I did not realize that a piece of paper is all it takes for me to get out of Gaza and enjoy a completely different world, free of concerns, where you can live normally and make the best of it all. Last week for the first time in ten years I had the chance to get out of Gaza – only for one week. But for me it was a lifetime. It changed my attitude and perspective on things, my judgment and even my reactions. I was so relaxed, as if I had nothing to complain or worry about.
A surge of feelings and ideas came to mind as I crossed Erez checkpoint for the first time, a very scary experience I will never forget. An officer working on the Palestinian side told me after I asked him a question, "Please be careful, as any mistake on your way can cost you your life," a sentence which simultaneously thrilled me and froze my legs.
The long road Palestinians have to walk until they reach the Israeli side was also scary. It’s devoid of any familiarity which would alleviate the loneliness and fear that you have to hold in until finishing the security check.
Of course you can not see a single Israeli soldier along this long road. They are well- protected and speak to you from behind many gates and walls, making it even more difficult to feel relaxed.
Finally, I finished all their security checks and was allowed to leave the gate, my gate to a free world, at least from my point of view. I was so excited that until that moment I could not believe that I had left Gaza and that I finally had the chance to see my colleagues and supervisors and to communicate with them properly.
The trip from Erez to Jerusalem took an hour and a half. Though I was exhausted from the Israeli security check, I was thrilled to take in all of the green spaces around me, a sight that we miss in Gaza.
The feeling that I was finally free was like feeling a weight being lifted from my shoulders as I became infused with energy to continue my trip passionately. I tried to capture every single image, to record every single feeling and to go through as many different experiences as possible. I am not exaggerating when I describe getting out of Gaza as a rebirth that was bestowed on me and I wanted to write down every new word in my new book.
The siege and the kind of life that the people of Gaza have to live have left them nothing to enjoy, nothing to taste and nothing to love. However, leaving Gaza, I left behind all these feelings of depression and hopelessness. I cleared my mind, my soul and my heart to enjoy this experience before getting back to the real life of Gaza.
I was like a bird set free from her cage to sing a song of her own. But unfortunately, this bird came back again, to be jailed in her cage, as if it was her destiny.
Gaza, July 2008
Najwa Sheikh Ahmed is a Palestine refugee, who lives in Nuseirat camp with her husband and three children. These are her personal stories.