In 2010 I began to teach creative writing to young people in Gaza from my Los Angeles home via the Internet. I was inspired by their creativity, their love of life, their sense of humor and curiosity, and their thirst for arts, culture and spiritual growth. They were all university students, working hard to be successful, trusting that their education will lead them far and high in life.
In 2012 I had the good fortune to be invited to Gaza by the late Dr. Eyad Sarraj, founder of Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP), to give workshops in creative writing that also help heal. I worked with and met people of all ages. I saw joy, I saw suffering, and I saw great talent and the desire to tell one’s stories to the world. I was the recipient of the most sincere hospitality and kindness and love.
It is heartbreaking to see how everyone in Gaza yearns to move freely and safely in and out of Gaza, yet travel abroad or even to the West Bank, for studies, for a surgery, or just for fun is impossible for most Gazans. It’s nearly impossible to visit friends in Gaza, or to send them a letter or a package or medicine. Electricity does not grace the people of Gaza with more than three, five, or in the best case, eight hours of power a day. Clean water has been undrinkable for years. Some say that Gaza these days is a sea of depression. And how wouldn’t it be? Unemployment is over 50%. More than a year after the Israeli assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014 that killed 2,200 Palestinians and wounded over 10,000, entire neighborhoods and thousands of structures of homes, hospitals, mosques and schools still lay in ruin.
Still, people in Gaza find contentment. Engagement and wedding celebrations, the birth of a child, a good grade on an exam, a university graduation, a birthday or holiday when families and friends gather and laugh, eat and joke, in a home, a restaurant, or on one of the beautiful beaches.
Sometimes in Gaza it is hard to know which is more typical, the sad part or the one that smiles. You see graffiti on walls, “Smile, you are in Gaza.” But most important to remember, Gazans, as are all Palestinians, refuse to be the slaves of the Israeli Jewish State. And for that they have been punished inappropriately and for decades.
The people of Gaza have lived through three devastating wars in the last seven years. They have been besieged for nine years, and for more than half a century before that they had been oppressed by a colonial occupation and by more wars and strife. But they have not lost hope and have not given up on their right to live in peace and justice and freedom.
This website features stories written in the classes in creative writing I gave in Gaza in 2013 and 2014, and photographs by friends, photographers, photojournalists and filmmakers. It is my way of honoring them by presenting their stories in words and images.
I hope you will be inspired and come back to visit us again and again.