Saving Gaza, One Gazan At A Time

AN APPEAL FOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT

For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
~Amanda Gorman, youngest poet ever to perform at a presidential inauguration (2021)

A cemetery in Gaza overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. A favorite spot of WM.

Gaza is hell. Gaza for youth is a living hell! Gaza’s youth are in their greatest time of need.

We are all at a loss on how to resolve the overall situation in Gaza but that does not mean we are paralyzed to help individuals in need. Given Gaza’s overwhelming humanitarian needs, one group of Gazans who are often forgotten or overlooked is those 20-some-year-olds, especially women, who yearn to advance their studies abroad.

It is these young aspiring scholars who have caught my attention. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place — between those, usually living abroad, who romanticize about the Palestinian struggle and expect no one to leave Gaza (or Palestine for that matter), and the harsh reality of borders that are either sealed (like the one to Israel) or are closed for most of the year (as is the border to Egypt). Many of these students spend endless hours applying to universities and for scholarships in the hope that luck will be on their side if accepted and they will be able to exit Gaza. The mass majority do this in vain, only for their dreams to be crushed — repeatedly.

A sad fact is that too many are giving up. Suicide rates are on the rise. Domestic violence is at an all-time high. Expectedly, mental health issues are soaring, especially among children. And yet others turn to the Mediterranean Sea for answers. In 2019, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that:

“Palestinians are the third-largest group after Afghans and Syrians to take the smuggling route across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, the International Organization for Migration [IOM] tells NPR. At least 1,046 Palestinians have taken the sea route so far this year, as did 1,433 Palestinians last year. As recently as 2015, more than 6,000 Palestinians took the same route, according to IOM figures.”

These numbers and the personal stories emerging out of Gaza are bone-chilling. I, for one, refuse to pretend that there is any sense of normalcy only because no Israeli jet fighters are dropping bombs onto Gaza.

As I have done previously for a medical case, with much support from many of you, which, by the way, saved a young boy’s life after his sister passed away from the same rare blood disease, when a worthy case comes across my desk I try to help.

I’ve been working on just such a case.

CASE

To respect her privacy, I will name her here WM. She is a 25-year-old Gazan refugee whose family is originally from Hamamma. She was born and raised in Gaza, never leaving it once. She has three sisters and a brother. Being 25 means that for her entire adult life, she has never known what it means to have electricity all day and night!

WM graduated in 2016 from al-Aqsa University with a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.), English Language and Teaching Methods. She is in love with literature as much as she is with the English language. From her high school days, she decided she wanted to master the English language. When you first hear her speak English, your jaw will drop. She has not only mastered the English language but has mastered the British English accent too, slang and all.

While WM was in the midst of her undergraduate studies, tragedy struck home. Her mother passed away from cancer. Numerous requests to the Israeli occupation authorities for her mother to exit Gaza for medical treatment were repeatedly denied. When the Israeli authorities finally agreed it was too late, her cancer had already progressed. Her passing crushed WM but she persisted in her studies, almost holding on to knowledge as a lifeline.

She has worked as an English teacher, tutor, translator, human rights activist, and librarian. Her interactions with the heavy-handed governance regime in Gaza brought her an unyielding determination to seek graduate studies in the UK to equip herself with the education that would allow her to contribute to a better future for Gaza. She started applying, first to universities, then for scholarships. Her sights were set on the field of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and she desired to do her Masters in International Relations in preparation for pursuing a Ph.D. in CDA.

She received many offers from some of the best UK universities. In particular, she focused on one that offered her desired program, along with a full scholarship. She started the long bureaucratic process that all Gazans who desire to exit Gaza are forced to deal with.

Here is where WM was brought to my attention. A friend asked if I could help in her exit. I did the little I could, but in the meantime, I got to know WM, albeit remotely. She is impressive in many aspects. Long story short (details that one day will appear in a book I will write), after a prolonged delay and lots of back and forth with the British Consulate in Jerusalem WM made it out of Gaza, alone, for the first time in her life.

After the treacherous two-day journey through the Sinai Desert, she arrived in Cairo and was forced to start the UK visa process from scratch because the application she made (and paid for) while in Gaza could not be processed if she was no longer in Gaza. This meant more time, more delay, and more expenses. In the meantime, WM frantically exchanged emails with her prospective university explaining the Kafkaesque reality between Israel, Hamas, Gaza, and Egypt, that she was forced to deal with. The university postponed, and postponed again, then again.

Finally, her second visa to the UK was issued, late, but issued nonetheless. Traveling during pandemic times, she had to get tested for COVID-19 before leaving Cairo (another set of details for a future book). She finally boarded a plane for the first time in her life and departed to London. She was excited. What a relief. I was happy for her knowing she would excel.

Hours later, I received a call from WM; she was in tears. Standing in London’s Heathrow Airport, she was checking her email while she awaited her baggage. Her university had sent her a final decision, her delay was too long to be considered for Fall Semester. Her world crashed, again, then and there.

Again, long story short, with no resources and no safe way back to Gaza, she ended up applying for asylum in the UK; this secured her a safe place to stay. Not an easy choice for anyone. When I spoke with WM in the asylum residence, she remained laser-focused on how to advance her studies. She earned my respect again. She tried to negotiate with her university, to no avail. She then turned to apply for several new universities with a January 2021 intake for her program.

As she sat and waited for replies from these new universities she applied to, I suggested she and I write something about Gaza together. She jumped on the idea and suggested a novella. I had no idea what that even meant but learned quickly and accepted. Over the next few weeks, over Skype, we co-wrote my first-ever attempt at fiction. WM taught me a lot and blew me away with her literary knowledge. I nicked named her “My Walking Literary Encyclopedia.” Our novella is in the process of being published.

Just as we finished writing our joint piece, a UK university positively replied, but with a caveat. Her IELTS (English proficiency test) had expired due to her delay in leaving Gaza, so she would need to be retested. That part was a piece of cake since I assumed WM knew British English better than her tester. Secondly, she would need to pay full tuition within 24 hours to be accepted because four days of classes had already passed. Lacking the required funds and without a credit card to buy time, I arranged to advance her the tuition fees, and we went on to purchase her a laptop so she could immediately start her courses, which she did this week.

REQUEST

Now, I reach out for your help to raise the funds. Below is the breakdown. Of course, all proper documentation (university offer and invoice, WM’s acceptance, tuition payment and laptop receipts) is available for the asking.

This is not a traditional approach to fundraising; it is a personal approach — no charity, no NGO, no 501(c)3; just one person, joining with other like-minded friends, trying to help one woman, refugee, Gazan graduate student.

If you, your firm’s CSR fund, or others in your network can pitch in, please do so at:

https://www.paypal.me/sambahour

or any of the methods listed here:

https://aim.ps/payment.html

Every donation is greatly appreciated.

I will regularly update the campaign status below and when the amount is reached, I will note our collective success here.

CAMPAIGN STATUS (as of March 3, 2021, 10:00 PM Palestine time):

42 donors totaling $20,224.24 (113% of goal)

WM will directly acknowledge your donation so you can confirm its receipt.

Thank you in advance,

Sam Bahour
sbahour[at]gmail[dot]com

Writer, businessperson, activist.