I’m a Palestinian from Gaza, not simply “a Gazan.” I’m not exactly what you see in the mainstream media: I’m no expert in firing rockets, I don’t live under rubble and I don’t rely on humanitarian handouts.
Actually, I was never aware of how people outside of Gaza saw us until I was given the chance to leave the isolated enclave for the first time. The first time I left Gaza was in 2012, when I traveled to Jerusalem for some work meetings. It was strange to find out that even Palestinians who live only dozens of miles away are also mislead by the media about the truth of Palestinians in the strip.
I was extremely overwhelmed to see the other parts of my homeland for the first time. I wanted to tell everyone I met that I was from Gaza, since most people never get to meet us in real life. “I’m from Gaza,” I announced to the Palestinian receptionist at the fancy East Jerusalem hotel with a wide smile. He went speechless before mockingly asking whether I had any rockets in my pockets. I expected such comments from Israelis, but never from a Palestinians.
The next day, I traveled from Jerusalem to Ramallah on a bus near Damascus Gate. After finding a window seat, a handsome man came to sit beside me. We made some small talk – I could tell he was from Bethlehem, but he had no idea where I was from. “I’m from Gaza,” I said. “ No way, but you are cute and smart!” he said. Once again, I went speechless. Where on earth did he get the idea that people from Gaza are any less cute or smart than those in Bethlehem?
These incidents could not prepare me for the reactions I would receive when I traveled to the United States a few weeks later, where some people had no idea that Gaza even exists.
So, for all those who are misled by photos of bombings and bloodshed: yes, there is an ongoing conflict in Palestine, not only in Gaza. And yes, Gaza is not an independent region, it is a part of occupied Palestine. These facts don’t make me an alien.
It became tiresome and offensive to repeatedly hear people ask whether people in Gaza go shopping, receive an education, go to the gym or travel. Yes, the 1.8 million besieged people in Gaza who live under fire, totally isolated from the world, do go toschools and universities; find proper jobs; and travel (when Egypt opens the Rafah crossing).
The people of Gaza do not need the sympathy of the international community. Humanitarian handouts are not the only thing people in Gaza lack. Gaza is full oftalented and intellectual people. Palestinians in Gaza need only to be treated like normal humans who deserve respect for teaching the whole world how to live day by day.
Abeer Ayyoub, 26, studied English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. She is a journalist who covered the last war on Gaza and has recently covered various internal issues. She has written pieces online in English for Al Jazeera, Haaretz and other publications.