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My latest encounter with a stranger

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Let me tell you about my latest encounter with a stranger.

A couple of days ago, I was listening to music through the glorious invention of earphones. My ipod playlist, though, is not as glorious and there was a three second pause between the end of one song and the next in which I discovered that I was sitting in the middle of a group of Israeli kids.

A few minutes before that, I was on skype with my parents. My mom sat near the open door of our house apartment to feel some breeze in case it passed by. And my dad was lying down in his room in front of the open door of the balcony. I had a conversation with my dad about depression and how the situation in Gaza has slowly been ingrained in the brains of most of the population there, specially since most of the people there suffer from post-traumatic stress and other kinds of mental illnesses without awareness of the effects on their lives.

Rawan Yaghi: “several of the kids prolonged their looks at, of my hair, of my skin colour, of my nose and lips, of the way I looked and was being looked at.” (Photo: Annie Robbins)

The music started again and I paused it for a few more seconds to make sure what I heard was indeed Hebrew. I was suddenly aware of my existence there, of the Arabic sticker that several of the kids prolonged their looks at, of my hair, of my skin colour, of my nose and lips, of the way I looked and was being looked at.

It wasn’t a shock to me. There are Israeli teenagers in the world. It is summer. The country is full of summer schools from all over the world, except those which can’t afford them. I sat there for a bit and observed them. Some of them were bored and obviously preferred to be somewhere else, a perfectly normal group of teenagers in a learning environment. Their leader started speaking to them in Hebrew and they all listened. She seemed to be giving them instructions of some sort. They were supposed to have an activity which involved watching a movie and writing a passage about it for the next day. A French group later joined to vote on which movie they were to watch. Between Shrek 2, Pitch Perfect, and World War Z, the choice fell on the last to my greatest discomfort and disappointment. However, it was interesting to see how the kids would respond to the appalling scene about Israel’s wall and how it temporarily saved Israel from the savage crawling zombies that want to suck their blood out.

I removed myself from the main space in which they were watching the movie to focus a little bit on what I was actually doing on my laptop. From my corner, I could see a few of the Israeli spectators and could hear the screams and screeches coming from the movie. The audience was spellbound and all were staring at the screen in shock. One girl had her head down and was trying to nap. This is all ok. Even hearing Brad Pitt saying that Israel was winning because they built a wall around themselves was ok. Because it’s Hollywood and shit politics is always expected from Hollywood. Watching Israeli teenagers, possibly thinking of their compulsory military service coming soon, see this, and see their heroic army try to save the country when the celebrations by the ‘Arabs’ and Israelis inside the wall draw the attention of the zombies and basically ruins the until then amazing plan to save humanity, was a little too much but it was still ok because I have learned to not be shocked by anything. I learned to always expect the worst and so slowly I lost touch with how angry or shocked I should be at things like this.

A little later, having gotten bored with my laptop screen and the work I was doing on it, I noticed that their leader was sitting a chair away from me. I decided to start a conversation.

“I’m sorry. I heard you speak earlier. Was it Hebrew?”

“Yes, we’re from Israel,” she said smiling.

I smiled.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Palestine,” I said, slowly, waiting for her reaction which surely came as expected.

“ooh.. um, where from Palestine?” She asked.

I wasn’t sure how to answer this question or what to expect this time. But I answered.


“Oh waw, that’s special… waw. What are you doing in Oxford?”

“I’m a student here.” I said, still smiling.

We carried on the conversation in which I was told she had just finished her service in the army in which she trained and worked as an air traffic manager. She was going to finish her studies and apply for med school “which is difficult to get into in Israel”.

“And all over the world,” I said.

She also wanted to go traveling. She asked where my family lives, how many siblings I have, what they do, how they were doing. She was surprised we have universities in Gaza and so many of them as well. And she thought we numbered one million rather than two.  She didn’t want to know more about my not being able to go home for four years and had no clue why Egypt would close the borders too. She then wanted to know about night life in Oxford.

Every now and then, I couldn’t suppress a sarcastic laugh or smile. Her ignorance amazed me.

This girl may not deserve my direct sentiments of disgust and anger. Maybe her ignorance is not her fault. Maybe. But since her comfortable life and her plans are made possible by the sheer misery of myself and everyone I know from and in Gaza at the moment, I could not walk away without feeling like I’ve just met a human that disregards other human beings as less worthy creatures, less worthy of the mere knowledge of their existence. Turning a complete blind eye to everything Israel does to ensure their slow psychological, social, and physical death. Not only pretending not to see it, but also participating, actively, in the military machine that makes it all possible and sustainable, to ensure a good life, a good future.

I listened to this young woman, so beautiful, and so full of life, speak about her future, and her worries and her travel plans knowing she lives an hour and a half away from where my friends who have the same dreams but none of the same certainty or the same worries. Knowing that the wall separating them does more than just physically chunking the land. The wall puts me and my friends on the unworthy side. The side that deserves to be punished, the side that is not allowed to pursue dreams or to even worry about those dreams because they will be too busy worrying about electricity, medicine, polluted water, food for the day even.

What made this encounter particularly hard to digest was also its timing. I have been reading tweets and facebook posts by friends in Gaza about the continuous power cuts that go on for 30 and more hours, the deaths that occurred after people who needed medical help abroad were denied permits to leave, about the possibility of landlines being cut as a result of the power shortage, the too polluted to swim in sea and subsequently water which will lead to the spread of diseases. I listened to this free human being knowing that most of the people I know back home are suffering severe mental health complications because of the amount of pressure that arises from everything that I’ve just mentioned. All of it only possible because of the collective punishment policy her government in the first place has carried on for ten years.

“Waw, this is very special,” she kept repeating. “I’ve never met anyone from Gaza.”

Yes, you never get to meet anyone from Gaza. You just get to bomb them.

Rawan Yaghi
About Rawan Yaghi

Rawan Yaghi is a Palestinian woman from Gaza. She graduated from Jesus College- Oxford, where she studied Italian and Linguistics and at which she was awarded the first Junior Members' Scholarship, a student led initiative to fund the studies of a student from Gaza. She is a Gaza-based writer. Fiction, journalism, and languages are among her interests. Follow her on Twitter at @larawanpal

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15 Responses

  1. Bumblebye
    July 14, 2017, 12:37 pm

    I am seeing some of this despair and depression in my own fb timeline.
    Zionist israel is a monstrous evil.
    The latest persistent threat is that internet access will be cut off entirely.

  2. Bumblebye
    July 15, 2017, 7:57 am

    “2million ppl in one of the worlds most resource wealthy lands are being starved or fed rotting food, wo water, wo electricity, dying #Gaza”

    No electricity – food rots.

  3. Ronald Johnson
    Ronald Johnson
    July 15, 2017, 11:05 am

    Relief may await the collapse of the USA Empire, a nation that can’t even do health care, nor education, nor democracy, but plenty good at dissipating resources in foreign wars to serve the interests of a Patrician oligarchy. When that collapse occurs, Israel will look for another sponsor, perhaps then to learn Mandarin.

    • Mooser
      July 15, 2017, 1:44 pm

      “Relief may await the collapse of the USA Empire, a nation that can’t even do health care, nor education, nor democracy, but plenty good at dissipating resources in foreign wars to serve the interests of a Patrician oligarchy”

      And won’t you be surprised when the “dissipating resources in foreign wars to serve the interests of a Patrician oligarchy” lasts long after “the nation that can’t even do health care, nor education, nor democracy” collapses!

    • Misterioso
      July 15, 2017, 1:51 pm

      “..perhaps then to learn Mandarin.”

      No chance. China will not pick up America’s “dirty laundry.” Its leadership knows full well that to be a “sponsor” of rogue/pariah Israel would be a major geopolitical blunder.

  4. Elizabeth Block
    Elizabeth Block
    July 15, 2017, 11:30 am

    Miko Peled was here, in Toronto, a few years ago, on his book tour. I asked him, “People tell me that Jewish Israelis don’t know what’s going on the occcupied territories. How can that be? They all serve in the army. They see it. They do it.”
    He said, “They know. They just think it’s OK.”

  5. JosephA
    July 15, 2017, 11:55 am

    Thank you for sharing, and may the situation get better when the world wakes up.

  6. Misterioso
    July 15, 2017, 1:52 pm

    For the record:

    As the respected human rights organization Human Rights Watch declared in 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

    The International Committee of the Red Cross: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.”

    “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015, correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

    “‘The significance of the [then proposed] disengagement plan [implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda….’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004)

  7. Ronald Johnson
    Ronald Johnson
    July 15, 2017, 3:54 pm

    Ah, but of course, you are correct. China lacks a Bible-believing base, anxious for Armageddon. The Jesuits did not prevail against Confucianism. America may be Israel’s last hope.


    • Misterioso
      July 15, 2017, 6:33 pm

      Russia ain’t stupid either.

    • gamal
      July 15, 2017, 9:45 pm

      “China lacks a Bible-believing base”

      and because China after a what 40 year collapse, during which she suffered grievously, regained her independence and a monk called Tanxu modernised buddhism and buddhist education, there really is no substitute for independence, now they launching satellites not fighting Mongols…like bloody Arabs.

      see here the worlds most independent man is also the world champion Smiler, he has no equal, dimples profound, please do not try this at home you are not equipped,… stop that train….

  8. CigarGod
    July 16, 2017, 8:59 am

    You write beautifully and powerfully.

  9. annie
    May 18, 2018, 12:54 am

    this is one of my favorite articles of rawan’s. ever.

  10. catalan
    May 18, 2018, 9:21 am

    “Every now and then, I couldn’t suppress a sarcastic laugh or smile.”
    You won’t make a lot of friends that way.

    • Mooser
      May 18, 2018, 4:31 pm

      “You won’t make a lot of friends that way.” “catalan”

      Darn, I’m stymied here. If I make a crack about “catalan’s” sadistic sarcasms, he will then coldly inform me: ‘I didn’t come here to make friends’.

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