From Rafah to New York City
Well, we're on the way out to Connecticut for our next talk. "We" is me and my speaking partner, Fida Qishta. Fida is a young Palestinian woman from Gaza's battered Rafah refugee camp. Her story, like so many others, is as devastating as it is inspiring, especially because it is so rare to see such resilience, tenacity, and hope from someone-and a Gaza woman at that-who has endured so much trauma and dread.
Fida is a 23 year old educator and community activist. She was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp. In addition to Arabic, she speaks English, French, and some German, all of which she learned. Fida's life was turned upside-down, quite literally, when her house was demolished without warning (she has 2 minutes to take her most important life possessions with her, and did not even have time to take the only picture she had of her deceased best friend) by armoured Israeli bulldozers in 2004.
Fida's life was shattered in the span of those few minutes-and suddenly she became of those nameless statistics, one of the 16, 000 who lost their homes in Rafah. Since that time, Fida and her family moved 7 times, most recently renting a house in Rafah town. Two of her cousins were killed, one because he refused to leave his house when Israeli soldiers commanded him to do so in order for them to raze his home. They demolished it on top of him.
But as traumatic as it was to lose her home and become a refugee all over again so suddenly,so senselessly. the major turning point in Fida's life happened while she was standing on the side of one of Rafah's dusty, unearthed streets days later. An Israeli sniper was monitoring the street from afar-and she, and many others, needed to cross to get to shelter. She hesitated, she explained, because her family, on the other side, told her to stay put, while others encouraged her to cross quickly.
In her moment of hesitation, a young boy-10 years old, decided to demonstrate his bravado, in a place where everyone wants desperately to become a hero; where bravery is all young boys have left to cling to. "You're afraid? Well, I'm not. See!" What happened next, Fida said, was like something out of a bad dream. The sniper struck the boy with a single bullet to the head. And before she knew it, Fida ran out to the middle of the street, and carried the boy to an ambulance. "I can tell you it wasn't me out there. Till this day, I'm not sure who it was that carried that boy". Medics later confirmed the boy died on the street, when the bullet struck.
But despite all this, she managed to find a glimmer of hope to cling to and build upon. She opened a children's center and afterschool program based on Muslim-televangalist Amr Khalid's "Lifemakers" concept, that went from having 40 students to 300, and from 2 teachers to ten. The center also organized city-wide street and cemetary cleanups, with the philosphy of taking an active role in changing their lives. "If the municpality cant' or won't do it, then we can't sit around and complain or watch idly; we have to take an active role in changing our lives," Fida explained. Fida also has plans for several other projects, such as building playgronds in and around refugee camps and changing the road signs in Gaza. Here's to Fida-and all the young, inspiring Palestinian women like her.