*This story was collected in partnership with New Story Leadership.
Mohammad Arafat is from Gaza and currently lives in Virginia, USA. Mohammad holds a Bachelor’s degree in English, and two diplomas in Leadership and Citizen Journalism. He previously worked as an English English teacher, journalist, writer and translator. Mohammad established the Picture Institute for Creativity of Youths (PICY). He was a member of We are Not Numbers and has had his work published on their site, as well as being a published poet. During the NSL program, Mohammed worked with Congressman Donald Payne.
My name is Muhammad Arafat, from Gaza. Everybody knows Gaza, but not everybody knows whats going on in Gaza. Gaza is located in the Gaza strip. The Gaza strip is located in Palestine, which is not recognized as a state among other counter countries around the world. Which is my dream actually to have it recognized as a state, especially by the Muslim counties. Gaza is a city, which is somehow considered a terrorist city because we have a Gaza government, which is also considered a terrorist organization by some western countries. That’s why everybody in Gaza feels sorry that when he or she talks with people outside the strip, they say, you are a terrorist or you come from a terrorist destination.
About myself, I was born in 1982, and in every interview, I would just love to say that I’m not 26 years old, but I am a three wars, a father, and a 13 year-long siege old, that’s my age actually. Which is the age of everybody or every young man in Gaza, who is my age. I was raised up in a family, we are not actually related to the Arafat family because my family name is Arafat, but my great grandfather is. Since my grandfather told me he was related, but they were divided and separated. The Arafat family has three parts, we are from the third. Our grandfather is from the second part, which is why right now, we’re not related.
My father has four daughters, and four sons, we have a very big family. I have a married sister, my oldest sister, she is only 28, but she has 6 kids now. So, I feel blessed to have a big family but I feel responsible at the same time, because my father is jobless right now, so I have to work hard in order to help them. So my dad, in the past, worked in Jerusalem for 30 years, as a builder/constructer. We lived like a very beautiful, simple life. Everything was alright, we had a car, a beautiful home, we lived like everybody else.
In 2001, we had an uprising, which the Palestinian people were so angry at the Israeli government because they didn’t recognize our human rights, and they didn’t recognize Jerusalem as our capital and because the Israeli prime minister entered Jerusalem, which was a stab in the back for us. So, the people of Palestine, made this uprising, which is called, intifada, and from that day, things started to be worse. So, Israel started to attack, there was a bank in Gaza, Israel invaded Gaza a few times, during that time. In 2005. They stopped giving our parents, especially my father, permission to get into Jerusalem, to work. So, my father lost his job in 2005, in Jerusalem, and he became jobless.
So, in 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, and things grew worse, especially when there were some conflicts between the Gaza government, which is Hamas, and Israel ended with Hamas arresting an Israeli soldier, which made Israel impose a siege in the Gaza strip, which is still going on right now.
The siege during that time, affected everything in our life, in Gaza. The Israelis started bombing the only power plant in the Gaza strip. We didn’t have power for long hours in 2006, after the start of the siege. Then, it raised the unemployment rate from 46% to 83%, until now. It also affected the water crisis in Gaza, which we really lack and suffer from until today.
Our stories need to be spoken and told by the young leaders from the Gaza strip and need to be told directly to those decision-makers, that’s what I’m trying and hoping to do.
The title of the poem is Gaza, where my heart belongs.
Among its greeneries,
I was born
On their branches,
my dad hung my swing.
From its fruit, I ate,
and from its core.
Walking its fields,
and in its fields, I used to sing.
I stopped hearing singing birds,
but clashes, and pellets.
I stopped seeing flying doves,
But warplanes, and buzzing drones.
Gaza was then beseeched,
no life, no light,
but strife, and fight.
I got scared,
but my dad taught me this,
be a man, be a man, and never less.
I know Gaza was always like this,
yet it is a city that we will always miss.
I love it and I will always do.
Its soil, its sea, its oil, will be free.
Rebirth, it will be and new,
neither for him nor her,
it is for we.
Gaza is not what media tells,
it is not battles or fights,
it is not about bombs or shells,
it is about asking for our rights.