Besieged in Freedom
(Image source: Aljazeera)
One month ago, I decided I’m going off social media. I had a long and exhausting past year full of unfortunate events, personal and what not. It was actually Syria that brought my mind and soul to the verge of total collapse. Nothing compares to being there, in the war zone I mean. Yet as someone who could somehow relate to the situation there I just couldn’t handle the silence, complicity, and the shameful long and boring standing ovation by a handful of people to the slaughter and murder of innocent Syrians. They made social media my hell.
So I left. Call me a coward. I got tired. Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Egypt, immigrants sinking in the Mediterranean, Neo-Nazis, US elections, starvation, friends from home sending messages seeking my help in finding a way out of their miseries, people who wanted just to rant. This was in addition to my New York days: subways, grumpy faces, delays on the train, the scene of talking rats feeding on what remained of a Popeyes box which was set to land down the platform by one grumpy commuter.
The past 28 years of my twenty-eight long-short life have been turbulent. I think I need a break. I spent almost my entire life in Gaza before I moved to the US. The last seven years of them were years of siege and blockade. The years of my childhood, teenage-hood, and undergraduate college passed heavily as I witnessed to the burdens of a long second Intifida, Hamas-Fatah division, three Israeli assaults on the Strip, and that of course in addition to all the packages of grief, trauma(s), psychological and emotional exhaustion that accompany these eventful events. By the time I left Gaza I felt old and tired. Every day was minus eighteen hours of electricity, minus decent showers, minus decent nutrition, minus access to the outside world, minus dignity, freedom, and basic rights.
I wanted to leave. I was selfish. But in my selfishness I wanted to do something that would, somehow benefit my people. Perhaps this was how I self-justified. Who cares? I left to pursue my graduate studies in a land I only heard of and learned about during my daily six hours of electricity. America with all its contradictions, it was. We (perhaps it was only me) usually avoided thinking so much about these contradictions. Like the rest of the subjects of the global order upon whose throne America reigns we moved on and kept moving on. We graciously consumed the exported cultures, products, and ideas (most of the time out of their original contexts). Healthy or not, that bottle of Heinz Ketchup had to be a regular member of our fridge. In it resided a metaphor for imperialism: comes to your country, pretends to be sweet, but carries nothing but death and destruction in its essence. Yet who would eat their fries without that thick red sweet substance? “Spare us the philosophy, you philosopher of your era” my Palestinian friend would say while stuffing his mouth with a clump of fries dripping with ketchup.
I hated life in Gaza. It was horrible there. I wanted to be free. The notion of freedom was foreign to my mind. My brain woke up to a reality of checkpoints, walls, fences, borders and borders doubled. I hated my life there. And I hated it more when media expanded with the arrival of Satellite television and Internet. I had to sit in front of the screen and just look at other people from all over the world doing cool stuff—traveling was THE dream, and the nightmare at the same time. Traveling outside Gaza is still a nightmare. It’s not easy. I’m not going to say why and explain how. This will take two more articles. I was envious as hell of those people from outside Gaza who became my friends on social media. I hated it. So I wanted to leave. And I attempted leaving many times but I couldn’t.
After a series of dramatic and ironic chain of events I found myself in the Big Apple. I moved to New York in 2013 to pursue my graduate degree. It took me eight long months to get my US visa after a long boring, gratuitous, and humiliating process that included all sorts of sadistic back-and-forths between me the weak individual person, and the entire Israeli security apparatus that for some reason saw in my harmless-self a potential threat. They didn’t know that when I find a cockroach in my apartment I slide a thin piece of paper underneath it and gently allow it to leave my space with no blood spilled.
I found myself in Manhattan– grumpy faces, rats, and whatnot. And I finally thought I was free. I can finally not worry about the drone and the high possibility of a sudden death by a missile dropping-by. I was happy and content. I can do things and go to places. In my first few months I enjoyed the luxuries of undisrupted power supply and water. I danced with joy in the tub when I had my first shower with water that didn’t include the mixture of sewage and salty sea water in it in addition to so much chemicals to yield against this shitty and salty mixture. Fresh water. Fresh beginnings.
Few weeks after my freedom hangover was over I discovered that New York was never short on reminders of my future past. I found myself caught again in the Palestine question. Talks, events, and protests. I had to. My people were still under occupation and it could have been so selfish of me to just embrace freedom and move on. My family and their two-million other fellow-Gazans got brutally bombed in 2014 while I was attending a Hebrew language program. I started to realize that people aren’t that nice here. I was attacked (emotionally) by some people who weren’t happy I was complaining about tons of TNT being dropped on my parents, two brothers, and one sixteen year old sister. But I moved on.
No I couldn’t move on. There are children in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. I saw their faces. Looking at them resurrects the past fears inside me. I couldn’t detach. Even if I wanted to, my angry teenager younger brother would give me a weekly phone call that would ruin the rest of the week (pre and post phone call). He would complain again about the very things that made me leave: power shortage, water, etc. But this time things were more intense. I got tired. I have this deadline approaching and I have tons of readings. And now I was doing first world things like worrying about my career future.
By the end of 2016 things reached their climax in its most climactic levels. I couldn’t take it anymore. So I deactivated social media and my resolutions for 2017 were basically about self-care (I even registered for meditation) and eating healthy (as in more protein less carbs). I deactivated Facebook because it was toxic, and I already hated Twitter because I always thought that twitter works for kids, trolls, and Trump. Speaking of Trump. Yeah. The elephant in the Galaxy.
That dude just ruined my peaceful transition into the healthy lifestyle I hoped for. In the past few days my temporary solitude was disrupted by the not so tremendous developments with regards to Trump’s beef (in the form of Trump stakes) with almost a billion and a half personas from all across our lovely planet. I was like: seriously. Bans and bannons, executive orders, Muslims chased and demonized, and more uncertainty threw its dark shades over our already unhappy doomed planet. Muslims, dolphins, and polar bears are to be the most affected. All need effective lobbyists on the hell now.
No, but seriously. Put cynicism and sarcasm aside. Seriously. Now I’m back to square siege. Myself and many Muslim-looking people from a country called Africa are haunted by looks, stares, uncertainties, and gloomy futures. Although we had nothing to do with their with first word problems like world wars and economic crises, now we are the scarecrows of present day world. I’m back to square siege. I feel besieged again. All the partial freedoms I thought I enjoyed in the past few years here were just delusions. I’m not free like you all. I’m stateless. I don’t have a country. It’s under occupation. And now I’m here unable to go back and unable to do many other things. I’m back to square siege. And turns out that sieges of hatred, bigotry, and discrimination are worse than physical sieges with visible fences and high walls. I’m besieged in my freedom. Besieged in my siege. Besieged in my dreams. And Nazis in 2017.. Seriously? Nazis?
Jehad S. – Brooklyn ’17