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What I’ve learned from living through three wars in the Gaza Strip

Israel/Palestine
on 21 Comments

“Peace is the opposite of war.
War is the opposite of peace.”

That was how my English teacher at school first taught me the concepts of war and peace. My teacher never explained what each of them means. I realize now that no matter how hard my teacher would try to convey the meaning of war and peace to me, she would never do it as excellently as life in Gaza did.

Alaa Radwan

Alaa Radwan

I am 22 years old now; and three times in my lifetime wars have taken place. The first war was the hardest and the most shocking to me since it was the first. Later I tried to get myself “used” to the worst so that reality will not blow me out. I can blissfully say that I am now desensitized to wars. Yes, it is a bliss indeed because as a Palestinian living in the besieged coastal enclave, you should expect the flames of an Israeli war to engulf you and your beloved ones at any time.

My grandmother one day told me that everything has a good side and a bad side, even a war. Everybody knows the dreadful face of wars. Those who have experienced wars, like Gazans, know best! “What good side, for God’s sake, could be in a war or a siege?” I stood still and asked myself. After three bloody Israeli wars, I found out the answer!

Reporting on the Ground

Appreciate everything in life

Old people say: “you never know what you have until you lose it.” We, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, never had a normal life; hence a Gazan values life like nobody else does.

This reminds me of what my friend Sarah, who went to pursue her MA in Durham, UK, wrote on her Facebook some days after she settled there.

Sarah wrote:

“When you experience aggression and war and then come to what you consider as a luxurious place, you think, “What can those people possibly be sad about?” I am guilty of this too. When someone here says “ugh I have to write this horrible assignment” or “uh my boyfriend broke up with me”, I instantly recall what I believe are more serious manifestations of human misery and just inadvertently think, “Oh please shut up.”

You see? We do not spend time thinking about fiddling matters. We appreciate everything and every second in our life. We have been so unfair to ourselves that we consider the disheartening life as the norm, though.

Electricity is one of the things that people in Gaza appreciate very much. Every day, we calculate when the electricity would come on or go off. Electricity cuts have taught us to have a plan B, always. I always iron my clothes the day before even if I am supposed to have electricity the next day. In Gaza, you should always expect the worst to come and to act accordingly.

Al-Nada buildings fully destroyed in the last Israeli attack. (Photo: Alaa Radwan)

Al-Nada buildings fully destroyed in the last Israeli attack. (Photo: Alaa Radwan)

Electricity cuts become a privilege when it comes to family relationships. When power is off in my house, we gather in one room where a battery-working lamp is lightening the place. We talk. We laugh. We play with the kids. However, once power comes back, everyone of us rushes to his room to check his Facebook and email. Everyone grows busy starring at his phone or at his laptop. I remember my psychology teacher at university told us that he feels weary when electricity has not been cut for three weeks. He is not used to such huge amount of electricity. The funny thing about that is that he was telling about how to cope with whatever faces us in life and he himself was unable to cope with having electricity for three weeks without any cut. Life in the besieged Gaza has been unfair to us. A lot.

During the summer’s Israeli assault, being exposed to horrible scenes of buildings falling down, of people losing their lives, of memories and dreams fading away, I just wanted to survive. I told myself I no longer need electricity. I do not want to “dream” to travel abroad to pursue my own dreams anymore. I do not want anything. I just wanted to survive. To survive was all what I needed. Luckily enough, I survived.

Coping with the most difficult situations

Another advantage of living in Gaza is having the ability to cope with the most difficult situations. Despite recurring Israeli assaults, power cut and fuel shortage, life in Gaza goes on. It always does.

I used to tell my friend that people in Gaza, including me of course, are incredibly extraordinary. I could not fathom how we can endure such suffering! Humorously speaking, I doubted if Gazans have some genes inside their bodies that give them such infinite patience and incomparable strength; that was the only logical reason I could come up with.

Israeli siege and wars have brought me about new dimensions to life. Many thanks to Israel for providing me with all these extraordinary abilities.

Rafah crossing: it is only a metal fence which hinders me looking at the horizon of life outside Gaza. (Photo: Alaa Radwan)

Rafah crossing: it is only a metal fence which hinders me looking at the horizon of life outside Gaza. (Photo: Alaa Radwan)

About Alaa Radwan

Alaa Radwan, 22, is an English-literature graduate from Gaza and volunteers for the Palestinian Independent Commission for Youth Rights (PICYR). Follow her on Twitter @AlaaRadwan7

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21 Responses

  1. Kris
    Kris
    December 23, 2014, 11:09 am

    Excellent essay, thank you, mondoweiss! I look forward to reading more from this writer!

    • aradwan92
      aradwan92
      December 23, 2014, 3:22 pm

      Dear Kris,

      thanks a lot for your lovely words. I will keep picturing the reality and unveiling the real face of Israel

  2. annie
    annie
    December 23, 2014, 12:47 pm

    Alaa! this is excellent, thank you. ;)

    • aradwan92
      aradwan92
      December 23, 2014, 3:24 pm

      thank you dear Annie :)

      • annie
        annie
        December 24, 2014, 2:22 pm

        smooch, sending you all my love and wishes for warmth, peace and justice. your continued sumud is a gift to us all.

  3. Bornajoo
    Bornajoo
    December 23, 2014, 1:07 pm

    Dear Alaa
    Thank you for excellent article and telling us about your life in Gaza. Nobody on the outside can even imagine what you have been through and continue to experience in one of the greatest injustices still taking place in the world today. The whole world should be ashamed of the crimes committed against you. Israel is a criminal state but they will unfortunately continue to commit these crimes as long as the USA supports them and unfortunately the innocent victims of Gaza will continue to suffer. The USA must stop blindly supporting israel and must end this nightmare.

    Thank you again and I look forward to reading your next article

    • aradwan92
      aradwan92
      December 23, 2014, 3:29 pm

      Dear Bornajoo,

      we all know the story of Israeli and USA. We, however, should depict how it is like to live in Gaza, keeping away from numbers, statistics, and reports.

      thank you very much.

      • Bornajoo
        Bornajoo
        December 23, 2014, 3:36 pm

        Thank you for helping us to understand. Looking forward to reading more from you.

  4. Jackdaw
    Jackdaw
    December 23, 2014, 1:42 pm

    Here’s another lesson to be learned.

    Hamas is a terrorist organization, ran by kleptocrats and thugs who use religion as a club, on you!

    • Bornajoo
      Bornajoo
      December 24, 2014, 2:54 pm

      @Jackdaw
      I would agree with your comment

      “Hamas is a terrorist organization, ran by kleptocrats and thugs who use religion as a club, on you”

      but with some minor amendments as below

      The zionist government of Israel is a terrorist organisation run by colonialist land stealing thugs who use massive military force in a completely disproportionate and criminal manner on completely vulnerable, defenceless and innocent civilians in Gaza. This is on top of subjecting those residents to an illegal and ongoing tyrannical blockade causing harsh living conditions and suffering as described in Alaa’s article

      • just
        just
        December 24, 2014, 2:57 pm

        +1!, Bornajoo.

        Yo, Jackdaw: Hamas is resistance to the terrorists…

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      December 24, 2014, 4:30 pm

      Ever notice what real gentleman Zionist men are?

  5. just
    just
    December 23, 2014, 7:02 pm

    “I used to tell my friend that people in Gaza, including me of course, are incredibly extraordinary. I could not fathom how we can endure such suffering! Humorously speaking, I doubted if Gazans have some genes inside their bodies that give them such infinite patience and incomparable strength; that was the only logical reason I could come up with.”

    You certainly are ‘incredibly extraordinary’. I saved your extraordinary essay to read when I had some “alone time” today, Alaa. It deserves careful reading and absorption. Thank you for it~ from the bottom of my grateful heart. I very often say and write that I am in awe of Palestinian resilience and strength… and the people of Gaza have suffered immeasurably.

    It’s through narratives like yours that more people will awaken, and your history will be cataloged. The world should “never forget”, nor be allowed respite until you are free and given your rightful human rights~ including self- determination.

    You write beautifully! I hope to hear from you soon again.

    • aradwan92
      aradwan92
      December 24, 2014, 6:27 am

      I know exactly what you are saying; that’s why I wanted to write a personal reflection on life in Gaza. Thanks for your beautiful words :)

  6. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer
    December 24, 2014, 1:51 am

    A very beautiful and moving essay. I understand that you have been forced to face the horrors of war and I am amazed that you have this far.

    May you also learn the joy of peace in the near future.

    • aradwan92
      aradwan92
      December 24, 2014, 6:29 am

      thanks oldgeezer. I really hope we and all people around the world can enjoy the flavor of peace very soon.

  7. Abe Fahm
    Abe Fahm
    December 24, 2014, 8:48 am

    This is beautiful in every word. I believe this painful life the incredible Palestine people suffering right now will come to the end soon.

  8. Citizen
    Citizen
    December 27, 2014, 9:13 am

    Ms. Alaa Radwan, thank you for sharing your thoughts on your experience. We Americans need to hear more from you. Over here, if our electricity goes out for fifteen minutes and we stub our toe we cuss and bawl at such a catastrophe. You are a wonderful soul.

    • aradwan92
      aradwan92
      December 28, 2014, 11:12 am

      thank you so much, Citizen. Today, a 6-hour electricity a day system is back!

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