Tuesday, June 06, 2006

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.


Blogger Beloppy said...

Hi Laila - I was at your lecture in New York yesterday and agree: Fida is an inspiring young woman(actually so are you).
When I woke up this morning I saw the trees next to my window. Instantly I had to think of what Fida said:"We do not have trees in Gaza and I so enjoy seeing them here."
Hopefully you and her will get some inspiration back from the people you meet here. - Karin

6:31 PM  
Blogger Abu Shaar said...

Fida embodies what Lora Gordon was talking about when she wrote Rafah was home of the strongest people in the world

This is such great news that the two of you met each other and are travelling together!

7:22 PM  
Blogger tassoula said...

goodafternoon from a mother from greece.sorry for my english.i really hope for many years that gaza will be a free place for all of you.i hope that Yousuf (who is a beautifull child)will have a great life as all kids in GAZA.it is so bad all that is happening.i will contact again.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where can we contact Fida to help her (with funds, in-kind, etc)?


8:14 PM  
Blogger Christopher Brown said...

Laila, this is truly an inspiring story! It never ceases to amaze me of the resilience of the spirit. keep up the great work and I hope the speaking engagements go well.

12:55 AM  
Blogger Sophia said...

Hi Laila,

These are stories and words that open up the spirit. Keep up !

3:23 AM  
Blogger I love Munich said...

I just watched the video ... GREAT and enspiring!! What a fantastic young woman!! Can she be contacted in any way?

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Tareq said...

I ditto the commentators words above- it is really inspirational to read Fida's story.

From one Palestinian living in London I thank both you and Fida for your great work!

3:50 PM  
Blogger Fatima said...

It takes much courage and spirit to be proactive in conditions which so depress the spirit. Keep up the great work.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Halla said...

Thats fantastic!! Keep up the good work, people need to see everyday Palestinians and hear first hand what is really going on in Palestine.

Are you coming to California by any chance? I would love to hear your talks.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Asad Ramallah said...

Dear Laila,

Your blog is great and expresses our life in our country.
Pls look at my new blog http://almanarasquare.blogspot.com
and let me know what you think about it.

Asad Al Nimr
p.s. I have already added your blog to my favorite blogs. Pls add my blog to yours.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Heba from Gaza said...

I have gone to Rafah after a number of house demolition and you know Fida: I SALUTE YOU. As a Gazan citizen- who was subject to all kinds of life threatening situation- I suffered nothing of what Rafah people suffered. I meet many of Rafah people at work and I noticed that many of them have lots of inner strength and motivation. I still remember when the biggest Israeli incursion took place in Rafah, quite a number of the top ten students in high school diploma ,all over the Gaza Strip, were from Rafah. The best thing about us Palestinians is that we can always find light at the end of the tunnel...We can always find beauty in ugliness and deformity.That’s why I still see people smiling or laughing sometimes. I wonder how they can cope and endure so much!!

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salwa from USA. Thats fantastic!! Keep up the good work, people need to see everyday Palestinians and hear first hand what is really going on in Palestine.

2:15 AM  

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