Widgets Magazine

Gazans Stripped

Author recounts personal and political problems in Gaza


(ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily)

In April of 2006, Palestinian blogger Laila El-Haddad was reveling in a rare moment of tranquility as she looked out of her apartment window at the civilians milling around a local park across the street, enjoying a quiet afternoon in the calm Gaza sun.

“There was no chaos, uncertainty and violence that grip our lives,” she wrote. “For a few moments, things seemed normal.”

Then the missiles exploded. Shells rained down on the park and civilians no longer milled, but fled for their lives. That abrupt turn of events didn’t surprise El-Haddad — “It was just another Gaza Friday,” she wrote in her new book, Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting and Everything In Between.

Journalist and pundit Laila El-Haddad, her hair covered with a blue and white hijab, engaged a small group of Stanford students in a talk about the Gaza Strip that alternated between anger, frustration and sadness about the political state of the 25 mile war-torn stretch of land along the Mediterranean Sea.

“What often happens in the case of Gaza is that the personal gets displaced by the political,” said El-Haddad, describing her efforts to bridge that gap in Gaza Mom. “Palestinians are pess-optimists. How do you understand a situation that is ever-changing, where surviving itself is just an act of resistance?”

The Gaza Strip, which borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the south, east and north, has been at the epicenter of the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For the 1.7 million civilians and refugees who call the violence-splattered occupied territory home, political disillusionment and border snafus are a part of every-day life.

El-Haddad was born in Gaza and grew up in the Arabian Gulf, coming to the United States for college and then graduate school. She returned to Gaza as a stringer for the Aljazeera English website where she covered the Gaza disengagement in 2005 and Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. She and her husband, who is a Palestinian refugee, are currently living in the United States with their two children, unable to return to or visit Gaza due to the Israeli siege. They, like thousands of others of Palestinians are “languishing in legal limbo,” El-Haddad said.

“As Palestinians we spend so much time waiting for something — for a war to start, for a permit to be approved, for a border to be crossed,” she said. “I wanted to contribute to the Palestinian narrative.”

After wrestling with whether her own story was cause enough to begin a blog — “what right did I have to speak? I didn’t really have it that bad” — El-Haddad began sharing her first-hand experiences online at www.gazamom.com to show the “harrowing manifestations of occupation.”

Several of those experiences focused her talk, such as the Palestinian civilian effects of Israel and Egypt’s blockade of the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, saying that despite media reporting of a humanitarian food crisis, the sanctions represented a “siege of freedoms, not the siege of food.” Israel increased its sanctions and restricted access in Gaza in 2007, after the Islamic political-militant group Hamas won the Palestinian 2006 elections.

“For us, it’s a matter of freedom,” she said. “We want to be able to live normal lives and not have our lives dys-functionalized.”

At one point, El-Haddad got combative with several audience members while fielding questions about what obligation Israelis have to Palestinians in the first place and the underlying motivations for closing borders in the Gaza strip.

“There are always preconditions placed on Palestinians and there are none on Israelis,” she said, prompting a series of heated follow-up questions by the audience.

“There is a great illusion that if one were to open the borders that Palestinians will run out of Gaza with knives and attack the first Israelis they see. But if you talk to Palestinians who have had children killed by Israel and born the brunt of the occupation, they say, I don’t care about that. If you ask them if they bear Israelis hard feelings, they say, no, we would welcome them into our house.”

When asked about what a viable endgame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be, El-Haddad was unequivocal.

“A one-state solution that is democratic with rights for all is where it’s headed whether people like it or not,” she said. “If Israel were to open the borders, people would have no problem co-existing.”

The talk was organized by Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel, a student-run organization that has pressed for Stanford’s divestment from Israel. El-Haddad stopped at Stanford as part of her two-week book tour of California and Washington.

  • 56-1-0

    El-Haddad is saying that it is hunky-dory for the world to have 56 Muslim states, 1 state for ‘all it’s people’ and 0 Jewish states. Funny that she didn’t mention suicide bombers and qassam rockets – exports from ‘peace-loving’ Gaza.

  • Pipe Dreams

    Even if the majority of Gazans want to co-exist with Israelis, their leaders unabashedly do not. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it was rewarded with more violence, not less. However, even the premise that Palestinians would love to live and work with Jews in a single state is doubtful given the reaction to the “Pallyleaks” scandal. Apparently, the compromises that Palestinian Authority in the West Bank was willing to make to the Israelis were too much for its people to handle. The only solution for a conflict this deep and emotional is a two-state solution. Any other plan invites disaster.

  • sharia

    56-1-0, she did respond to a query about general Gazan perception of suicide bombing. She clearly condemned that sort of action but said, given the occupation and oppression, many Gazans would not go out of their way to protest it. Also, El-Haddad made no comment about whether a Jewish state should exist, but she did mention the illegalities of Israel’s policies. Not to mention, if you’re working with statistics (taken out of context, albeit) then you should know that the Jewish population worldwide is less than 1% as populous as the Muslim population (15 million vs. 1.5 billion). Given that, there should be roughly 100 Muslim states for every 1 Jewish state (not that I’d qualify the premise of your “logic” of numbers in the first place).

    Pipe Dream: I think it is a matter of opinion as to what the best solution is. I was not convinced of her belief that a one-state solution is inevitable. And despite the well-known “Arab hospitality” that Palestinians probably have, I am not convinced that they harbor no ill-will toward Israel (esp. those who have lost loved ones). Fear is never a rational state of mind, but even from an objective standpoint it seems quite likely that a Palestinian would not be so welcoming of an Israeli soldier into their homes (could be wrong though). Anyway, I did like El-Haddad’s conviction and overall I was moved by her opinion, but I would not agree with it entirely.

  • sharia’s statistics

    “the Jewish population worldwide is less than 1% as populous as the Muslim population (15 million vs. 1.5 billion). Given that, there should be roughly 100 Muslim states for every 1 Jewish state (not that I’d qualify the premise of your “logic” of numbers in the first place)” … no no no, his logic was right (in that he rounded up), your extrapolation of it wasn’t.
    The 900,000 Jews dispossessed from Arab countries in the mid-20th century accounted for >2% of the middle eastern population at that point in time. Israel comprises <0.5% of the middle east's area, and therefore from the ethno-religious exclusivity that outlaws Jews from purchasing land in Jordan or existing as citizens in Saudi Arabia (for example), justice demands a Jewish homeland in the middle east roughly four times Israel's current size.

  • Pooya

    I don’t feel sympathy for any population that voted in Hamas. End of story.

  • Susie

    Why not people in Gaza strip rise to protest, not just verbally condemning, to let the Hamas know that stopping the rocket firing to Israel and the suicide bombers. It’s only then they would have a chance for peace and better future!

  • Arafat

    When will Hamas properly address the obesity problem plaguing Gaza?


  • Dan

    a “siege of freedoms, not the siege of food.”

    She is honest enough to admit that the press accounts of food shortages, picked up by politicians and SCAI are lies, as there is no food shortage.