Hearts Amidst Hardships: Echoes from the Youth of Gaza

"Voices Unveiled: Narratives of Resilience and Loss from Gaza's Youth"

In the poignant words of 27-year-old Gaza journalist Ahmed Dremly, the echoes of his grandmother's tales about the Nakba reverberate through the present. The Nakba, a haunting event that unfolded in 1948, saw over 750,000 Palestinians forcibly dispossessed by Zionist militias, transforming them into refugees who were denied the right to return home. For Ahmed, the devastation of Israeli bombardment in Gaza becomes a modern-day manifestation of that historic trauma, where loss of human life unfolds before his eyes.

Ahmed's grandmother, like my own parents, belongs to a generation that experienced the Nakba over 75 years ago. Having fled Palestine in 1948, they lived in exile in Syria, Lebanon, and eventually the United States. Today, as the generation that witnessed this catastrophic displacement fades away, the bitter reality persists—dispossession endures, and Palestinians assert that the Nakba never truly ended.

My family, too, sought refuge in the United States when I was 10 years old, and my Palestinian identity remains a cornerstone of my personal values. As a poet, writer, and advocate for Palestinian culture and the arts, I've volunteered since 2015 as a mentor with We Are Not Numbers (WANN), a project by the nonprofit Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. This initiative empowers the youth of Gaza to share their stories with the world, transcending the dehumanizing statistics often associated with Palestinians in Western media.

The name, We Are Not Numbers, underscores the dehumanization prevalent in Western narratives, where Palestinians are reduced to mere statistics, devoid of names, humanity, and agency, especially in the context of conflict. This project strives to amplify the voices of Gaza's youth, offering a platform for their narratives of resilience and loss to be heard beyond the headlines, reminding the world that behind every statistic lies a story waiting to be told.

"Fostering Resilience Through Narratives: Mentoring the Voices of Gaza's Youth"

Ahmed, a mentee in We Are Not Numbers (WANN), has become a poignant chapter in my journey as a Palestinian living in the diaspora. The connection forged with young Palestinians like him, living in the very heart of Palestine, brings profound meaning. The dynamic between mentor and writer is an intensely personal one, offering rewards that extend to both parties. Acting as a support system to facilitate a young writer's self-expression has granted me a profound glimpse into the experiences of this generation, creating a rare and welcomed opportunity for deep connection.

In this mentorship role, I've come to realize that the stories penned by these young writers are not just narratives; they are heart-rending accounts that provide a window into how macro-level politics reverberate through the everyday lives of individuals. Ordinary people invariably bear the brunt of the political and military decisions made by those in power. The harsh realities of life in Gaza, marked by five major wars since 2008, ongoing military aggression, high unemployment, scarce resources, and a blockade with severe restrictions, have forced the youth of Gaza to mature far too quickly.

Telling their stories becomes a powerful means for these young individuals to cultivate inner strength and resilience. WANN's mentorship program pairs these aspiring writers in Gaza with mentors across the United States, Europe, and Australia, providing a platform for them to craft essays and poems. Their narratives span a spectrum of topics—from education and sports to weddings, the olive harvest, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, and portraits of the artists and women boxers of Gaza.

My collaboration with Ahmed led to a compelling story about a 74-year-old Palestinian man in Gaza who had meticulously collected 20,000 newspapers since 1969, envisioning them as a future library for those interested in history. Yet, the most recent writings pivot to the harsh reality of Israel's current war on Gaza. One writer, Hamza Ibrahim, articulates the pervasive fear and anxiety that colors his existence: "My whole life is in fear and anxiety; bombing from everywhere comes without warning." Others recount the painful loss of neighbors and friends and the devastating impact on their neighborhoods.

In the face of adversity, Abdallah al-Jazzar boldly declares, "Time and time again, we have resisted by simply surviving. Our existence is resistance." He shines a light on the understanding that, to quell their resistance, those in power believe they must erase their existence—an act he terms as 'ethnic cleansing.'

Through these narratives, the voices of Gaza's youth transcend borders, capturing the essence of resilience and resistance in the face of unimaginable challenges. The power of storytelling emerges as a beacon of hope, offering a profound testament to the indomitable spirit of a generation refusing to be silenced."

"Nurturing Hope Amidst Despair: A Mentor's Reflection on Gaza's Youth"

Reaching out to my mentees, especially Ahmed, in the midst of the current turmoil feels like a delicate balance between my desire to ensure their safety and the reluctance to impose on their limited resources during these challenging times. The recent 34-hour communication blackout in Gaza heightened the anxieties, leaving me dreading the potential loss of our ability to connect at all. Each response from my mentees brings bittersweet relief—knowing they are alive in such a perilous environment.

Their messages, simple yet profound, convey a stark reality: "We're thankfully alive." In the face of ongoing danger, this has become the measure of comfort. Yet, the underlying questions linger—what are the conditions of their survival, what destruction surrounds them, are their loved ones safe, can they find solace amid the constant threat of bombs, and do they have access to essentials like water and food? Each passing day, my concerns for the people of Gaza weigh heavily on my mind.

In her poem "Hidden," Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye reflects on the invisible forces that shape us, the people who become a kind of "fuel" in our psyches, inspiring and guiding us. The relationships with my mentees have become a vital part of this emotional reservoir. When Ahmed affectionately referred to me as "mama" in a WhatsApp message, the Arabic word "haneen"—meaning compassion and affection—came to mind. Ahmed, just a few years younger than my own son, embodies a connection that transcends the miles between us.

These young individuals are more than just writers; they are witnesses to the harsh realities unfolding in Gaza, and they embody our abiding hope for this generation. As their mentors, we have a responsibility to listen to their voices and amplify their narratives. However, the recent loss of writers like Yousef Maher Dawas and the tragic death of over 20 family members of Ahmed Alnaouq, a co-founder of WANN, cast a somber shadow over the organization. Grieving these tremendous losses, many others within the WANN community have also lost friends and family members.

In a poignant testament to their reality, some young writers have expressed a desire for their stories to be shared posthumously. The weight of such requests underscores the gravity of their circumstances. Amidst these challenges, the power of storytelling remains a resilient force, and the voices of Gaza's youth continue to serve as a beacon of hope, demanding to be heard and heeded in the face of unimaginable adversity."

"Numbers in the News: Gaza's Desperate Plea for Recognition"

"We have become numbers. We are counting numbers not humans, not people, not dreams, not children, not women or men or families. We have become numbers in the news."

In this stark declaration, the people of Gaza articulate a poignant plea to the world—a plea to be seen as more than mere statistics, to be acknowledged as individuals with lives, dreams, and the same inherent worth as anyone else. Their words paint a desperate picture of their struggle against their own dehumanization, a relentless effort to communicate their plight amidst a world that often treats them as expendable figures rather than sentient beings with hopes and aspirations.

Ahmed, a soul who finds solace in the rhythmic canter of horses along the beach at dawn, shares a sentiment that transcends the chaos surrounding him. "What calms my soul is riding horseback along the beach in the dawn before anyone else is there," he writes in one of his essays. Yet, in the current tumultuous circumstances, this source of solace is sorely missed. His words to me echo a profound sense of gratitude for support that reminds him he is not alone. A simple expression of love and hope for survival.

However, the uncompleted sentence in his message raises an unsettling question—did something happen to him? The hours spent obsessively checking for signs of his online presence reflect the anxiety that permeates these uncertain times. While relief washes over upon his eventual return to Instagram, the worry persists for Ahmed, his family, and every soul in Gaza. The ongoing Israeli ground invasion adds another layer of apprehension, indicating a further deterioration of an already dire situation.

The characterization by the United Nations' human rights official, Craig Mokhiber, as "a textbook case of genocide" underscores the gravity of the circumstances. Ahmed's willingness to be quoted for this essay, coupled with a humble request to send it to him with the hopeful phrase "Inshallah I could read it," reflects an act of generosity amidst adversity—an act that transcends the physical and digital barriers that separate us.

In sharing these stories, it is a solemn duty to amplify the voices of those who have become mere numbers in the news, to affirm their humanity, and to bear witness to their struggles. The plea from Gaza is a call for recognition, compassion, and solidarity, urging the world to see beyond the statistics and acknowledge the shared humanity that binds us all.

"In conclusion, the desperate plea from the people of Gaza, articulated in their poignant declaration 'We have become numbers,' resonates as a call for humanity in the face of dehumanization. Their words, a stark reminder of the struggles faced in a conflict-ridden region, seek acknowledgment beyond statistics—a recognition of lives, dreams, and aspirations. Ahmed's yearning for the calming embrace of horseback rides along the beach and his expression of gratitude for support underscore the shared human experiences that persist even in the most challenging circumstances.

As the people of Gaza grapple with the current Israeli ground invasion and the United Nations' sobering characterization of the situation as 'a textbook case of genocide,' the collective worry intensifies. Ahmed's willingness to be quoted, coupled with the earnest hope to read the essay, stands as an act of generosity amidst adversity. It is a testament to the resilience and strength of individuals whose voices often go unheard.

In sharing these stories, we bear witness to the human cost of conflict, and it becomes a moral imperative to amplify these voices, to transcend the barriers that separate us, and to affirm the shared humanity that binds us all. The conclusion of this narrative is not just an end but a continuation—a commitment to fostering empathy, understanding, and global solidarity in the pursuit of a world where no one is reduced to mere numbers in the news."