During my time in Gaza, I had the great privilege of having conversations with many different people. Government officials, the head of a hospital, an Irish nun living and working in Gaza, the head of the local YMCA, an old man who’d lost his home in the war, and young men just starting their lives. While our conversations covered a broad range of topics, they always seemed to end up at the same place. Politics. I think there are two reasons for this. First, this is people’s reality. The conflict and political situation in Gaza impacts every single aspect of their lives. And second, people wanted us to understand so that we could share their stories beyond the walls of Gaza.
And so I feel obligated to share what I understand of the gravity of the situation in Gaza. The feeling of being trapped, unable to leave an area only 140 square miles in size. The daily challenges of a 40% unemployment rate and shortages of electricity, fuel, water, and food. The anxiety that dwindling resources will not be enough to serve a growing population. The fear that comes from living in an open air prison, where at any moment rockets could be fired and there would be nowhere to run. The despair of feeling the international community has forgotten you. The wondering if life will ever get better, either for you or for your children. The oppression of mind and spirit that results from all this pressure, anxiety, and restriction.
But the picture of Gaza would be incomplete if I left it there. I must also share about the incredible resilience I witnessed. While every Gazan has been traumatized by the wars and the daily struggles, there was still joyful, abundant life happening. There were wedding motorcades, huge groups of laughing children, beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea, and even bouncy castles. The people I encountered in Gaza had an exceptional capacity for humor and always greeted us with a warm welcome and a cup of coffee. The people were smart, resourceful, and hard-working.
Leaving Gaza I felt both burdened by what I experienced and filled with hope, having encountered stark evidence that life goes on even in the worst of circumstances. I feel honored to have gotten to know Gazans who are working tirelessly to improve their lives and provide a better future for their children. They are proof that, despite much evidence to the contrary, there is joy to be found in life as it is today and hope that we can work towards a better tomorrow.