Pin It
London’s Free Palestine protest 8
Photography Nahwand Jaff

‘We are not superheroes’: A student from Gaza reflects from afar

Tala Shurrab writes on her Palestinian and Gazan identity amid crisis, experiencing the Israeli offensive from the outside, and how Palestinians aren’t even close to normality with a ceasefire

This time is different. This aggression is worse than all the other assaults we have experienced combined.’ Two days after the Israeli bombardment began on May 12, I began seeing this statement everywhere, and I couldn’t comprehend it. As humans, we tend to misremember how serious past sufferings were for us when experiencing a new crisis. The last major Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip took place seven years ago and perhaps, I thought, people had forgotten the reality of life under the direct threat of death. I wanted to feel better about the fact I had left my family for the second time to continue my studies.

Hundreds of miles and many borders away, I felt like I had betrayed my family, and couldn’t bring myself to phone my parents during the first two days of the offensive. On May 14, I called them in the hope that they would lie to me as they usually do when, for example, the Israeli blockade gets heavier. To my surprise, this time they couldn’t hide it, and I felt the pain and fear through their shaking voices.

Though I was physically in Cambridge, I was mentally and emotionally absent. Life around me was continuing as normal, with people enjoying the easing of lockdown, laughing and talking. It felt unjust that, while some people were returning to normal life, Palestinians in Gaza can never experience ‘normal’, not even once a ceasefire has taken hold. I was fully present in Gaza in my mind, feeling the sound of bombardment as if it were nearby, terrified for my family’s life and even my own as if I were among them.

”It was 11 days in complete paralysis, with the flashbacks and memories of 2008, 2012, and 2014”

As the night approached, everything became heavier; bombings intensified, electricity shut off and I was liable to lose contact at any point with my family. I opened various news sources, live broadcasts, Twitter, Facebook, and anxiously read people’s tweets. All that mattered was that they posted that they were alive. It was 11 days in complete paralysis, with the flashbacks and memories of 2008, 2012, and 2014.

I have never felt more Palestinian, nor as connected to Palestinians from other parts of Palestine. For me, Palestinians from Jerusalem had always seemed as foreign as those who come from other parts of the world. For decades, Palestinians have been alienated from each other to the point where I had tended to mostly identify as ‘Gazan’ because I was not sure how to be entirely Palestinian.

I have always watched the news of what goes on in Palestine as a spectator, and yet this time, as Israeli settlers are forcibly displacing Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and as Israeli occupation forces are raiding Al-Aqsa Mosque, I reconnected with Palestine again.

I remembered that we Palestinians are born with a political responsibility and that is what we continuously fight for and take pride in. And it wasn’t just me – I have seen for the first time how all Palestinians are actively rising together from inside Palestine to the diaspora. We are all practicing national unity and resistance against physical and psychological fragmentation. 

In this unified struggle, we are joined by people from all over the world regardless of identity, or nationality. On May 22, I went to the march in London and there were around 200,000 from all over the world marching for one cause: Palestine. This triggered so many heavy emotions, but most importantly, hope. This time can be different; this time, the world is aware. This current collective conscious and resistance is transformative – I, like many others, feel entirely Palestinian.

”The aggression has ceased, but how can the scars vanish? Always on alert, the body no longer knows how to cope; the natural fight-flight response becomes ineffective as the body is continuously expecting threat”

So what comes after the ceasefire? The blockade on Gaza continues, as does the lack of basic human rights. The aggression has ceased, but how can the scars vanish? Always on alert, the body no longer knows how to cope; the natural fight-flight response becomes ineffective as the body is continuously expecting threat but cannot escape. The human body is trapped in an open-air prison and so is the mind. 

Palestinians in Gaza are expected to move on with their lives, perceiving the aggression as another ‘bump in the road’, part of a life that has never really been like any other in the world. Palestinians in Gaza are now conscious of the emotional turmoil and trauma imposed. Many finally share: ’Even if we make it out of this not dead, how can we be alive?’ Trauma is not a natural state, despite it being continually experienced by Palestinians in Gaza.

Can Gaza rise again? Are the people resilient and strong as they are presented in the media and other parts of the world? I am not quite certain, but I am sure that nobody chooses suffering; there is nothing inherently noble about it. We are faced with two choices: death or survival. Survival becomes strength, power and resilience, even when all that one ‘did’ was – luckily – not die. 

Even the empowering labels attached to Palestinians can dehumanise us and reinforce a sense that colonisation and oppression are normal and eternal in Palestine. Don’t idealise us, for we are not superheroes though our world may seem legendary. But we exist here. We still need your solidarity and action to finally be able to simply be human and embrace that. We simply want to live and live free.

Look back at Dazed’s guide on how to talk about Palestine here