“The war in 2014 was the most vicious of them all. I was afraid for my life more than ever. It was like bombs everywhere and there was no specific target,” said Mo’men Ashour, 21 years old, who was born and raised in Gaza.
Ashour is studying English Literature in Gaza. Growing up in a city like Gaza was far from the childhood he was dreaming. For him every day was full of desperation and agony about what would happen next and when all the conflicts would end.
“When I was six I heard about the Intifada or the ‘Up rise’ in 2000.” The revolution of the Palestinians in order to claim their occupied lands is called ‘The stone up rise’, because they used stones in order to fight the invaders. “A lot of people died that time. And I was a little kid hearing people talking about it. And my biggest fear was that my turn will come and that me and my family would be dead. I thought the massacres of 1948 and 1967 would happen again and I would find myself obliged to leave Gaza. It is a heavy burden for a six year-old boy.”
Fear did not stop at the age of six for Ashour. It goes on and on up to today, as war has never stopped in Gaza. Bombardments are being repeated nearly every two years.
“Whenever I try to forget about it another dreadful thing happens to renew the sentiments of insecurity and fear. Aggressions in Gaza were repeated in 2008, 2012, and 2014. And thanks to God, I haven’t lost any family members. But I lost friends and people I knew and talked to. One of my colleagues lost his entire family.”
Ashour recalls what happened in Gaza back in 2008 vividly. By the time the bombings started he was at school. Suddenly, he heard a huge blast. The police station next to the school had been bombed and nearly 200 police officers lost their lives in seconds.
“It was a difficult experience. I heard a huge explosion and then people screaming. I wasn’t aware of what is happening till the teacher told us to go to the field. My brother was in the same school with me, my little brother. I ran like crazy looking for him and after 20 minutes, while the explosions were 50 meters away.”
Immediately after finding his brother he started looking for his little sister. She was in a school 5 meters away, but he was not able to find her. Thus, he decided to take his brother back home and return for her.
“I carried on looking for her between hundreds of students running in the streets. Luckily on my way home I found her with my mum who was going to look for us and we all got home safe. It was a traumatizing period because it was my first experience in such a thing. In that brutality 1500 people were killed.”
Despite the difficulties that he had to face since a very young age Ashour never gave up. He decided that he wanted to enter university and move on with his life, as he was aware that conflicts will continue in Gaza in the future.
“I still need to get my education and try as much as possible to pretend to live a normal life;which by the way is a lie because I will never have a normal life.”
Ashour never dreamed of studying English literature. His dream is to become an actor, but he does not even dare to say it out loud.
“In Gaza it does not matter what you like to do. When I graduated from high school I needed to choose a major to study. And I was very good in English; so I choose it. May my words in this famous language change my life.”
He describes his everyday life in Gaza city as tedious, dull, and boring. For him every day is a new disappointment as he is failing to find any ways to pass time. He captured the following photo from his window:
“See? Not even a single green land! There are no parks and everything is gray. I try to fill my time with self-activities and recently I started to learn guitar. Sometimes I go to the gym but the problem is that all the places with good entertainment require a lot of money which I can’t afford to pay, as unemployment rates are very high in Gaza. Almost 60% of Gaza’s graduates are unemployed over the last 7 years. I’ve been looking for a job for a year and a half as a translator but I can’t find anything.”
And as life goes by a new round of conflicts came to upset daily routine in Gaza in 2014. Ashour was at the barber’s when he heard the first explosion and right from the very first moment he knew that Gaza was dealing with a new war.
“Thank God the barber didn’t cut my neck. I went outside the barbershop and saw heavy smoke. I was depressed, every couple of years a war. Entire towers were bombarded and they simply vanished. In a moment a tower of 15 storeys was there and the next moment it was gone. The sky was red during night time. All sides of the city were on fire. I saw people marching their way to hospitals as a shelter to escape from this but a lot of people were killed and buried under their homes. An apartment, 10 meters away, was hit that day. A pregnant woman with her husband and their children died. I saw people taking the bodies out of the place. The war lasted for 60 days and 2000 people died at that time.”
However, for Ashour, life does not only include times of war. Like everyone he dreams about his future: a live outside of Gaza and a liberated Palestine.
“I want to travel” Ashour says. But he has been stuck in Gaza for 21 years, because he isn’t allowed to. “Obviously, Israelis and the Egyptians don’t allow us to travel, due to political issues. I can only travel for example in order to attend a college or become a member of a foreign organization. If I manage to gain a scholarship for a college it will be a miracle for me.”
Ideally, he dreams of finding a scholarship, and attending a Master’s abroad. Maybe even a PHD if possible.
“Every human has a goal to achieve” he simply remarks.
Nevertheless, Ashour believes he will come back one day. Even with the everyday difficulties in Gaza when there is no fighting, and despite the limitations of basic necessities: such as electricity; which is only available for 6-8 hours per day due to Israeli control of the area’s oil and power control.
“Eventually, it is my home and even if I go abroad I will return when I achieve my goal. I can’t get away from home forever. I have my family, friends, and my memories here. I have my soul here and if I go abroad my body will be there and I’ll leave my soul here.”
By Valia Papadopoulou