By Kamal Almashharawi
Mr. Almashharawi is a lawyer working with SunBox, a solar power company based in Gaza.
I was a young child, living in the Jabaliya area, in the north of Gaza, when I first saw an Israeli soldier up close. The Israel Defense Forces invaded the camp and our home. They stayed for three days. After that, I was afraid of Israelis. I always thought that they were coming to kill or kidnap me.
And yet I know the world can be better. I’ve seen how people in other conflicts have worked toward coexistence, and I know that one day I will work to better Gaza, to rebuild our community and to move forward. But this week I took the only opportunity that secured my immediate future: to flee.
I’m a Palestinian raised in the Gaza Strip, so I have long known conflict. My family are refugees from 1948; my grandmother used to tell me really great stories about our village, Al Muharraqa. It was on the eastern border of Gaza, about nine miles from Gaza City.
Still, every other time there has been a war in Gaza, it hasn’t really come to this level of intensity. This is the first time in my life I really didn’t know where to go or if I would survive at all. But because I have seen a different version of this world, I still held out hope.
Seven years after those first soldiers invaded my home, I met Israelis on my own terms. I was 15; my brother encouraged me to apply to attend Seeds of Peace, a summer camp in the United States that promotes coexistence and looks for future community leaders. Seeds gave me a full scholarship. It was 2015; one year after another war with Israel and seven years into the blockade that made travel into and out of Gaza nearly impossible. Attending camp was my first chance to leave the strip. The opportunity changed my life.
Gazans don’t really get to meet people outside the region. We don’t really get to travel and explore the world. With Seeds, I not only got to see beyond Gaza; I also learned how to describe my story in a way that touched others, connecting my life to the lives of others. I took the chance because I wanted Israelis and others to see how a Gazan has lived and survived. I wanted them to learn that we deserve to live. And I wanted to educate them about the culture here in Gaza in a way that could push them to take serious actions back in their communities.
After Seeds, I continued to take courses in political science and peace building. I attended law school at Al-Azhar University in Gaza and focused on conflict resolution. Two years ago, I attended a program based in Jerusalem — remotely — that also helped me build the skills I need to work toward peace building in and outside the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. I traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and met with people who had been involved in reaching the Good Friday Agreement. I now have friends from conflict zones around the world. And, this summer, Seeds of Peace asked me to help plan and set up its community action program, trying to teach the kids how to take serious action in their communities.
Meanwhile, I went to work as a legal officer at a solar energy company, SunBox, trying to bring electricity to Gazans who, even before this conflict, would often go many hours without power. I had relocated to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for my work. I returned to Gaza for my sister’s wedding party and to visit my company’s solar projects in Gaza just before Oct. 7.
The past seven weeks were horrendous. When the war began, I was with 85 members of my family. We didn’t stay in one place for long. Instead, we moved across the strip from Gaza City to Khan Younis, Khan Younis to Rafah, Rafah to Khan Younis and then back to Gaza City, to my parents’ home, forever in search of safety.
For weeks, our daily routine consisted of finding clean water to drink and charging our phones. Even that could take hours and hours. Each morning, some people would go to get bread, some people to get other food and some people to get water. The luckiest were those who came back with something. But then as the fighting got closer, we had to hide in our basement, and we couldn’t go out at all.
We returned to Khan Younis earlier this month, traveling for hours by foot and donkey cart. All around us were shots and explosions. The roads were full of sand and sewage and bodies. It was very dangerous, but we couldn’t stay in Gaza City — all the kids in my family were starting to get sick. We simply had nothing to give them. I myself had gone days without food. Nothing felt certain.
Then, on Thursday, I had the enormous good fortune to cross into Egypt with part of my family, including my parents. To depart Gaza is excruciating. We leave behind friends and family to face the continued horrific reality of life lived amid the rubble of their houses. I am so grateful my family has survived but saddened the people of Gaza are not surviving.
After all this, I still know two things for sure: Civilians should not be in the middle of this, and coexistence remains the only solution to this conflict.
I think there are two main steps toward making this happen. The first is on the personal and community level: People need to believe that there’s a chance for both peoples to exist at the same time and live peacefully. This could happen through schools, starting from raising awareness and promoting coexistence activities. That was a major part of what happened in Northern Ireland.
But there then must be another step at the government and international level. Countries and governments around the world have to promote the idea of coexistence and acceptance that both peoples deserve to live on the same land, peacefully, without the need to be biased toward one people over another.
I believe in coexistence as a solution because I’m fed up. And the more than two million people living in Gaza are fed up with conflicts. We need to live peacefully, as the people live on the other side of the fence. I think it’s possible; there just needs to be more effort invested in making it happen.
It’s going to take so much time to rebuild everything. But the devastation I see is not just about reconstructing those pieces of concrete. It’s about the stories behind those walls and houses. We need to restore those lives, those stories, too. And for that we need people to care about those stories — the very sort of connections I’ve made in my experiences with conflict resolution.
I think we can rebuild, even if it takes 50 or 60 years. We can find global interest in reinvesting in projects affected or damaged by the war. We need peace. Whatever the war does to this beautiful place, we will fix it. When I return, I will work to fix it.
Kamal Almashharawi is a lawyer working as a business and legal officer for SunBox, a solar power company based in Gaza.