullify those absurd allegations. I believed that writing and speaking loud would always drive attention to you and respect, never believed in violence due to my strong ideology that violence would only give birth to violence rather than suppressing it.

Lately, Saudi women gained the right to drive cars and that topic went viral on all social media, some were supportive and happy saying that this is the beginning of a new era in Saudi Arabia. But with that, many women came out of their silence and started to talk about how they were suppressed and thought million times to flee the kingdom. Some of them managed while others were captured and kept in jail for simply seeking their freedom. All the social network went insane about all this, arguments go on and on seemed to me that it won’t stop. In the middle of all that chaos I was scrolling down and up reading various comments from here and there and one question comes to my head “ who made us reach this level of suppression and deviation from the rights that our religion gave women?”

In Europe, women suffered from unfair rules that’s why they protested to gain all the rights which the society was ignorant enough to deprive them of. If we look closely to our Islam it truly gave women all the privileges that they seek, but with their blind compliance, they lost them all. Women had all the right to share their opinion when it comes to the state affairs, our dear prophet consulted his wives when he had a confusing matter. She had the right to get a full education, had all the right to choose whether to work or stay home and in both cases, her guardian, (father or husband) is obliged to provide her with allowance. She had all the right to choose her life partner without any forces from her family when she becomes a mother she is free to choose to breastfeed her child or not, and if she did her husband is obliged to give her the price of her breastfeeding of her child. In other words, she had it all, and of the sudden, her society came with its newfangled customs and began gradually to withdraw all these privileges. That society turned her from a symbol of pride to a symbol of disgrace and shame, from a human to a “thing” that can be owned and control. All that Islam rejected the ignorance of a deviated society has restored it and gave it to Islam.

It’s painful to call Islam a suppressive religion when I know what my religion stands for and what civilization it build. It gives me the chills to realize that all the neighboring Arab countries had chosen to mar Islam and it gets worse when the new generation out of the blue begins to question whether to remain Muslims or convert into another religion. As far as I can remember my parents always raised me on doing what’s right according to our religion not according to our customs. They never told me that you are financially responsible for yourself and we got nothing to do with that while I was in college, they supported me till I finished my studies and become a literate grown woman. They respected my choice and stood by me when I chose my life partner, blessed my marriage because they knew that he’d be a fit husband for me. I recall the day that I got engaged to my husband he told me that I will support you till the end in any choice you make. We had our ups and downs but most importantly we knew how to get out of it by following the exact rules of our true Islam.

As a woman, I stand against all those who use violence against females, all those who underestimate the power and wisdom of girls. Unfortunately, almost 75% of our Arab societies are male dominant and keep to suppress women and undermine them, when in reality women can achieve and invent a lot. They can achieve many different tasks and keep their full energy until the end. I stand against all those who disinherit their daughters only to maintain the heir and not let any foreigner take any part of it. I stand against all the women who disfigure our religion when they claim that Islam is the reason for their misery because Islam gave you many rights and with every right, there’s an obligation. Because you don’t want the obligation you lost the right, before being unfair to the founder of all the rules of the world judge your actions, thoughts, and speech. I’m confident that Islam has given it to us and we with our carelessness lost it all.


Beneath the rubbles strength arises

As it has always been said, a need is the first step of achieving the goal, I’ve heard never realized the true meaning of it till I was hit with a different reality. For the last 11 years I’ve been trying to get a fixed job in a prestigious association and for that, I took multiple courses, training and volunteered to work fully free. All that was in hopes to get me to the place that I’ve always hoped to have, but for my misfortune, it did not. I started from scratch, literally, every time I think that this is the point where my fortune will change and I’ll start ascending the ladder of my hopes, a hammer comes to break that ladder. Again I fell on my back and each time it becomes harder and more painful than the previous one. “I give up, that’s it. I will stop being optimistic about anything in this country” even though in the back of my head I wanted to believe that I still can achieve my hopes, but the reality clashes with my ambitions and somehow sneaks to my head to erase these hopes.

On the 30th of April 2018, was the wrecking date, I gave up my job because I refused to work against my principles, despite me knowing that this action will set me back to the process of job hunting and waiting but I did not care frankly. “My principles come first” I always kept that in my head and that’s why I lose my battle against society. At that particular date, I returned home smiling but devastated from the inside, trying to convince myself that the right choice was made and no going back anymore. Needless to say, the amount of depression I’ve been through but I kept telling myself “no compromising, either all or none”

Months flew by and got the chance to register in a course that would be very beneficial for me personally and vocational. As I entered the hall, my eyes skimmed everything quickly to get a tiny glimpse of what the upcoming month would be like. At first, nothing drew my attention until she entered the hall and with a smile apologized for being late. A medium height lady with fair skin and brown eyes, clearly from the way she walked there was something wrong with her leg. The first session, the topic was about improving yourself and each one of us shared her point of view. When her turn came I focused all my senses on the words that were about to come from her mouth, mostly out of curiosity to know her more because this hall was the only place where we could meet. As she spoke I learned that she holds a B.A. in Information technology and it took her more than 4 years to gain that certificate due to health issues. I was even more curious to know the remaining details, but I wanted to be very cautious in my words when talking to her, I did not want to be an emotionless person nor did I want her to feel that I pity her. So after 5 sessions I gathered up my strength, organized my words and sat next to her and I started to chat with her and after a long general discussion I decided to get a little more personal, “Sorry if my question might seem an intrusion, but you mentioned earlier you had a health condition that delayed your study, can you explain it to me?” as those words came out my mouth for a second I wished I could take them back, I feared that she would think of me as impolite or rude, but she looked at me with a smile and said, “ my story is quite different, you see I was an intelligent student and had a bright future. When I was in college the instructor gave me a grade which I did not deserve so I was stressed out”. She goes on with a smile “I could not let it go, the more I thought of it the more it made me angry and stressed. One day while I was in college I began to lose my concentration and balance, and all that I recall me being in the hospital, later on I knew I fainted at the college campus.” With that same beautiful smile she continues, “Doctors told me that a blood vessel in my brain exploded and caused some blood clotting and that needed to be removed at once. My family took me to the occupied territories “so-called Israel” to have surgery to remove that clot. That surgery caused a temporary loss of my voice, and had to spend several months to recover.” As she spoke what overtook me was her smile, as if she finds her strength through her smile. “I was determined to overcome my collapse, so as soon as I recovered I went back to Gaza and continued my college. I graduated and I was over the moon, but as I visited my doctor that happiness faded away. He told me that I should consult the doctors who performed my surgery as soon as possible. To be honest I did not want to go through that pain again and besides I was starting my career so I just ignored his advice. As days passed by I began to feel that something wrong with me and to save a lot on myself I immediately prepared my papers and went to a hospital in Jerusalem where the doctor told me that I had a mass “which is benign” in my head and must be removed”. My eyes unconsciously got wider, I was shocked at the obstacles that she had to face yet she knew how to maintain that smile of hers. That was an awakening point to me, here I am moaning about my horrible luck and me being completely jinxed, while here in front of me sits a strong, stand-still woman who despite all never lost her bright smile. She goes on, “So I did go under the knife again and had that mass excised, but that mass had to leave with a souvenir”, she said. “It affected both my right arm and left leg, and left them semi-dysfunctional.” By that, she meant that she can’t use her hand freely because she can’t move it, and her leg became slight heavy which affected her ability of walking and made it slower. “All that never stopped me from pursuing my dreams, so I participated in various projects as me being a trainer for other children and women who may have minor “disabilities”. I ended up opening a library where all those who seek to continue their master may use the book collection that I have there.”

“Thank you,” I said, “for what?” she asked, “ for being the person who you are, for being a model that all women should look up to, for being stubborn and determined to snatch your dreams and never let them go.

Our long conversation ended and each one of us bid the other goodbye. As I walked myself home, my brain never stopped thinking of how meeting people would change millions of things in your life. A few days away I was down and completely pessimistic and now I am overthinking everything and becoming more confident and sure of what I should do. I have to BELIEVE that all dark roads have a ray of light no matter how big or small it may be, this ray will lead you to your dreams.


A light of hope

When I recall that year and how it did pass by, I don’t know shall I smile, sigh or feel sorry. 2012 was the start of everything for me, I graduated in 2007 and ever since then I’ve applied in the programme that were implemented for the fresh graduates. All of them did not give me the experience that I longed for. Five years passed by and I fell in a complete despair, no career and not a single hope of me getting either my master or becoming what I wanted to be, a professional interpreter. Until one day my husband called me and said, “ it’s all set up, I gave him your C.V. and  he wants to meet you , so you got an appointment on 1:00 pm “. I hang up and my mind sank into deep thinking, what will I do, what will he ask me , and a lot of questions jammed themselves  inside my mind. The night of 12th of June 2012 was a long night that I couldn’t forget. Inside my head I imagined that he would ask me several questions that I won’t be able to answer and then he’ll tell me, “sorry, you don’t fit to work with me”. But then again my heart tries to keep me optimistic at some point. I don’t really remember how did I fall asleep that night, all what I recall while my eyes were closed a bunch of meaningless images and flashes between each one of them.

As the breeze blew through the window I literally jumped of my bed looking at my phone to see what time it is, I was nervous but my husband wasn’t at all, all what he said, “relax, everything is going to be alright “. You see to my husband he was their relative whom he and my father in law would visit now and then, so he basically knew him very well, but to me he’s that well known political/peace activist/ psychologist and I knew working with him would add a lot to my career.  My crime partner, as I like to call him since he always have my back in every single right or wrong decision that I make, got off the bed got dressed and started to drink his coffee. As he was sipping it he looked at me and noticed that I was staring at the papers but my mind wasn’t reading anything, it was hang somewhere else. “ Psst, you’ll do fine, I will come along so you won’t feel lonely , I know you can’t do anything without me”. I looked at him and smiled, “you perfectly know that don’t you, Mosab”. He finished his coffee and left to his work.

When the time of the appointment was close, I prepared myself and my husband came as he promised and we went together. As we knocked on the door, it was opened, I thought that one of who work with would lead us in, but as I looked at the one who was standing at the door to welcome us I realized that I was wrong. A man at his late 60s was standing there wearing casual clothes nothing formal and a pair of slippers,” on time, welcome please come in”. I walked in and all of the fear has faded away, we sat down in the living room, “your C.V. is very interesting, it’s not easy to find a very fluent English speaker and got a good background in project management.”. “He is only complementing me nothing more.” I thought to myself because I always felt that I needed more experience but wasn’t given the chance. “My assistant will contact you in few days to tell the task that I need you in and no worries we’ll work together on your management background to empower it”. That is it, he did not ask me anything, and he simply praised me and enforced my simple experience and wanted to enlarge it.  Indeed he is a special man, I am talking about Dr. Eyad Alsarraj. This one of kind man had made a change in my life and with me working with him as if the jinx that had taken over my life for a while had been removed.

Dr. Eyad is a well-known character who knew how to deal with everything witty, but at the same time remained the family guy. At the time when studying psychology and becoming a specialist in was not a very welcomed idea in our society he got his certificate in from U.K. When he came back to Gaza, he came with one dream and idea, is to found a special place where he can practice what he have studied and so he did.  He founded Gaza community for mental health programme in 1990, through it he wanted to help the traumatized people, and his main focus was on the children who suffered during the uprising of 1987. He believed that a generation who lived in a violent atmosphere will only reproduce violence. And since every action had an equal reaction, where there’s hatred, violence, lack of justice the same would be given back.  His main concern was to build a society that would not live victims under the shades of blood, imprisonment and to look u to build a brighter future. His small clinic became bigger through the years and his vision and mission got spread to include women who lost their spouses, brothers, children or those who might face domestic violence.

When that small chit-chat, as I may name it, I went home thinking what is my task going to be, but my thoughts didn’t take a lot of my time. Dr. Eyad’s assistant called me and told me that there’s a meeting that is going to be held in Al-mathaf, a hotel in Gaza, and Alsarraj suggested my name as an English interpreter. “Please be there 6:00 P.M. sharp” he said. “Great” , I said to myself,” it’s going to be a great experience and an opportunity for me to meet new people “. Never took into my mind that what’s going to come up will be a very tough challenge.  On my way there I was thinking, it’s not going to be a big deal, perhaps a group of five members, ten at the max. The driver dropped me there and I went to ask which hall the meeting was held. When I entered the hall I was shocked, the hall was filled with many people with different nationalities and different languages. I was mesmerized, could not move, till a man at 40 of age came towards me and said, “Heba, right!!” I didn’t replay I simple nodded my head as a sign of affirmation. “Dr. Eyad has recommended you and said that you are a qualified interpreter, please sit here” . He pulled the chair and I sat down, next to me was a British man, whom his name has completely slipped my mind, he gave me an outline for the meeting.  “Read it, you can find all your answers here. We’ll be starting in 5 minutes” he said.  My heart skipped a beat, is this man talking for real, the outline is almost 15 pages where to start. At that point I was lost, but I pulled myself together, “I will make it.” I said to myself. As the meeting started, which was talking about the crisis in Sinai, the outcomes and the side effect on both Egypt and the Strip. That meeting was almost for two hours, and I was moving from one table to another to translate what is said and discussed, at any point that I would feel lost, I challenge my weakness and turn it to strength. Yes I managed to get through the whole meeting, at the last 15 minutes, Dr. Eyad stepped in the hall, welcomed everyone , continued the discussion, or what has left of it, then dinner was served. To be honest I was starving, but I didn’t eat that much. Before the dinner came, a young man came to me, “would you like some juice, you look exhausted!”. “Yes, please.” Without any hesitation I replayed, later on I figured out that was Dr. Eyad’s son Waseem, such a gentleman he was. The meeting came to an end, I was in a complete mess and I thought to myself I should have done better. To my surprise everyone in the meeting was pleased with my job and complimented me.

That day came to an end, I went home told my husband everything, “it’s going to be a great start” Mosab said, “I am optimistic. The next day Dr. Eyad called me and told me that everyone at the meeting was very pleased with your job, and assigned me another job, which was to translate his articles and after wards to attend a meeting he had with a journalist so I note down everything.. Working with him was a good start indeed, I applied for a 2 month contract and I got the job, got an excellent evaluation at the end of it. As my contract ended I got accepted for another job with a good salary, but I did not stop working with Dr. Eyad even if it was a part time job. I respected that man very much, he had a clear vision for everything and above all he loved his family more than anything. As days passed by, I learned he left the strip to get therapy, and his condition wasn’t getting any better. Dr. Eyad had blood cancer, he overcome it before seven years when he got marrow transplant, but the disease came back. This time was worst, I did not know what to do, I felt bitter, sad, that man gave me hope and he believed in me. I started to pray that he’ll get better and beat the disease as he did before. At December 2013, Dr. Eyad has left this world, leaving behind all the beloved one and those who he had a deep effect on. I felt sorry, so sad because such men cannot be easily found, a man of his word, knew how to criticize and speak up his mind but never had enemies from any party. It’s true that he got arrested on orders of the late Yasser Arafat, but he maintained a strong relationship with everyone.

Dr. Eyad lit a light of hope inside of every desperate person, he dreamed of a better future for Palestine and the people here. He gave me hope at the time I was about to lose it. I know everyone has a different view of him, nevertheless, he left his fingerprint. Whenever his name is mentioned, struggling and speaking out the right comes to mind. May his soul rest in peace.


A survivor who’s lost within

For all of us, 2014 had been a normal summer here in Gaza with power cuts for eight hours at a time, sometimes more, and weather so unbearably hot from the sky-high humidity, you could feel the beads of sweat pooling on your skin. We— my two children, husband and I— found ourselves forced to think of new ways to cool the temperatures down. Given the fact that I was pregnant with our third child at time, this was no easy feat.

The night of June 7th, 2014 was no different, an ordinary summer’s eve. Next to the bathroom door I stood, listening to my husband as he gracefully shaved his face while talking about all the simple details of his day. All I could think about was the upcoming surprise birthday party I wanted to throw for him. As I was staring at the yellowish wall of the bathroom, silently imagining what the decorations might be like if they were a hue similar to the walls, a thundering explosion was heard. As a citizen of Gaza City, such sounds are incessantly frequent to the point that they’ve become a part of daily life. The explosion didn’t drag me out of the chaotic mess of my internal thoughts, but my husband’s voice did… “Heba, Heba, there’s something wrong, it’s not an ordinary sound,” his voice snapping me out of my folly daydreams. He then uttered, “let me check the news hopefully its nothing bad.” Those words took me back five years, back to the horrific days we once lived. “No, it can’t something bad, maybe just another sound like those we hear now and then,” I said. But it wasn’t, it was an alarm for the start of a new and incredibly long, nerve-wracking journey.

For 51 days straight my world was flooded with darkness, fear, blood, explosions, and a constant hovering sound. For 51 days straight, I would recall these moments as I wrote letters to friends and family outside of Gaza about what had happened and how I felt. My one, true desire to write stemmed from my eternal belief that words have a stronger impact than all other forms of communication.

As I was lying on my bed one night after the electricity was routinely cut off, all of a sudden the quite, dark night turned bright as day. The dark sky ripened to yellow and I thought for a second that it must be a nightmare. Getting up quickly, I ran to my children to keep them away from the windows. They had taken this yellow glow to be firecrackers, but in fact they were burning lamps; the kind that are first thrown into the sky to reveal a target and then fall to the ground, incinerating everything in their surroundings. I forced my children to sleep, and perhaps myself to calm down too, by singing lullabies to drown away the bad dream that had become our reality. I couldn’t bring myself to move, so I lay awake next to them, watching their eyes flutter through dreamland till dawn struck the next day.

Yet, it wasn’t until I heard about the mass amount of victims from the Shujaia neighborhood that I felt my world start to collapse in. Some I knew, while others were around the same age as my oldest son. It broke me, and upon seeing the destruction with my own eyes, I knew my heart just couldn’t bear it anymore. I wanted to do something, I knew I had to do something.

So the next thing I knew, I was contacting a friend and, together, we decided to write about what was really going on here in the Strip. I began reaching out to some of the activists whom I had volunteered with just a year before; and per their help, I was put in touch with numerous journalists who were willing to help me share my stories as well as spread the facts about the real situation here in Gaza without the far-fetched, exaggerations running rampant in the media. One in particular even made a blog from all the letters I had written during those 51 days. Finally, my voice was being heard.

I continued to write during this time, though by the time my pen touched the paper, my hands were shaking and I was barely able to speak.

As I go back through those days, I’ve come to realize that my mind does not hold any clear chart of my pregnancy. I had written down daily notes during my previous two, but I didn’t manage to do that with my third. I have no recollection of what it was like or what it felt to be pregnant during those 51 days. I have no caring memory of when exactly was the first time I felt my baby move. I cannot tell you how much weight I gained, nor whether or not I took my vitamins on time. All of that tiredness that a pregnant woman endures is absent from my mind. I was preoccupied with the current events of Summer 2014, to say the least.

Though, at the end of the day, each of my three children are happy and healthy. And, above all, they don’t recall anything from those horrible days. It’s true, I have survived another war for the third time, but I have also lost faith in humanity. I have lost my ability to be optimistic about the bright future that awaits for us, and I have become insecure about almost everything.

No one deserves to live in such horror or pain, no one should feel the anguish that comes from loss. Everyone deserves to love, to be loved, and to live in peace without constant war or hate. I don’t wish to relive this horrific experience, nor do I wish for anyone in the world to live it.

written On March, 2017