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Teenage girls in Gaza lament a ‘double siege’

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Selena Gomez’s “Kill Em With Kindness” played on an acoustic guitar blares out of an open window from a high-rise in Gaza City, the sound reaching the street nine floors below. Passers-by look up stunned, not because the tune is a pop song, but because of the female voice singing along to the strumming that clearly came from a person and not the radio.

The mystery singer is Yara Wisam, 17, who has been scolded by her parents on dozens of occasions, told to close her window–or at least sing in a softer voice when she is practicing renditions of Gomez or Britney Spears. They remind her the neighbors will talk; they tell her playing music is “shameful.”

Yet Yara does not obey, “How could that,” meaning music, “be a shame?”

Her bedroom is an explosion of various shades of pink. She lives in a middle-class building a quarter-mile from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ derelict Gaza residence in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. Since the government split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the villa has been turned into an army base, which means it is a target for Israeli fire during times of warfare.

Cascading her fingers over the guitar strings, she said the sounds of her instruments are relaxing.

“It’s smoother than a rocket falling next to our house at 3 a.m., and we wake up, like terrified,” she said.

Yara added that she believes her living conditions are the problem, not her music. She has relatives who have graduated from universities abroad. They told her about psychological differences between Palestinians who live under occupation and must endure the impact of a government in shambles. There are more rights for women in other parts of the Arab world, where women do not live under occupation, she said.

“Except Syria and Yemen,” she paused, noting two countries destabilized and devastated by war, “girls everywhere else are doing everything freely. They can play guitar on a street corner or even travel to Jerusalem–at the very least. I won’t even speak of traveling to Japan, I will only say Jerusalem.”

Yara Wisam (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Like many in her generation coming of age under Israel’s siege of Gaza, Yara longs to visit Jerusalem, which she regards as her closest opportunity to play her music in public without a nearby relative chiding her.  In 2007 Israel severely limited travel in and out of the coastal Mediterranean Strip after Hamas assumed power in Gaza and splintered off from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in a brief and bloody feud. Yara was in grade school at the time.

Exiting Gaza today is a cumbersome process and many Palestinians do not meet the limited categories that would allow them to see Jerusalem.

According to regulations outlined by Israel, Palestinians can leave Gaza for training for medical professionals, conducting business, obtaining a degree, and attending the wedding or funeral of a first-degree relative. But these permits are rare. By far the most common type of travel is allowed in extreme medical cases, wherein a Palestinian needs surgery or treatment for a terminal illness, and has been accepted as a patient in an Israeli hospital.

With this in mind, Yara does not see the point of applying for any type of exit document from the Israeli authorities. And so, she dreams of leaving Gaza but does not know how this can happen. And after living through three wars in Gaza since 2009, she wonders if hopelessness will get the best of her.

“I believe that a fourth war will happen with Israel and when people talk about it, it makes me lose confidence in everyone around, and I fear I will live dreamlessly,” Yara said. As of now, she said she hopes to find a way to move to Minnesota where she has relatives.

“They live freely without nightmares of a fourth, a fifth or a 90th war. My cousins can go jogging day or night, in whatever outfit they like,” she said.

Yara Wisam (L) and Roua Zien al-Din. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

With an electricity crisis across Gaza, Roua Zein al-Din (L) and Yara Wisam (R) stop to charge their phones when the power kicks on in their building. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Roua Zein el-Din, Yara’s close friend and classmate at a United Nations school who lives two miles away said the two can only meet in their bedrooms to freely play music, but it doesn’t happen as often as they would like. With an electricity crisis in Gaza leaving most homes with around four hours of power a day, Roua has to walk between apartments to the high-rise, and then walk up several flights if the elevator is out of service.

“If I plan to visit Yara on the ninth floor of an 11-story building, I end up canceling the idea if I have to climb 180 steps to get there,” Roua said. And it’s not just the physical exertion to get to the apartment, the heat in the stairwell is extreme. “Unless I catch the elevator while the power is running, I sweat off my Maybelline contouring makeup and my Escada Turquoise perfume spoils.”

Roua’s favorite musicians are pop sensations, Selena Gomez, Zayn Malik, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran.

“Once we play guitar music by these singers, we imagine a European or American atmosphere. In this room, we can shout loudly if Yara’s parents are out. We play so hard that we nearly break the guitar strings might and our throats grow raspy.

“We can practice like mad when we are inside and away from our patriarchal society, which is concerned with the outfit of girls, not their minds,” Roua said.

Unlike Yara, Roua has been able to travel to Jerusalem. She went twice in 2015 with her father, an owner of a cosmetics store, because he is a merchant and was able to secure a business exit permit. As Roua was under 16 at the time, she was allowed to go with him.

Back now back in Gaza for nearly three years, Roua said the siege over Gaza has a way of controlling her mind.

Yara Wisam (L) and Roua Zein al-Din (R) write down their aspirations on a bedroom wall. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

“We do not think that the other girls in Ramallah, Jerusalem, or in the whole world and what they are talking about, something silly like that,” said Roua. “There is no doubt that they have other interests that we do not know about because our minds are occupied.”

“We are sure they talk about fashion, the latest hairstyles, and the possibility to attend a Manchester United and Liverpool match. But here, even riding a bicycle is a dream. If we do we will be chased by the eyes of men,” she said.

As Roua finished her thought, Yara starts to speak, still playing her guitar.

“We do not feel normal. I think all of the teens [in Gaza] are mentally ill and because we all are infected we can’t figure out what normal feels like anymore,” Yara said.

Roua Zein al-Din glances over magazine covers showing distant locations. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

After the 2014 war in Gaza that lasted 51 days where 2,220 Palestinians were killed, 508 of them women, and 66 Israeli soldiers, four civilians including one Thai national were killed, Gaza’s children suffered immense psychological pressure.

The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme found 51 percent of Gaza’s children suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The stress manifests itself in several ways. In a 2015 survey by Save the Children, 75 percent of the children in the study said they wet their beds regularly. “ In one area, al-Shoka, nearly half the children interviewed wet the bed every night,” Save the Children reported

Farah Ayyad stands on a balcony at her home in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Another teenager and friend of Yara, Farah Ayyad, 18, said she is depressed all of the time. Farah lived in Cairo between 2006 and 2013. Her family fled during internal conflict among Palestinian factions. Now back in Gaza, she has had trouble adjusting and making new friends.

I met Farah in her grandfather’s house western Gaza when she dropped in for lunch. She says that her movement during the week does not exceed going between the two houses.

“Today I have no friends, except for on Facebook, of whom I met in Cairo. They feel sorry that I am not able to go back to Cairo and play football with them at our club there,” she said.

“My Egyptian friends used to send me video of them playing in the club,” Farah added.

Farah Ayyad with her siblings in their home. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Like other teens, Farah dreams of traveling outside of Gaza, but the Rafah crossing with Egypt through which she left 11 years ago, is sparingly open.

The Israeli human rights organization Gisha that monitors Palestinian movement from Gaza found, “During the first quarter of 2017, the crossing was open for 11 non-consecutive days in total.”

Even with a recent announcement from Egypt to allow for more Palestinians travelers,  her dreams of traveling to the Maldives, Dubai, and Greece have vanished.

“In Gaza, everything is negative. Even if you imagine something beautiful, the buzz of the drones overhead will make you worried” she added. “If I stand on the beach at night with my family, we can see the lights from the Israeli city of Ashkelon, of course, they live as they like.”

Mirna al-Khairi. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

Mirna al-Khairi. (Photo: Mohammed Assad)

The malaise among girls in Gaza extends to young women.

Mirna al-Khairi, 20, who lives in her grandfather’s house surrounded by lemon and guava trees, has also dreams, but the inability to achieve them has made her an introvert, she tells me.

Mirna, who studies IT in the Islamic University of Gaza, said she would rather study acting at Birzeit University in Ramallah, in the West Bank. “But the lack of a specialized institute in Gaza and the impossibility to move to Ramallah, as well as the society’s refusal to accept a local actress on TV restricts even my mind,” Mirna said.

“I think freedom for girls [in Gaza] can come outside this big prison…outside these 360 square kilometers [139 square miles],” Mirna said.

About Ahmad Kabariti

Ahmad Kabariti is a freelance journalist based in Gaza.

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34 Responses

  1. philweiss
    September 1, 2017, 1:26 pm

    Astounding report, thank you Ahmad. This story made clearer than anything I have read in the western press that people in Gaza are…. just people. Subject to some of the most inhumane treatment anywhere on the planet. The idea of Roua’s Escada perfume and Maybelline makeup running b/c she has to climb 11 floors made me laugh — and made me angry too. When is 60 Minutes going to tell us about these girls who yearn to lead full lives?

    • annie
      September 1, 2017, 1:46 pm

      i agree. and love the photos by mohammed assad. did you see that portrait of yara in the 2nd photo? it looks just like her. i wonder if it is a self portrait. whatever, whoever drew that is very talented.

      • bintbiba
        September 2, 2017, 8:40 am

        My heart breaks so many times a day that I do not know how long it will last me before it blows In the wind !

      • Misterioso
        September 2, 2017, 2:29 pm


        I’ve had the great honour and pleasure to meet several Palestinian girls and women.
        In short, they are the backbone of their people!!

      • annie
        September 3, 2017, 6:43 pm

        so sweet to hear from you bintbiba

        misterioso, me too, and yes i know. i am very worried about one right now, a very good friend of mine…

      • Bont Eastlake
        Bont Eastlake
        September 5, 2017, 1:29 am

        Also, I wish the world could see more intimately the lifes in your typical Palestinian household and discover how its the women who are running things and the mother being the highest authority.

        It would destroy the myth of submissive Arab/Muslim women in an instant!

      • Mooser
        September 5, 2017, 12:08 pm

        ” discover how its the women who are running things and the mother being the highest authority”

        Who must know the way to make a proper home,
        A quiet home, a halal home?
        Who must raise the family and run the home,
        While Papa’s imprisoned by the Israelis?
        The Mama, the Mama!

    • m1945
      September 2, 2017, 3:55 pm

      Philip Weiss

      When will Palestinians realize that Jews are just people?
      Jews are not your dogs. Jews are not descendants of apes & pigs.

      • Misterioso
        September 2, 2017, 4:53 pm

        @Jack Green

        You’re right Jack, Jews are “just people.” Indeed, it’s most gratifying to see that more and more Jews all over the world are becoming dedicated supporters of the Palestinians. It’s the Zionists who are the thieves, thugs, mass murderers, illegal/brutal occupiers, ethnic cleansers and serial violators of hard won international law.

      • amigo
        September 2, 2017, 6:34 pm

        “When will Palestinians realize that Jews are just people”jacko

        The question you should ask , is when will Zionists see all non Jews as just people.

        “Jews are not your dogs. Jews are not descendants of apes & pigs.” jacko.

        You need to be more respectful , jacko.PW runs this site and he may not appreciate you putting words in his mouth.

        Btw , last I heard , we are all descended from Apes.

      • Mooser
        September 2, 2017, 7:00 pm

        ” Jews are not descendants of apes”

        “Jack” please do contend that we are better than other people. That’s always worked out well for us.

      • eljay
        September 2, 2017, 8:20 pm

        || Jack Green: … When will Palestinians realize that Jews are just people? … ||

        When will Zionists realize that Jews – like non-Jews – are just people?

      • RoHa
        September 3, 2017, 12:43 am

        We are all descended from the Gods, so we are all sacred.

        Of course, some (the Japanese) are in a more direct line from Amaterasu than others, and so are more divine than the rest of us. A Member Of My Household reminds me of this from time to time.

      • m1945
        September 3, 2017, 6:23 pm


        Evidence that the occupation is illegal?

      • annie
        September 3, 2017, 6:46 pm

        jack, is everything an opportunity for you to talk about jews? even an article about young gaza girls and for you it’s all about jews. just listen why don’t you.

      • amigo
        September 4, 2017, 8:45 am

        “Evidence that the occupation is illegal?” jacko.

        “The international community considers the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories illegal under international law, because the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits countries from moving population into territories occupied in a war.[1][2][3][4][5] Israel maintains that they are consistent with international law[6] because it does not agree that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the territories occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.[7] The United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and the High Contracting Parties to the Convention have all affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply.[8][9]

        Numerous UN resolutions have stated that the building and existence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are a violation of international law, including UN Security Council resolutions in 1979, 1980,[10][11][12] and 2016.[13][14] UN Security Council Resolution 446 refers to the Fourth Geneva Convention as the applicable international legal instrument, and calls upon Israel to desist from transferring its own population into the territories or changing their demographic makeup. The reconvened Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions has declared the settlements illegal[15] as has the primary judicial organ of the UN, the International Court of Justice[16] and the International Committee of the Red Cross.” wiki

        Clearly , if the Intl community sided with Israel,s lone position , you would be espousing the virtues of the Intl community.

        Ye olde zionist hypocrite.Wants to eat his cake and still have it.

      • Mooser
        September 5, 2017, 12:15 pm

        “We are all descended from the Gods, so we are all sacred.”

        Well, maybe you descended. I’m pretty sure I was pushed.

  2. JosephA
    September 1, 2017, 11:56 pm

    Dear Ahmad, thanks for the detailed reporting. The world needs to get to know real Gazans. Otherwise, it is “out of sight, out of mind”. Keep up the good work!

    • m1945
      September 4, 2017, 10:35 pm


      Israel has NOT moved or transferred Israelis to the West Bank.
      Israelis moved to the West Bank of their own accord.

      • annie
        September 5, 2017, 1:08 am

        Israelis moved to the West Bank of their own accord.

        gov offers them uber generous loans to move to the settlements. israel bribes them to come live there, subsidizes them without a doubt.

      • Bont Eastlake
        Bont Eastlake
        September 5, 2017, 1:31 am

        Using free money they get from Canada, USA, Australia, UK and so on. Don’t forget the rabbit hole goes much deeper, much further from Tel Aviv.

      • eljay
        September 5, 2017, 7:22 am

        || Jack Green: … Israel has NOT moved or transferred Israelis to the West Bank.
        Israelis moved to the West Bank of their own accord. ||

        You can’t really be this stupid…can you? Jewish Israelis “moved to the West Bank of their own accord” because their colonialist “Jewish State” government:
        – militarily occupies the West Bank; and
        – allows (if not outright encourages) Jewish colonization of the West Bank.

      • amigo
        September 5, 2017, 10:29 am

        “Israel has NOT moved or transferred Israelis to the West Bank.”

        I agree , if you are referring to Non Jewish Israelis.

        “Israelis moved to the West Bank of their own accord.” jacko

        Evidence please that Israelis (Jewish ) moved to the OCCUPIED WB , of their own accord.

        Btw, no bible references or the usual links to hasbara sites.

      • amigo
        September 5, 2017, 11:19 am

        “Israel has NOT moved or transferred Israelis to the West Bank.
        Israelis moved to the West Bank of their own accord.”jacko.

        hmmm, Nietanyahu seems to think he is behind the project.

        What could he mean Jacko.

        “d. “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”Likud Charter.

        Why, just last week , he bragged that The illegal squatters will never be uprooted.So if as you claim, 700,000 Israelis moved of their own accord and plonked themselves amidst a sea of violent Arab terrorists –risking their lives and those of their children and at a huge cost to the state of Israel , why did Israel not tell these folks they were on their own.

        Jacko , do you really think everyone here is a moron and the people who read MW are fools.

      • amigo
        September 5, 2017, 11:32 am

        “Israelis moved to the West Bank of their own accord.” jacko.

        Okay , so how come some Settlements are “Legal ” according to Israeli Law and some are Illegal.This would suggest to even the most brainless idiot on the planet that Israel decides who goes where in the O/T and the illegal squatters do not decide to go there of their own volition.

        Of course it should be pointed out that they are all Illegal according to the rest of the planet–even the USA (who abstained), from voting on UNSCR 2334 -Which states that all settlements in occupied Palestine are ILLEGAL.

        Why do you spend so much effort making Jews look dumb.

      • m1945
        September 5, 2017, 2:23 pm


        If a man decides to move from Chicago to the West Bank which is militarily occupied by Israel, do we say that this man has been transferred? Of course not!

      • eljay
        September 5, 2017, 3:14 pm

        || Jack Green: Eljay … ||


        || … If a man decides to move from Chicago to the West Bank which is militarily occupied by Israel, do we say that this man has been transferred? Of course not! ||

        If the man from Chicago has Israel’s permission to move to the West Bank – which is militarily-occupied by Israel – and he does so with the intention of helping Israel to colonize it, do we say he’s a colonist and that the West Bank is militarily-occupied by Israel? Of course we do!

      • Talkback
        September 6, 2017, 11:40 am

        Jack Green: “Israel has NOT moved or transferred Israelis to the West Bank.
        Israelis moved to the West Bank of their own accord.”

        In this case it’s not about the crime that an occuping power moves/expells/deports its own citizens to an occupied territory, but about the crime of colonizing territories under occupation by citizens of the occupying power with its support and under its protection.

        Do you understand why this is considered to be a war crime since the Nuremberg trials (“Germanization of occupied territories”)?

  3. TonyRiley
    September 2, 2017, 10:35 am

    Even she doesn’t blame Israel, for she knows that her life is only a consequence of being ruled by Hamas, with the explicit support of Mondoweiss, which will always blame Israel, even though we all know this is purely the fault of the Palestinians.

    The only way there will be a 4th war, started by Hamas, is if Hamas chooses that route, instead of admitting that it has totally destroyed Gaza.

    • Misterioso
      September 2, 2017, 2:42 pm


      At least you’re consistent, consistently wrong.

      To wit:

      Hostilities between Hamas and Israel are a consequence of Israel’s illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip and its oppression of the native inhabitants, e.g., inflicting Collective Punishments in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is binding on all UN members and has been ratified by Israel.

      Human Rights Watch, 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)

      Also: In its revised Charter, April, 2017, Hamas agreed to a Palestinian state based on the 4 June 1967 borders. Not surprisingly, Israel promptly rejected the Hamas overture instead of using it to open a dialogue.

  4. Boris
    September 4, 2017, 2:15 pm

    She wants to play her guitar in Jerusalem!?!

    How sweet!

    The suicide bomber who killed 21 kids in Delpinarium Disco in Tel-Aviv brought his bomb in a drum.

  5. just
    September 4, 2017, 5:05 pm

    A truly and achingly wonderful report, Ahmad. Thank you very much for this.

    I just read this @ Haaretz by Muhammad Shehada:

    “Opinion ‘All the Colors Have Been Washed Out of Our Celebrations’: My Family’s Eid in Gaza

    My mother spent two days cleaning and baking maamoul on her own, then waited for a knock on our door. But none came. After years of the blockade and its privations, those who are left won’t visit empty-handed – and they have nothing to bring …

    On top of the day-to-day hardships that Gaza’s people face there’s other, painful losses born of that hardship threaten to become irreversible: the social and cultural ties between its people. There’s only one clear and simple way to save Gaza from losing its social cohesion: Open the borders, rather than finding reasons to keep them closed. Those ‘reasons’ have no evident justification apart from punishing the entire population of Gaza.”

    read more:

  6. just
    September 4, 2017, 5:48 pm

    A little O/T. (Only a little):

    “Jewish Voice for Peace Urges Young Jews to Boycott Birthright Israel

    Campaign #ReturnTheBirthright declares ‘it is fundamentally unjust that we are given a free trip to Israel while Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homes’ …

    … Ben Lorber, JVP campus organizer, said that the new national campaign grew out of a number of local anti-Birthright initiatives on individual campuses, which inspired the group to take the movement to campuses across the country.

    “This is something that Jewish students have been talking about and acting on for a while,” Lorber said. “It is a fundamental injustice that we as young Jews are offered these free trips and can become citizens of Israel if we choose to later on, while our Palestinian friends and classmates are denied the same connection to the land their parents or grandparents come from.”

    The campaign, he added, is, in addition to students, aimed at young Jewish adults post-university who may be thinking of travelling on Birthright. Lorber, in his late 20s, said that he personally had chosen not to travel on Birthright during the years he was eligible.

    “It was a conscious decision. I was very disappointed at the advertising I saw telling me, ‘look at this happy free trip, you can go to the beach, hike on Masada, connect your homeland,’ while the Palestinians I knew had relatives who were being bombed in Gaza, and couldn’t visit Jerusalem.”

    In contrast, the head of another Jewish student organization, J Street U, which bills itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” said he did not believe young Jews should be dissuaded from travelling to Israel through Birthright.

    Ben Elkind, J Street U director, said that for him, taking a Birthright trip was “an important piece of my engaging around Israel and the broader Israeli Palestinian conflict” and that he believes “it is important to encourage students to engage rather than not engage” with the issue. …”

    read more:

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