It was a bloody June a decade ago when I last visited my home in Gaza. Violence broke out between clashing Palestinian factions. I lost family members in the bloodshed and was dismayed at the uncertainties that would follow.
The immediate response included a blockade of the territory, from both the Israelis and the Egyptians. Since then, Gaza has been shut off and isolated. For many years I have been one of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza who are unable to go home.
I hope that one day, my two daughters can visit Gaza and their family members who still live there. My parents are aging every day and have never seen them. Despite the sad circumstances that keep us all apart, I know that my daughters are fortunate to have been born in the United States. I can’t help but wonder what their lives would be like if they were born where I was.
One of the most striking parts of daily life in Gaza is the electricity crisis. There have long been daily power cuts, but never as bad as they are now. For the past several months, the people of Gaza have only been getting three to four hours of electricity per day. Each night, the bustling strip of land, housing over two million people, goes black. The only lights come from the lucky few who can afford generators. Those few lit windows stand out against the dark.
Now it’s winter and families are struggling to keep warm at night without electricity and with limited gas for heating. Candles and fireplaces are a hazard, especially in homes with small children. Each night brings high risks.
One of my girls is a newborn, born on Election Day. What would happen if she were to wake up at night, needing a bottle of warm milk? We’d have to brainstorm every night on how to deliver this basic necessity to our baby. Electricity schedules would need to be memorized—though it might be futile, because of the irregularity. No doubt, our baby girl would quickly learn what it’s like to be deprived, like many of the other children in Gaza.
Safe Spaces to Learn and Play
Our elder daughter is just three years old and will soon be going to preschool. Luckily, it’s not hard to find one here in our neighborhood in the States. But in Gaza, there aren’t enough schools for the growing young population. Sometimes schools have been casualties of war, too.
In the last war of 2014, the few preschools of Shejaiya were destroyed, along with much of the area. It left no place to learn for the young children of that district. However the organization I work for, American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), has stepped in. We have rebuilt the Young Stars preschool of Shejaiya, so now 100 children have a safe space to learn.
Kids also need safe spaces to play and socialize, like playgrounds. These are even more important in a volatile place like Gaza, where kids often suffer trauma from the wars. Yet playgrounds are hard to find there. Over here in the USA, our daughter never has to go far to glide on a swingset, go down a slide, and make friends.
There’s one Gaza playground in particular that comes to mind. The playground at Shejaiya’s Right to Live Society serves children with Down’s Syndrome and is the only facility of its kind in Gaza. It was also bombed during the last war, and ANERA stepped in to rebuild it recently.
Access to 24/7 Health Care
But the biggest gift my daughters have is access to good quality health care. It’s something that is easy to take for granted, in a place where shelves are always stocked with medicines and doctors are on-call. Gaza’s hospitals, on the other hand, are often short on medicines and equipment. Restrictions from the blockade make it hard to even transport medicines there. And the constant power cuts make it very difficult to run a hospital. The sick and the injured cannot afford to wait for the power to come back on.
As I reflect on the many choices and possibilities my daughters have from being born here, I realize what a blessing it is. I feel unworthy, thinking of my nieces and nephews in Gaza, who live a very different life.