Mahmoud Habboush
The National (Opinion)
April 13, 2010 - 12:00am

I can’t remember how early I woke up the day I left Gaza. It was still slightly dark when I said my farewells to my parents and brothers and sisters. It’s been a little over four years since that morning and I haven’t been back to Gaza since.

Before I left, I’d only been on short trips to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I had never been on a plane.

It took me nearly a whole day of waiting on the Egyptian side of the border before a group of us were stacked into a taxi and bound for Al Arish Airport, where a stocky Jordanian pilot was waiting at the airport’s gate for the last batch of passengers.

Heading to Amman, I didn’t even have a hotel reservation or a clear arrangement for a job. But I had decided years before that I needed to leave. Years of violence, systematically orchestrated by the Israeli army, have left grave scars on the psyche of Palestinians in Gaza. That was enough of a reason for a long leave of absence.

I also had in my pocket a scholarship for a Master’s programme in England, which started in six months. Although it was hard for my parents to see me leave, they accepted that it was inevitable – I had always been obsessed with the idea of travelling.

Now, I find myself sitting at a beachside Dubai cafe, having finished a Master’s degree in international relations, travelled to two dozen countries and, most importantly, learnt so much about life – in some cases the hard way.

In the meantime, I missed the weddings of two of my brothers and the birth of two nephews and a niece. I missed the magic of seeing these children grow.

I also missed funerals. One relative and one childhood friend died in the conflict, one killed by an Israeli missile and the other by Palestinian bullets. My relative and middle school classmate Mohammed was killed in an Israeli air strike against my neighbourhood’s police station. He was one of nearly 200 policemen who were killed during Israel’s brutal aerial and land assault on Gaza starting in 2008, an attack that also took the lives of 320 children and hundreds of civilians. Just a few months before he was killed, Mohammed had become a father for the first time.

A year earlier, my childhood friend Amin was killed by Palestinian bullets. He was one of dozens who were shamefully killed during ruthless clashes between Hamas and Fatah.

Four years ago, I was hoping that things would get better after the Israelis withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Now my view is shadowed by despair and disappointment, mostly because of the intra-Palestinian strife.

In the past two years, I have covered three parliamentary conferences in different cities. In Muscat, a bearded Hamas delegation represented the Palestinian Legislative Council. In Kampala, a Fatah delegation wearing kaffiyehs was present. And in Cairo last month, the archaic parliamentary body, the Palestinian National Council – which created the Palestine Liberation Organisation – managed somehow to convince everyone they represented Palestine.

All three groups certainly enjoy a degree of legitimacy to represent the Palestinian people, but I have no clue how they split representation at international conferences, or whether they have any arrangement at all.

The divisions were also reflected during two Arab summits held in Doha last year, one following the Gaza offensive and the other an Arab League meeting. At the first, attended mostly by pro-Iranian Arab leaders, Palestine was represented by none other than Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, attended the second.

A few months ago, an Emirati politician asked me what I thought of the Palestinian feud. I made it clear that I was sickened by it, but also I told him that I firmly believed that the Palestinians shouldn’t ask others for support while they’re not trying to help themselves.

As long as Palestinians are fighting, hope will remain unfulfilled in Palestine, a land that has been a scene of blood and tears for decades. Even in the darkest moments of Israeli occupation, I never lost hope.

Even when I saw thousands of orange and olive trees torn down and houses reduced to smithereens by the Israeli army, I never lost hope. Only after Palestinians started killing each other, have I begun to lose hope. It can only be restored when Palestinians learn how to work through their political differences and personal ambitions.

Before leaving, I built an apartment in Gaza. I can only see myself living there, even temporarily, when hope is revived in Palestine.


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