This blog post was written by Iriet Danon, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living and working in Haifa
When I am in Belgium, Gaza is everywhere around me. It’s little Mohammed and Mariam from down the street who I see playing outside in the park from my bedroom window. It's the Al-Quds store that I pass by daily on my way to school. It’s my university friend Mai, who has the hardest time preparing for exams because she worries about her children in Gaza when bombs are being dropped once again. It’s my conflict-related classes in university, where the situation in Palestine is used as the default example and it’s my roommate's friend calling me a hypocrite for travelling to Israel while being aware of what is going on there. At home, Gaza is part of my reality, and I am reminded daily of its existence and of what is going on there.
Now that I am in Haifa, in contrast to the physical proximity, Gaza feels very far away. In Kiryat Haim, the neighbourhood where I live and volunteer, there are hardly any Palestinians. And its residents are too busy making sure that they can make ends meet at the end of the month that politics and the fate of people “far away” are the last thing they worry about. This attitude was something that initially surprised me, but I also gradually began to adopt it the longer I was here. Throughout this year, I have found myself being mainly occupied with my life and the kids at my placements and little by little Gaza disappeared from my life. Only flare-ups when rockets were fired at Israel reminded me again of its existence.
Our day trip to the Gaza border area, however, brought Gaza back into my daily life and thoughts with an intensity that I did not anticipate. Standing so close to the border fence and being able to actually see the buildings of the Gaza strip’s first neighbourhoods and villages broke my heart into a thousand pieces. I looked at those houses across the fence and knew that was where Mohammed and Mariam’s family members are still waiting there for their permit to come to Belgium, and where Mai’s children are trying to live a normal life. This simply paralysed me and made me unable to register most of what our guide and the speakers we met throughout the day told us. As if all this was not enough to process, our visit to the border area was followed by some intense days of bombing back-and-forth. Although Gaza left me for a few months, it was now back in an overwhelming way.
However, I only got that reality check by going to the border area, something that most Israelis would not even consider doing. The ignorance to Gaza that prevails in Kiryat Haim can be extended to most of the country. Places with Palestinians, or anti-occupation protesters can highlight the situation in the West Bank, but in my experience, Gaza is often overlooked here. I fear that in the coming weeks I will slowly distance myself from Gaza again, until it becomes that place far way.
Whenever Gaza feels closer to Belgium than to Haifa, it shows how easy it is to become part of a system of thought that ignores issues that are too difficult to address. Whenever Gaza feels closer to Belgium than to Haifa, I question my own role in this system. And for the rest of my time here in Israel, whenever Gaza feels closer to Belgium than to Haifa, I will try to find ways stay aware and create space for Gaza in my life.