As I return to memories of my school days, particularly during geography class, one session focused on the geography of Palestine and its surrounding borders comes into focus. The class illustrated a map of Palestine as follows:
- Palestine is bordered to the north by Lebanon and Syria.
- To the west, it is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.
- To the south, Egypt and Aqaba.
- To the east, it shares borders with Jordan.
Yes, this was the content of the textbook in school when I was eleven. When I saw that there was a vast sea to the west of Palestine, my imagination began weaving beautiful dreams and thoughts of visiting the sea, playing on the beach, and swimming in its waters.
Even at that young age, I understood that there was an Israeli occupation, and this occupation claimed a significant portion of Palestine. However, as a child, I reassured myself, thinking, “The sea is vast, too vast. I don’t believe the occupier can take all of this sea and leave us with nothing!”
As I grew older, I realized that these were just dreams that became impossible to fulfill. There is an occupation that not only seized the sea but also stole homes and lands. It dug its claws deep, uprooting the roots of beautiful memories passed down through generations. The beautiful beach, surely a promenade for lovers, a sanctuary to lament and ease pain, a place where children’s laughter shaped the sands.
Perhaps those who do not live in Palestine do not fully understand the struggles of Palestinians moving from one place to another. While it is possible to travel between cities in the West Bank, predicting what one might encounter on the journey is impossible. Roads are filled with settlements, and Israeli checkpoints can halt travel for hours.
If a Palestinian wishes to visit a city in “Israel,” which is originally a Palestinian city, it is not an easy task. They must apply for a permit, similar to a visa, from the Israelis. If approved, it is often valid for just one day, and there is a high chance of rejection.
Imagine that, as a Palestinian I must seek permission from the occupier to visit my own country and homeland!
Several years ago, Israel “allowed” Palestinians to visit some cities in Israel and go to Jerusalem. However, to do so Palestinians must pass through checkpoints and endure humiliating inspections.
This decision was happy news for many Palestinians. They rejoiced and embarked on trips, tolerating the challenging checkpoints, with their sole aim being to reach the sea and enjoy its waters.
There were “crossing points or openings ” that were unofficial, and I am sure the Israelis were aware of them. Some Palestinians used these “openings” to sneak into Israeli territories. Everything usually went smoothly and peacefully unless they were caught by the Israelis.
One day, a friend persuaded me to go through one of these “openings.” The idea revived my childhood imagination. A childish smile adorned my face, and my heart raced with excitement. With a voice mingling with a sob, I said to my friend, “Can I go to Jerusalem, and can we go to the sea?” A tear rolled down my eye – a tear of longing, joy, and excitement.
However, there was a heartache in me. Why should I sneak into Jerusalem to pray? Why should I hide to see the sea? Why this humiliation and suffering? Nevertheless, despite all that, I was convinced, and I went with my friends.
When we reached one of these “openings” and crossed into the other side,” the shock set in immediately. I instantly recalled Alice in Wonderland when she fell down the rabbit hole and entered a completely different world.
Yes, that’s what happened. I crossed through this “opening” and was surprised by a significant change in streets, buildings, and views.
We stopped to catch a bus, and unfortunately, reaching Jerusalem was not possible. Still, we could get to Herzliya, and I was excited because there was a sea and I thought I could enjoy walking and reading a book on the beach.
The enthusiasm and joy were beyond description. We arrived at the beach, and standing there – feeling the sand beneath my feet, the sea’s water striking them –filled me with joy. I closed my eyes, speaking to my 11-year-old self, telling him to keep these dreams because he will see the sea.
However, at one moment, the surrounding voices rose, overpowering the tranquility I cherished. I opened my eyes and, despite knowing that this area was under Israeli control, I did not expect it to be this challenging.
Wherever I looked, I saw an Israeli family enjoying a beach trip or a group of friends playing together. Children were practicing surfing, and everyone was speaking Hebrew, they were all Israelis.
The whole world seemed to twist around me, and a thousand questions swirled in my head, accompanied by a deep sense of regret and disappointment. What’s happening there? I can’t comprehend it! Why are they happy like this? How can they find such joy on a land they stole from us?
I just sat with no energy, helpless, shocked, refusing to engage in anything while my friends enjoyed their time swimming. They asked me to join them, but I simply nodded my head, expressing my unwillingness to do anything.
I wanted to return home immediately. I didn’t want to stay in this place. I was exhausted.
The few hours we spent there felt like years. I felt like a prisoner, experiencing fear, anger, sorrow, and sadness so many emotions that overwhelmed me at that moment. However, I am sure of one thing: I was not happy.
When I returned home, I cried. I couldn’t stop. It was the worst day of my life, one of the worst experiences I ever had.
Since that day, I decided I would not go to that part of the country until Palestine is free. Only then I would take my children to play on the beach and walk with my wife on the shores, sitting together, holding hands. We will gaze at the sunset in the liberated Palestinian sky, watch as it gracefully descends into the expanse of the free Palestinian sea.
In the end, these aren’t merely aspirations; they are the steadfast convictions of a Palestinian yearning for the day when the stolen sea and skies are finally free. This narrative is a testament to resilience; a pledge that one day, the sun will set over a liberated Palestinian horizon, casting its golden hues upon a sea that rightfully belongs to its people.