My essay, reportage and personal reflections about Gaza in US magazine The Markaz.
The outlet is publishing an entire edition about Gaza, a Palestinian territory that’s routinely shunned, ignored and demonised in the West.
Here’s the beginning of my piece (and read the whole thing):
The Children Land’s Kindergarten sits in the Bedouin village of Um Al Nasser in the Gaza Strip. Situated near the border with Israel, it’s a dusty area enlivened with the sound of playing children. Although the facilities were destroyed by Israel in 2014 during its war against Hamas, they were rebuilt with environmentally-friendly materials supported by Italian NGO Vento Di Terra. The classrooms are airy, colorful and cool in the summer.
When I visited in March 2017, I found dozens of children with a teacher wearing the full body abaya. There was space for 125 kids between the ages of four and six. The head of the kindergarten, Fatima Aburashed, told me that there were plans to grow fruit and vegetables so the youngsters could learn the sources of their food. She explained that many children were deeply traumatized during the 2014 conflict and the school ran programs to help with the stress. It felt like a form of resistance for the facility to reopen bigger and stronger than before.
Alongside the school was a women’s training center to teach vital skills such as carpentry, tailoring, physical exercise and toy production. Opened in 2015 thanks to the European Union, it was a welcome acknowledgement that the role of women wasn’t just in the home.
Gaza is a conservative place. Locals told me that after the 2014 war, many men who initially refused permission for Bedouin women to learn new skills realized that it would improve the community. The ruling party Hamas supported the venture.
Walking through the training center was an inspiring experience. I saw no men — a rarity in Gaza — with women laughing and learning how to make useful goods for sale around Gaza and ideally in the West Bank and beyond (if Israel were to reduce the suffocating border closures). Unfortunately, political realities and then 12-year siege on the territory had put those dreams on hold. The manager said that they would keep on showing the world that Gazans were productive, creative and peaceful.
Gaza is a convenient abstraction for many Zionist Jews: An area controlled by a terrorist organization. A state run by Islamists who want to murder as many Jews as possible. Palestinian citizens who are blood-thirsty killers and need to be kept under control by military and surveillance technology. A population no longer under occupation, freed by Israel in 2005 when it removed its Zionist settlers. A place that no sensible Jew would ever want to go.
These are all incorrect and racist myths. I’ve heard them countless times over the years, both by people who couldn’t understand why I’d want to visit Gaza and others who believed that I’d end up in an ISIS-style execution video. Islamist extremists do live in Gaza but they’re a tiny, almost insignificant part of the population. As an atheist Jew, born in Australia and based in East Jerusalem between 2016 and 2020, I’ve learned to ignore such ignorant protestations.