Fighting for a Home in Gaza
Credit: Photo taken by Emily Heath
An interview with Faris Alsayed
“I’ve lived in Gaza for 15 years, most of my life, and seen the effects of the conflict there: unfortunately, I had friends who joined Hamas, I had a classmate, his entire family died—the Israelis said they were defending themselves but in the process of destroying the terrorist tunnels, as they call them, in Gaza they killed civilians on the way.”
There are always unseen sides of a conflict, especially with a conflict that has been present for a long time such as the Israel – Palestine conflict. Many have suffered and the issue is still restless, however Kent Liberty Union, Kent Jewish Society, and the Kent Palestinian Society sought to bring the two opposing sides to the table for a discussion, hosting Michael Freeman as the Israeli representative and Meisoon Elshorafa as the Palestinian representative.
Having attended the Israeli – Palestinian discussion on the 5th of December, Faris Alsayed was eager to share his own opinions and experiences from living in Gaza—however, he felt there was not enough opportunities for him to begin a discussion with the Israeli representative. His ardent desire to speak was evident during the Q and A session and he had a very good reason for it.
“I went through these three wars (2008, 2012, and 2014). I have survived all of them. That is the reason why I was dying to speak. That’s why I wanted to talk about Gaza as well, because I still have family and friends who are living there.” There is the persisting issue of those that remain trapped in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of those who are denied freedom, a matter which Faris wished to bring forth.
His initial reaction to the meeting was that of excitement. “It doesn’t happen very often: a meeting between Palestinian and Israeli officials. Palestinians, furthermore, have their voice silenced, especially Palestinians who are still in Palestine. This is an opportunity for us to talk for the people who can’t express their views.”
He was also “very excited to hear the other side’s views.” However, it turned out to be rather disappointing for him, due to the manner in which Freeman replied to his questions. The tension in the room was overwhelming and Freeman responded to his questions with stock phrases and repeated arguments, leaving many of them unanswered.
Many aspects of the conflict were touched upon during the discussion, including the limitations that are forced on Palestinians by the Israeli government, which challenge the safety of the life of the civilians on both sides. “The people who suffer the most are civilians. It’s not really a war because there is no balance of power.” The possibility of peace has also been brought up and Faris stated that he has “always believed that peace can happen but every day I see the policies of the Israeli government against the Palestinians, against peaceful protests in Gaza, against journalists and medics. And I just keep losing faith. I am hoping to live in peace, even though I don’t see it happening anytime soon.”
If peace is truly intended by Israel, it “has to give up more than they have claimed to give up. They haven’t given up anything really. We are left with very small pieces, the Gaza and the West bank. If you really are keen on maintaining the peace then you just don’t go on and take more land.”
On the issue of Hamas which both Elshorafa and Freeman touched upon, we are given an insight into the drama of the civilians, the difficulties that they have to deal with and the reasons why some might join Hamas. “People join out of depression, out of revenge. When you’re hopeless and you have nothing to believe in, you will believe whatever they throw in front of you, and this is one of the reasons extremism still arises in the area”. It has reached to a point where the confinement that the people in the Gaza strip face, has led to the uprising of extremist forces.
There is also an arising and alarming issue of the liberties that Israelis take into Palestinian territories. “The Palestinian authority gave up most of its land through Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. So Israelis can get in with their jeeps and kidnap children, or people that they consider suspicious, and take them to the Israeli military court while the Palestinian police or authority are not be able to do anything about this.”
The injustice that has been committed in this manner is, in many cases, invisible to the eyes of the public. For a war that has been prominent in current affairs, there are many countries which take no notice of this dispute and do not educate their populations about it—increasing the likelihood of atrocities being committed without prosecution. The truth of the war lies somewhere in between, for both sides have different stories, reasons and intentions, both equal in strength of the belief of certainty . The best way to understand what is truly going on is “to visit”. “Visit the place, and go into the Palestinian territories, because once you visit Israel they will tell you that ‘there is a lot of terrorism, a lot of extremists’ but that is not the case.”
When asked whether Palestinians and Israeli people get along or would ever be able to reach a state of friendship, Alsayed narrates a personal story, involving a Jewish classmate during his studies in England. “I didn’t like it at first but then we got along. We didn’t really become friends even though we had common friends. Personally, for me there was always a difference.” What made the most heart-breaking distinction between the two was that “she was able to go back home every weekend or so, while I cannot return to Gaza.”
It is not the identity or the culture of the Israelis nor of the Palestinians that maintains the conflict. It is the need of a home, a place to which they can link their culture, memories of traditions and habits. As Faris claims, “my problem as a Palestinian is not with Jews. I am not a man of religion, I respect everyone’s beliefs and religious views. My problem is with Israeli’s who support the occupation, the continuous mistreatment of the Palestinians and the land.”
“There has always been tension around the Palestinian and Israeli conflict but I believe the more we talk about it the more people know about these things, the possibility of peace occurring between both sides is increasing. The previous generations have to give to the new ones some point and its up for the new ones to establish peace.”
Unable to return to a place called home, forced to witness violence and conflict from a young age, as many are constrained to in the current politico-military affairs across the globe, Faris was fortunate enough to leave Gaza through an American scholarship.
“I am not able to go back to Gaza anymore, I would risk my status in the UK, my future.” Michael Freeman claimed that the Palestinians have been given space after the Israeli troops had retreated, however “people are stuck in that area. Israelis give permission to go to Gaza only in case there is a family death. They don’t allow visits, unless it is an extreme case. To this day, we don’t have an airport, we don’t have a seaport. Fishermen are denied the ability to go fishing after 6 miles. There is a blockade, there is a siege. Freeman said they withdrew from Gaza in a peaceful manner to give the people the land back, but then Hamas startled smuggling weapons. And I wanted to tell him, that you as a country, who have spent billions of dollars with the help of the Americans on nuclear weapons, air forces, naval forces and armed forces, are afraid of homemade or handmade rockets.”
“We’ve suffered in large numbers. If something happens to an Israeli citizen you see it all over the news, but if it’s a Palestinian, is just a matter of numbers now. People just see it all the time. It’s wrong. Freeman spoke of Palestinians being given rights however, we are deemed as second class citizens and don’t get to vote. And the rest of the Israeli Arabs in Jerusalem are being heavily taxed in order to leave their houses to maintain Jewish majority in the area.”
Of course, there are many despondent stories of the conflict and the pain coming from both sides, and this is just one of, but there are countless of stories like Faris’s, some with a far worse outcome. This story is part of a conflict that has been initiated by victims trying to find a home, stripping other people of their culture and land. A story in which you cannot easily point out the villain, a conflict which is complex and requires complex answers. But the beginning of the conflict is simple: it started with the importance and necessity of a home.