Why I stay in Gaza

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The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. (illustration: Michelle Thompson / NY Times; photo: ymphotos / Shutterstock)

Life in Gaza is hard. Then it gets worse and we think it’s intolerable. Then it gets even worse.

By Atef Abu Saif | The New York Times | Mar 21, 2018


[My best student has] been trying to leave [Gaza], legally, through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt for five years. But the border is closed much of the time — last year, it was opened for a total of just over 30 days. . . . The other exit is via Erez, into Israel, and then onward to Jordan. That’s an even harder way to go. Again, you need permits. Until recently you first needed a permit from Hamas. Then there’s the permit from Israel. And then the one from Jordan. My student has never been able to get even the first of those.


“Are you still living there?” he asks.

“Where else should I live?” I answer.

It’s the same conversation I have every time I catch up with this one Palestinian friend in France. Same question, same answer. Life in Gaza is hard. Then it gets worse and we think it’s intolerable. Then it gets even worse. . . .

“You must be tempted to leave,” my friend says.

When so many basic things are so fundamentally beyond your control, you sometimes do feel like giving up, saying goodbye to both country and past, and letting Palestine go. The problem is, Palestine won’t let you go.

My younger brother Ibrahim studied English literature hoping to become a teacher. It’s been nine years since he graduated, and he still has had no teaching job. He recently started working at a TV repair shop after trying reporting, translating and being a cashier in a supermarket. He spends most of the day fixing satellite dishes for customers in the Jabaliya refugee camp, where he and I and our other eight siblings grew up, and where most of our family still lives. “It’s better than nothing,” he says. Many people here say that.

I teach political science at Al Azhar University. My introductory course sometimes has 200 students. When I ask them what they want to do after graduation they say, “nothing.” When I meet former students years after they have graduated and ask them, “what did you end up doing?” they, too, say, “nothing.” Even the brightest ones wind up jobless, or at least careerless, scratching a living from dirt.

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