[r] Hello, I’m [name] , I’m from Palestine.  From a city, the name of the city is Gaza.

[i] The city and the province are Gaza?

[r] Yes.

[i] Both, ah yes …

[r] The province is Gaza, and the city is the same, Gaza.  I live in Gaza.


[i] Say something again?

[r] I am 39 years old, I came here in October 2013.  As a student, to do a master’s degree.  I graduated in 2016.

So, when you all went to live in Gaza, was it politically stable?

[r] Yes.

[i] And then it changed, when did everything change?

[r] The Second Intifada, everything turned upside down… because…  the Palestinian government …  started negotiating again with the UN about getting a country.  And they wanted their independence, a free Palestinian government.  And they promised us …  during a conference with Bill Clinton in the United States, that there would be a country for Palestine in 2004.  Or maybe even earlier, I guess 2002.  And that was listed as an agreement.  And our president shook the hand of the president of the US, and it was a full deal.  And afterwards, …  nothing happened, and the USA rejected it: you won’t get a country.  We can remember that time, when the Israeli president Shimon Peres, a giant celebration organized, he is of the Left Party.  A big celebration because he was going to give a country to the Palestinians … finally …  a president accepts to give a country to Palestinians.  And he gave a big big party, at that time.  What happened then?  The right-wing extremist parties killed him during the party.  The president was murdered.  Even with the guards around him.  And there was a big question about what the guards were doing, because they saw someone with a big gun, not even a small gun …  A big gun, and he came and shot at him 3 times.  And the guard did nothing until he was shot, only then did an arrest follow. So some say that the guards also wanted this to happen.  And then, after this incident, it all got worse.  The Second Intifada started, there was resistance, Israel started to bomb Gaza again.  Until … After a long time … some Palestinians in Gaza lost hope for a political solution.  They said that politics doesn’t work at all.  If …  the situation in Gaza was stable, and everyone had food and social security there like when I came to Europe, then everyone would be safe.  Through social security.  But there is no social security.  If you don’t have a job, you end up on the street, you suffer.  You can go to the hospital, buy medication or if you have surgery, you can pay the bill.  Suffering with suffering, a lot of suffering, and no solution?  People want something … They want to do something else.  You want to do something else, so that something can change to stop the suffering.  So the key word is ‘suffering’.  It is not ‘ideas’.  If you have suffered so much…  don’t think about wisdom anymore.  So, a new organization, or a new politics uh…  army, it starts as an army …  like Fatah, like Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, …  They started to believe that the only way to get independence was war.  We have to fight.  But… what to fight… What do you have to fight?  For us, their main idea is: if we show the world that we are dying for independence, maybe something can happen.  We know we’re not going to win the war, we just want the world’s attention.  And they decide to go to war, and they start the Second Intifada with the students, the children, but the armies only have machine guns …  And they start to form themselves, they go outside Gaza somewhere, follow military education. In other countries like Iran, such countries.  They get education and they start making rockets, handmade rockets.  Very simple rockets, they are not sent.  You just launch the rocket, no matter where it goes.  90 percent of the rockets fall in the desert or on empty spots.  You can’t even call it a rocket, and very rarely it falls on a house.  And even if it falls on a house, it doesn’t do any major damage, it only does minor damage.  And the people who died, because the rocket ended up on the street where people were, were not lucky, they were really unlucky to be in that area.  And Israel … when these organizations started building rockets, became more aggressive, started to bomb, …  but it wasn’t really war, like real deliberate killing.  They just saw someone with a car, they sent army helicopters, and they killed them.  But afterwards, they developed more, and they had missiles that covered more than 20 km, more than 40 km.  And Israel started to worry, because there was military development.  And … By the end of 2008, when I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in Gaza, after many problems, missiles being launched, Israel became angry because they couldn’t stop it … It was a Saturday.  I remember it was a Saturday, it was in the middle of the day, 12 o’clock …  I was at home, and suddenly the sky was full of planes.  You couldn’t even remember how many there were because the sound of the F16’s was deafening.  And they all bombed at the same time.  That was the biggest huge war that happened in Gaza.  They all bombed at the same time.  So … the feeling… if…  you just hear the windows of your house vibrate, your house itself vibrates all the way because they have a new kind of rocket that vibrates deep into the ground.  Up into some kind of bunkers or cellars.  And …  we went to see what was going on on on the roof …  and we saw an unbelievable image, an unbelievable image.  You could see reflections everywhere.  In the first 10 minutes … 600 Palestinians were killed.  Why?  The Palestinians knew that the situation was becoming critical.  And they didn’t expect Israel to attack, they believed they could do something like a big strike, kill an important leader …  But they didn’t expect that Israel would do such a big battle.  And they didn’t expect to strike on a Saturday either, because the Israeli Jews are forbidden to fight on a Saturday.  That is part of their faith, totally forbidden to fight on a Saturday.  So Israel itself broke with the faith, to surprise and kill as much as possible.  So, the president at the time said: our goal is to kill as much as possible.  That is the goal.  And then you heard the ambulances, the hospital, you heard people screaming, you saw a lot of collapsed houses, there were houses bombed.  Military places and houses.  And …  we stayed in the house … very anxious … worried about what would happen.  Because I live in an area where many people of Hamas are, they are everywhere.  And we were so afraid that there would be an attack next to our house, and that we would die.  As a result, all the shops were closed.  There was no electricity, so far we only have 2 hours of electricity a day.  We could not get food, as I said most of the shops were closed and …  I had to get food for my family.  And I went outside at 10 am in the morning …  and I came home at 10 in the evening.  Why?  I stood in a very long line in one of the bakeries.  Waiting my turn to buy some bread.  Hundreds of people were waiting in the queue.  And you were lucky if you could come home with a loaf of bread.

So, in 2008 there’s another turning point, isn’t there? With the bombing?

[r] Yes, it is.

[i] And also, did they shut down Gaza? Or had they closed it before?  Difficult to get out?

[r] It was closed because…  Hamas controlled the city.

[i] Since before?

[r] Previously.

[i] The Second Intifada?

[r] Yes, because of the loss of a political solution the Palestinian government came under heavy pressure to stop Hamas.  They had to stop Hamas.  The Palestinian government started to arrest Hamas, to torture them.  They tortured them seriously.  They tortured them, they arrested them, saying that they were not allowed to launch rockets because they were useless.  They only gave us problems.  I believe this, I understand that.  It is like a desperate person who suffers so much that he explodes.  He wants the attention of the world, he wants to do something.  But the president said: the world is not going to do anything …  The world is not someone who can do something and he doesn’t want to do it.  It is much more complicated.  The world, in fact, definitely not … Unfortunately.  The one who decides, is the one who has the veto.  That’s how simple the world is.  If you have the support of someone who has the veto …  no one can hurt you at all.  So that’s the world. That’s why they lost hope for a political solution, because they said: this is the jungle.  Whoever has the veto in the jungle is the lion of the jungle.  If we go to the UN to vote, and 130 countries say yes for a country for Palestine, and only one country that has a veto says no, then it is no.  Only 1 … and people started to say: okay, is this a democracy, or is this a jungle?  So those organisations started believing they had to do something else.  And they went to Hamas, and Hamas got worse and worse.  And they knew it was getting worse, they just wanted to believe that maybe something could move, someone would move or that the countries could stop that suffering.

[i] And when did you start dreaming about coming to Europe?  When did you think: I have to leave Gaza?

[r] I started thinking about leaving Gaza… in 2000.  It was unstable for 4 years, and I think after that moment, after I had seen the situation…

It was the Second Intifada?  Yes … I wanted to leave Gaza to… 2 reasons …  Reason number 1: there is no life, there is no future.  No future at all for you … in that city.  If I go to Saudi Arabia … there they don’t believe parties … political parties.  Saudi Arabia just has a king, and one government.  They teach us that parties are not good, they only have problems with each other, they make the country weak.  So, I’ve never been to an election until now.  In Gaza I saw something else.  I saw organisations, and I felt like a stranger again.  Why?  Because with organisations, if you’re not one of them…  then they don’t see you as someone good, then they have no respect for you.  They don’t give you a job.  I felt like a stranger again.  Like: Hey guys, I’m a Palestinian, just like you.  But you’re not from an organization.  The second problem why I wanted to leave Gaza …  is that after a long time of suffering, I wanted to tell my father: thank you very much … you have worked very hard … to …  to be there for us, to make a home, to be our home, …  to feed us, … It is now my turn to help you a little.  Because in our culture the children live with their parents, even at the age of 30. And I felt I had to do something, I wanted my father to be able to relax.  Because he was 70 years old, that’s enough.  I didn’t want my father to spend the rest of his life with me.  I tried everything, I worked on the streets in Gaza, I sold perfume.  Perfume, it didn’t yield much, but I just wanted to do something.  And it brought in some money, and I started to pay my father back.  But unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to become independent, buy an apartment, and get married. Not at all.  I decided after this: I have to do something.  Which country I wanted to go to, because it was the easiest for me, was the country where I was born.  Because, if you were born in a country, they should actually give you the nationality.  But the system in Saudi Arabia, they don’t give you nationality, even if you were born there, even if you lived there for 20 years, even …  50 years, you don’t get the nationality.  I went to Saudi Arabia, and I begged them: please, give me a residence permit, I want to stay.  I want to work, I want to be independent … They said: sorry …  They disapproved, and I came back to Gaza.  I went back, and back… 3 times I went back to Saudi Arabia.  And they said: sorry, we won’t do it.  They have a problem, as I said at the beginning, they want to put an end to the abundance of foreigners in that country.  Because there are many, from Egypt, from Sudan, many foreigners, from Yemen …  But the people of Yemen all went from Saudi Arabia to Yemen.  Also because of political problems at that time … um …  After I failed the last time to get a residence permit in Saudi Arabia …  I said: I want something … I want to do something unique.  I started to read …  what is the danger in the sea … because in Gaza we have a sea.  I thought to build or buy a boat or …  anything … then I can take a boat from Gaza and go to Europe with that boat … This is a crazy idea.  I had no experience with navigation or …  uh … or how I should be the captain of a ship or…  I just wanted to do something, that was enough.  And I said: if I die… then at least I’m not a burden to my father.  See? How much suffering can be up to this level?  But I figured this out as a plan B, when everything else failed…  all my attempts to get into Europe failed …  I would continue this dangerous mission.  I bought the device in your hand that chases away sharks, before the boat had to sink.  I bought something that you have to carry so that you float.  I bought … we’re not allowed to buy oxygen, that’s forbidden.  Because when you buy oxygen in a tube, they take it away. They won’t allow it.  If you go to Gaza.  I bought everything I could buy.  And I said: I’m going to try to get to Europe several times. I wanted to try first…  through Romania, which is the easiest way.  People find smugglers, they pay them money, and they get them there with a tourist visa, and from Romania, you can go wherever you want.  I did my best, but it is so dangerous.  Because someone can take all your money, and say goodbye.

[i] This was in 2000… how much … 2009?

[r] Then I started 2 procedures at the same time. One of them was a very long procedure.  To come as a master, a student visa, it takes a lot of time.  I started the second …  in 2012.

[i] 2012?

[r] Yes.

[i] Were you trying to go to Romania?

[r] Yes.

[i] You went to Romania?

[r] No, I was looking for a smuggler, I gave him money so he could take me to Romania.  And how do you do that? We know people in Gaza, they know people, and you…  that’s how it goes, via via …  The smuggler asked for 2000 dollars.  I said: what is the guarantee?  He said: if you don’t get your visa, we will give the money back.  Are you sure? He said: that’s what I’m saying.  I didn’t believe that, but because I had no choice, and life was an adventure.  I said: I risk my life in plan B, going by boat. So I’m not going to hesitate to risk money.  Because I worked at the UN as an English teacher, there was ‘UNRWA’, a United Nations holiday and work agency.  They don’t give you a permanent job, they offer you help.  After I graduated from university, they offered help for a job.  Because I was considered a refugee in Gaza.  It is not my city, my original city is Jaffa, so I lived in Gaza as a refugee.  And they help refugees … uh… a little help, It’s help to make you independent.  And … you can start your life.  So I took all the money I had from the UN to go to Europe… It costs a lot of money.  Unfortunately he was a bad smuggler, he took the money … and… no visa.  Many Palestinians lost from Gaza … all their money to these smugglers, they take your money and they just give you nothing.  And then … I kept going, and my plan A … was to go to Europe legally, with a student visa. I started the procedure in 2001.  Why did I start long ago?  To go from Europe to Gaza is a miracle.  It is as if they were some kind of… set conditions, like, on a political level.  They don’t say you can’t come, they just make it impossible.  They make it impossible for you, they make it so difficult.  So I started reading, my computer is the only friend I have.  The only friend, since I was in Saudi Arabia … I had no computer there, but I played computer games. I bought a computer when I went to Gaza.  And it became my only friend.  It was the only window through which I could see the world.

[i] You had internet in Gaza?

Yes, we have internet, it’s bad internet, but it’s good.  When I was in my room, I always opened Google Maps.  And you know, in Google Maps you can take to the streets in real life.  And you can walk through the streets.  I looked at the European cities, I walked around, I walked through the streets in Google Maps.  To see the streets, to see the beautiful places, to see the gardens.  Just dreaming, living in a virtual world, hoping that I would reach it.  And I said that if I wanted to go to Europe, I had to learn English first.  I went to university and I graduated in English.  And it was also important to work at the UN, because that is a requirement.  If you wanted to be accepted at my university, you had to have worked in an international institute.  My university VUB, where I studied.  You had to have worked in an international institute, why?  Because they wanted to screen you.  They don’t trust the Palestinian government, they don’t trust anyone.  They want to know who you are before they let you in.  So I worked with the UN, they knew me, they talked to them.  They said: yes, we know [name] , he was a teacher with us, he is a good person, he is ok, I brought a good attitude to the institute.  And afterwards … After I…  In fact, working at the UN is very difficult, because they give a score, a minimum score.  If you want to work at the UN, you have to achieve a minimum of 75%.  As the highest score, as the last score at the university.  If you get less than 75 percent, you won’t be admitted to the UN.  And that was difficult, because my English department…  It was very difficult for us Palestinians to learn English.  Above all, I’m from Saudi Arabia, English is very bad there, they don’t teach English there, I mean professionally.  They teach very simple, very simple English.  And when I went to Gaza it was very difficult for me.  But I made it.  I got over 75 percent, and I worked at the UN.  And I saved that money for the future.  My parents said: [name] , now it’s time to get married.  Because I was 35 years old.  And I said: if I get married, I can’t go to Europe anymore.  I had decided what my goal was.  I decided not to waste money on anything else.  And even then, it’s for 2 years and then it’s up.  Marriage is also very expensive, because in our culture the man is responsible for all expenses.  Why? Because the girls do not work, there are girls who work, but …  To get married in Gaza … to get married in Gaza …  the man is the one who has to work because it is the man who starts the family.  It doesn’t happen that the girl goes to the man and says: I’m going to marry you …  That doesn’t happen, normally it’s the man who goes to the girl.  And if the family of the girl doesn’t accept the man…  All lost, he has the house and the salary.  What else are you going to spend on our daughter?  How are you going to feed our daughter?  They won’t accept you.  And I said again: why is it a problem that the man has to work? Because…  There is not much work, very little work.  So when we say we are equal, and the boy and the girl both work…  That means…  Then society disappears, then society doesn’t grow.  The people, they disappear.  Because many girls work, and they have a salary, they have money, but …  The money, why do the girls want money? For luxury, for a better life.  But the man wants work, to start a family.  That’s the difference … between …  So in our culture the man is responsible for all expenses, because he is the one who works.  And I said to my father: I can’t. To my parents: I can’t get married.  I want to go to Europe.  And that was even after the second big war in 2012.  After 2008, 2009 that war ended.  And again the situation became worse and worse and worse and worse and worse. And then it got better again.  And then they started to launch rockets again, and another war started, it was a huge big war.  And we often looked death in the eye, I have often been exposed to death.  I have been almost dead twice.  One of those times, I was walking through the streets, and there was a building.  It was about 20 meters, or 25 meters away from me.  And the building was hit by an F16, by a heavy rocket.  I was suddenly lying on the ground… You hear a sound in your ears, you hear nothing.  Imagine the feeling that you hear nothing, you see smoke everywhere … grey smoke.  From the powder, the powder from the rocket.  And you hear nothing.  And you’re just in shock, you look what happened.  And then you see that there was an attack on that building.  Fortunately … was the attack … from back to front, it wasn’t the opposite direction.  Because if the attack had been to me in the other direction…  Imagine that the building in front of you is …  and the attack was in your direction…  then you are a dead man.  All the stones will kill you.  If it’s not through the fire, it’s through the stones.  But I was lucky that the attack was behind me.  So all the stones and the … fell to the other side.  We fell down from the pressure, you feel the pressure of the rocket.  It is … Indescribable, I can’t explain how the pressure felt.  Because when the rocket explodes, there is an enormous pressure, it can …  That pressure can actually kill you, even if it doesn’t touch you.  But it depends on the direction of the wall, it depends on the direction of the rocket.  And I was lucky that time, that I didn’t die.  And then, after I started the application for my university, online, again on the computer.  We don’t have any embassies in Gaza, we have to do everything online.  That’s why the computer was my only friend.  I did an online application for Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium …  And …  I wanted to go to Sweden or Belgium.  Why? Because these countries are very popular with the Palestinians.  Palestinians know that Belgium and Sweden often help them.  And Palestinians love Belgium very much, and they love Sweden.  We all started to hear that in Sweden, the right-wing party became number one in the elections, and immigration stopped.  They didn’t want immigration anymore, because the right-wing party won the elections.  And later we heard that the right-wing party also won in Belgium, and things got harder and harder.  But at least we knew they were the best European countries for us.  I made an application and I waited for the results from the university.  After 6 months I got an answer from the university, which I was accepted, they gave me a letter of admission.  The most difficult part is the embassy.  The embassy, they give you lots of forms to fill out.  Opening question …  Why do you want to come to Belgium?  Why do you want this, why do you want it?  A lot of that, like in an essay you have to write, a lot of paragraphs.  I started filling out all the forms and I…  waited for the answer.  I brought the documents, very difficult documents …  Like: they want you to have a blank criminal record.  And how did you get that document? You have to get it from the Palestinian Authority.  But it does not exist in Gaza, it is in Ramallah.  So you have to spend a lot of money on DHL again.  DHL is very expensive.  DHL stands for very fast shipments, because the normal mail in Gaza …  Hardly anyone can handle it, it doesn’t work.  I called the immigration office and said: please, if you send the letter of admission, don’t send it by normal mail.  Call me, and I’ll send DHL to pick it up with you.  So they made a first mistake…  and they sent it by regular mail.  Then it’s gone, forget it, you never get it.  Then you can wait centuries, I waited a long time, 4 months, I got nothing.  I decided to ask again, please, you can make a new admission letter, I will get it from DHL. They said: okay.  They made another letter of admission, and I sent DHL, and DHL brought it to me.  And after I gathered everything together, papers and everything…  came the most important moment in my life: the result.  I checked every day online, you could check it online.  They give you a code.  You enter that code and you see your procedure …  It’s ‘in process’, which means it’s still in procedure.  Every day, before I opened the website…  I closed my eyes…  and very slowly I read the first letter, the second letter …  Ah, I was so scared, because my plan B was …  so terrifying, so going by sea.  I didn’t want that to happen.  Because in most cases you die.  But I said: if I die, I die while I try.  I didn’t just want to surrender and sit back and say: okay, I’ll just accept my fate… No.  I will change fate, my fate.  Because no one knows what his fate is.  You have to do everything, whatever it takes, to achieve what you want.  You don’t resign yourself to it, and you accept fate.  Eventually, one day, I remember, it was 15 o’clock…  I got a call… I looked at my cell phone…  And it was the Belgian embassy. Because I had saved the number of the embassy.  And they ask your phone number, to give the results.  And the results are communicated by telephone, before they reach the website.  You see, even when they communicated the results over the phone, I still checked the link on the website, even though it wasn’t announced on it.  Uh … I … saw that the embassy called me for the first time…  And I knew that those were the results, because the jury takes about 40 days, something like that.  They called me …  My heart pounded so hard, this was the most important moment in my life.  From 2001 to 2013 …  Waiting for this moment …  When a woman called, I did not know her name …  And she asked me: are you [name] ? I said, yes, I am [name] .  And she said: we have… accepted you.  I was like…  frozen.  No feeling at that moment.  Like, when you get a huge shock, whether it’s positive or negative…  I tried to control my emotions.  Even though I was exploding inside.  I just wanted to throw away my phone and walk to everyone.  To my family, to my friends, to tell them that I was accepted.  I controlled my emotions, I said: thank you very much.  I hung up on … and…  I exploded, after I had hung up the phone.  My mother was sleeping in the bedroom, my father was brushing his teeth.  And I ran to them like crazy, shouting.  They accepted me, they accepted me!

When my mother saw me like this with that face…  because we always get bad news in Gaza…  she was so scared, with big open eyes and a red face, as if she thought someone had died.  Because we never hear good news in Gaza, it is always bad news.  She thought something bad had happened.  That something very bad had happened.  And I said: my mother, they accepted me!  My mother was frozen.  My father was like frozen.  And my father said: no, no, no, don’t believe it.  Did they ask you for money?  They will just steal your money.  My father didn’t believe this could happen to me.  He said: no, they are…  lying to you, they’re going to ask you for money, they’re going to ask you for money…  Don’t believe them, don’t believe them, my father said. The embassy, he said, how do you know if it really is the embassy?  I said to him: it’s their number, look.  He said: how do you know it’s their number?  I said: from the internet. My father has no experience at all with computers, zero.  He comes from a different time, you know, older people who don’t know how to open a computer.  They don’t even know how to turn on a computer.  My father: what is the Internet?  Whenever my father saw me on the computer, he thought I was playing games.  He got mad at me, he said: stop playing, study!  I said: father, this is a computer, I don’t play.  He said: no, you are playing. They don’t know what a computer is.  And I said: this is from the Internet, from the embassy.  He said: I don’t believe the Internet.  I said: okay. My passport was at the embassy.  The embassy told me to send DHL to pick it up.  I said: okay wait, I’m going to get my passport, and I’ll show you with your own eyes.  Everyone in the house was quiet, nobody expected this.  Something happened, a turning point in our lives.  After 3, 4 days I got my passport, and I saw the visa.  This visa was like a miracle.  My father saw it, and he didn’t believe it yet.  He said: how can you be sure that this is not false?  I said: my father, oh my God, how can I convince him?  Because simply no one could believe that this could happen.  Even when I went to the uh…  travel agency went to buy a ticket.  I said: I want to buy a ticket. He asked: where?  I said: I want a ticket to Brussels.  He looked at me, and he said to me: who made you this fake visa?  Could you do me a favor, because I’m also looking for someone to make one for me?  I said: man, this is not a fake visa, this is a passport.  He said: really, this is not a fake visa?  Because we know smugglers who make visas but who …  I said: this is a real visa.  He said: okay, okay, give it to me, I’ll know now.  They enter the number on the computer for verification.  And he entered the number …  and he was like frozen … again …  Because someone just came in and said: I need a ticket to Brussels.  It is the dream of every Palestinian.  Gaza is hell … Have you seen Titanic?  Titanic is a ship that sinks into the sea?  And people are just fighting for their lives.  Imagine that you are seeing someone…  who has something to float, and someone is lying on it.  They don’t care, they will jump on you, even if it kills you.  Therefore, the comparison with the Titanic, everyone wants someone to hang on to.  It’s like you’re going to die at sea and finally you find a piece of wood or so to float …  It’s as if life is flowing through your body again, and that’s what happened to me.  A dead man came back to life.  The man looked at me and said, “Man, what have you done in your life that God loves you so much?  Please teach me.  I told him… you need a procedure of 13 years …  He said: okay, I don’t think I’m going to do it.  Because Palestinians only try it through smugglers.  They don’t have that patience, the university, for a lifetime and it takes money to study at the university to…  If you…  You know, during the procedure, if you don’t meet one small requirement, the whole project fails.  Like, if I hadn’t made it to 75 percent, I wouldn’t have been able to work at the UN, UNRWA, and then I wouldn’t have been allowed in.  Just one small mistake, and the whole project collapses.  And it happens, many Palestinians, better than me, who have studied more, who are more intelligent, they have applied for a student visa and they have been rejected.  Your chance of success is 5 percent, or less.

[i] Like the lottery.

[r] Like the lottery.  When you win, you see how people feel.  It is a turning point in their lives.  And after all this, came the hardest part.  How can I leave Gaza?  The borders were closed, and Egypt opened the borders 1 to 3 days a month.  And they only allowed 2 or 3 buses.  You couldn’t go by car, because there was no airport, it was destroyed in the war.  I had to go to Cairo by bus, and the bus was fully guarded by soldiers.  So they had to take you from the Egyptian border …  to Cairo, and from Cairo you took the plane.  How did I get there?  That was a big challenge for me.  I was going to submit an application, you had to stand in a very long queue.  More than 20,000 Palestinians waiting in a long queue, to get a number, just to get a number.  Once you got your number, then…  Every day I went from Gaza, because I lived in the city itself, to the Egyptian border, 80 km there, and 80 km back, every day.  You go, and you wait, from 6 am to 6 pm.  And the sun burned like hell.  You just had to wait for your turn.  It was not your turn, because there were thousands of people, but with any luck, they announced you …  As you got closer, and you got ready, because you didn’t know how many were allowed through, maximum 3.  And each bus took a maximum of about 50 people.  So 150 people could pass, and you had thousands of people in front of you.  But when they called out my name, they said: [name] , get ready, because you have the chance to go on, then I went… to the borders.  That happened during … 3 weeks, continuously.  I went to the borders … and you know, like…  Egypt could suddenly say that the borders were open, the borders were closed, they could close at any time …  I went to the borders, and … returned to Gaza every day. Why?  Sorry, they just didn’t open the borders today.  Why? Suddenly there is an explosion in Sinai, because there is a war between the ex-president, the rebels and the army.  So if there was an explosion or a shooting, they immediately closed the borders.  It was … really a… whole passion for me, because I often went …  and I came back, and it cost me money.  Thanks to my work at UNRWA, I had the money, and that money saved me to be able to pay a lot of money in many places, for the legal procedure.  And then … happy … one day I ended up… on the bus.  And we went through the Egyptian borders, we were on the Egyptian side.

[i] How do you do that, every day you could go away, how do you say goodbye to your family that way?

[r] The first time…  The first time I went, they announced my name, I saw my name on the internet: [name] , you have a chance to get through the borders …  I said inside … I will never, ever return to Gaza.  Never.  My parents don’t know that.  In fact, my father still doesn’t believe that this is a visa.  He said: they are going to put you in prison, it is a false visa.  My father does not believe that it is a visa, that it is a legal procedure.  He says: they are going to send him back.  Because it is a miracle, my father was actually against me during the whole procedure.  He was very angry with me. He said: [name] …  You are stupid, you have wasted all the money you made at the UN.  You are crazy.  Use that money to do something good, faithful, find something, or some kind of little pleasure, but, what kind of pleasure can you start the war with?  He said: you’re not going to make it, you just burned your money.  He said that to me all the time.  I said: I will continue, even if I lose the last few centimeters of my money.  Because the next step was my life, I would have risked my life.  The boat, my father doesn’t know that.  Then, when I had to leave my parents… I cried.  My mother was so scared, why is he crying?  They had never seen me cry before.  And I asked my mother: please forgive me if I did something that made you angry.  I said to my father: forgive me if I did something in my life that made you angry.  My father was 72 years old, my mother 70.  I don’t want to… I knew I wouldn’t see them again.  That was the first time I left the house.  Then, when I knew that… I couldn’t cross the borders and I returned home…  The next time it was much less, I started to see …  what was going on … would I make it or not?  I kept going to the borders day in, day out, and saying goodbye, but every day it was less. The first time was the hardest.  My brother saw me, he came with me, Hassan. He saw me …  He wanted to cry, because he said, [name] , I am now the only bully in the house.  Who’s going to… be with me… because… in Gaza …  the parents can become dependent, they can’t live alone.  You have to walk 300 meters to get water, which is very heavy.  We have very bad water, everyone knows that.  When Israel took over Palestine, they took most of the areas with the good water, and they gave us the worst there is.  So we have very bad water.  So we don’t drink from the tap, we have to go buy it.  And not of good quality, but at least better than that of the tap.  So you have to carry 20 litres, very heavy, to the fourth floor.  My father would never be able to do that, he’s often operated on his kidneys.  He has a lot of health problems, he can’t carry it.  And we also bought a generator for the electricity.  You also have to buy liters of gasoline, very heavy.  And every day you also have problems with the generator, because it is Chinese.  Very low quality, we can’t buy an expensive generator.  We have very bad generators.  Just last week my brother said to me: fire came out of the generator and it exploded, I’m so lucky that I’m not dead.  The most dangerous part of the generator is if you turn it on, it can explode in your face.  It has exploded twice in my brother’s face.  Luckily he has only minor injuries.  And I said to my brother: if I lived in Gaza … and I married …  My father told me: I can’t support you. Because my father …  saved money in Saudi Arabia, and we live off it.  My father can only support one person, and his wife.  Because he is going to pay for you, for your wife, and for all your children.  I said: if I stay in Gaza, you will never or never get married.  You will never have a life.  If I leave Gaza, it is very good for you.  And I promise you that as soon as I get there, and I have a job, I will help you financially.  Even now that I have help from the government…  I send a lot of money to my brother every month.  To cheer him up.  The whole house is at his expense, he takes care of everything.  And the situation is so dangerous, I said: if someone comes to attack the house …  then take all the money, because people lose their minds.  People set themselves on fire with gasoline.  Boys of 19 years old, 18 years old, …  Your life is dead, walking corpses, they take gasoline and pour it on themselves and they light the fire.  My brother said: are you really going to help me?  I said, I’m going to do my best to help you.  I said, if I make money, I’ll send you a small amount.  I don’t even want to save, even though I can save now.  I don’t want to save my future, I think about my brother.  Everything I save, I send to my brother.  And last time, when I crossed the border, I was on the bus …  First they take you for questioning with the Egyptian Intelligence Service.  They want to ask you questions.  Who are you, why are you leaving, why are you going there?  And unfortunately there is corruption in Egypt.  The Egyptians also suffer very much because the wages are very bad.  So there is corruption through bribery.  He asked me several questions and he said to me …  3000 dollars.  That is quite normal, all Palestinians know that.  This is the least, I was very lucky. Why is he asking for this amount?  Because there are 2 kinds of people. Some pay in advance, like a VIP.  And a lot, like 5000 or more.  And if my number for example …  uh 1000 is …  then with the VIP my really number 50 000.  Because there are people who can show you around and just go on.  We know about the VIP, but I didn’t have that much money.  I lost all my money to other things: the embassy, the university, the papers, documents, DHL, a lot to DHL.  A lot, the university asked VUB to send the handwritten papers, then papers were missing and they needed a new paper, a lot of documents.  I didn’t have much money left.  And by the Romanian, $2,000 was lost, for nothing.  He started talking to me and asked me 3000 dollars.  I asked: why do I have to pay you 3000 dollars? You didn’t help me.  I stood in line.  This is my turn and you didn’t do anything for me, why do I have to help you?  He said: where did you work?  I said: I worked for 2 years at the UN.  He said: hmm, then you have dollars.  They paid you in dollars?  I said: yes, UN pays us in dollars.  He said: and where are you going? I said: I’m going to Belgium.  He said: hm that means you have money?  I said: sorry, I can’t pay you because I’m just waiting for a stamp from you.  He said: okay, okay, that’s your choice.  Then you have to wait your turn until they announce you.  Who are those … who… go to the bus?  Usually, when you have the visa, they put a stamp and you go on the bus.  I was waiting, waiting, everyone was gone and they started turning off the lights.  And the police came to me and asked: what are you doing?  I said: wait, they haven’t called my name yet.  Because; either they call your name, or they give you back your passport if you have, uh, a criminal record, or the intelligence service finds something wrong about you.  They undo your passport and put a stamp ‘back’ on it.  Then you can never leave the city again, ‘back’, because this person has done something wrong with militias, or islamic armies or something.  Then they stamp ‘back’.  I hadn’t even gotten my passport back, where was my passport?  And he turned off the lights and said: where is your passport?  I said: I don’t know, I was waiting, I was waiting for you.  They started asking themselves questions and said: man, everyone has gone home.  The borders are closing, everyone has gone home.  I was in an immense shock, I said: why are they… why … Why?  I was in shock, what had happened?  They said: wait, wait, who did your interview?  I said: the man in the room. They called him, he wasn’t in the office, he had gone home.  What had he done? He had put my passport in his desk, and closed it.  Out of revenge, because I hadn’t paid him the $3000.  Then they called him: the key is untraceable.  They found the key, opened the drawer and said: sorry, your passport is not handled … They didn’t look at it.  I said: please? What do you mean, they didn’t look at it?  He said: it wasn’t looked at, maybe he didn’t have time.  I said no, there was time for everyone but me?  And I told him, he told me this and this and this and this.  And they said: you should have paid him.  Look what he has done now.  And everyone knows that there is bribery, in Egypt bribing is normal.  Here in Belgium it is a crime, in Egypt it is normal.  Everyone knows that, all the army, everyone buys, just pay, how much do you pay me, even a cigarette, pay a cigarette as a bribe.  Bribing is normal, but by suffering …  They use the suffering to increase the money.  He said to me: sorry, go back to Gaza.  Can you imagine that, I was just across the Egyptian border.  I was so happy, incredibly happy, because I finally crossed the border.  And then, imagine, I had to go back to Gaza.  I was begging: please, give me a special car, I’ll pay for the car now.  If I had known, if I had known, that this would happen to me, I would even have given him my clothes.  All the rest of the money I had left, and also my clothes, everything.  Just to let me through, I didn’t expect him to do this to me.  I begged them: please, call a taxi, call a car.  I’ll pay the car twice.  If it costs $100, I’ll pay $200.  But please. And he said: sorry man, no, because there is war in Sinai.  And now, when they close the borders, from 15 or 16 hours, Sinai is in a bad condition, when the tanks see a moving car, they immediately shoot at it.  Because they have an appointment, after 15 hours nobody comes through this area anymore.  They sent me back to Gaza.  I lost my mind … I went crazy … I…  I don’t know how to describe my feelings.  Even my parents were happy when they heard I was allowed to go through, and when I came back home…  I didn’t talk to anyone, I went home. Everyone was in shock, what had happened?

I didn’t want to talk until the evening fell, then my mother came and asked, [name] , tell me what happened.  My father said: you see, it was a false visa.  I said, my father, I’ve had enough, please.  I told them the story.  My mother said: [name] , it’s really hard, just forget it, forget it.  I said, my mother, I go every day, even though… even though they send me back 100 times.  I finally got the visa and you want me to surrender myself after all this?  I went back the day after, and the day after, for 2 weeks.  Eventually I reached the limits again, I waited all day, and 2 buses crossed the limits, and the last bus, almost full, where one person remained …  And my family said to me: it’s over. It’s over.  Because they had announced in the news that Egypt would allow the last bus, and then close the borders.  The bus, the third bus, was already … Uh …  in motion and stopped right next to a door.  And I said to the guards: please, you know what happened to me.  They knew what, it was a story at the borders. Everyone knew.  Please, let me get on that bus.  Just, I don’t need a seat, just cross the border and change buses.  Please let me go, this has happened before, and I have all the legal documents.  They said: but maybe Egypt rejects you.  I said: I will convince them, because I called the Egyptian Embassy when I got back to Gaza and told them what had happened.  Do you know what the embassy said to me? It said: okay, uh, pay next time.  Who said: pay next time, if he asks again.  I said: if I had known he would say that, I would have paid.  Because… If I leave this place, I will never come back in this life.  Except as a corpse.  If I die here, I want to be sent back to Gaza, as a corpse.  They said: okay, try it, try your luck, go. My suitcase was still in the car.  I ran my legs off my body.  I ran to the bus so fast, I left my luggage behind.  And your luggage? I said, please, bring it to me.  I just ran, and ran, I just wanted to go. Even without luggage, I didn’t want my luggage, I just wanted to get to the bus. I ran quickly to the bus, I got in, they said: what are you doing? I said: I have a visa, this is my passport.  The Palestinians checked everything and I was allowed to continue.  He asked: where is your luggage? I said: in the car.  They said: we’ll bring it.  I said: man, you don’t have to. Because you have to put the luggage in the bus.  When the bus passes, they close the door.  But they make codes and the bus passes the gate and …  and they said: where’s your luggage, we have to search it?  I said: it’s coming, it’s coming.  I was so afraid they would send me back because of this problem.  The good news is, the Palestinian border guards sent my luggage.  They knew my situation, they sympathized with me, and they sent my luggage by taxi, and I had my luggage.  I went back through another screening, this time I was afraid.  This time I was so afraid of what would happen. Now he was an older man.  He looked like a wise and good man. He asked me the same questions again.  And they announced my name… and they said, “It’s all right, to Cairo.  I called my parents, everyone exploded with joy.  Everyone exploded.  For everyone said: in the end [name] did not make it.  Just one thing in life in Gaza.  If there is something that makes you believe that you have made it, that something unexpected can happen, it turns your life upside down.  The dream is gone, everything is gone, with the wind, so gone.  After all you did, that’s just life in Gaza.  You do a lot of things and… a little something … (blows) … everything is gone.  I went to Cairo by bus, during the bus trip we saw many tanks, many black buildings exploded by the suicide bombers because uh … an Egyptian came with a car full of bombs and let himself explode in the military buildings, we saw a lot of the real war in Sinai.  Once in Cairo, I took the plane.  And when I was on the plane I was still scared.  I said: see? I don’t trust anything anymore.  I said: maybe something happens on the plane, and they send us back to Cairo.  When the plane took off… I felt quietly …  life again flowing through me, the hope.  See? The fear? So much fear. One small thing and everything is gone.  My plane flew away from Egypt and when I looked out of the window, I said: I will never, ever, ever see this image again.  That I saw it from the window. I hated the plane.  I said: I will never take a plane again in my life, even though I love to fly.  Why exactly I hated the plane, I will explain what happened in Brussels.  When I reached Brussels, I completely destroyed my passport.  I didn’t want to go back, so I destroyed my passport.  And at the check they asked: passport? And I said: I don’t have a passport.  He said: …

[i] Wait, I have to check the battery.

[r] I also have a battery if you want, ah but this one is different.


Good, so you were on the plane and you destroyed your passport.

[r] Yes, when I saw from the plane that Europe was under me…  I can’t explain how happy I was. I said on the plane: whatever happens, even if the plane crashes now, at least I will parachute down to Europe.  So, you see the fear, all that fear throughout the journey. Something can happen …  Like: the plane could crash, then we have to go back to Cairo, I was so …  afraid that something would happen. But now that we were hanging over Europe, I said: if the plane crashes and I find a parachute, at least I will fall over Europe.  That was the beginning, when I felt life flowing through me again, a dead man.  When I started to see Europe.  I looked through the window at what Europe looked like.  When I got closer to Belgium, to Germany, I saw a lot of green.  Green, it was an amazing image.  In the Middle East we have the desert, it’s all yellow what you see.  I started to see a lot of green, so amazing, it looked like life to me.  And my biggest fear would come true at the airport.  My father said: they’re going to hit you, they’re going to throw you in jail, and they’re going to send you back.  And I was so scared.  When I met the person at the checkpoint, who looked at me: you don’t have a passport?  I said: indeed, I don’t have a passport.  Where is your passport? I destroyed it.  He said: all right, wait. He made a phone call.  I was very scared, what was going to happen next?

[i] But, you knew that if you destroyed it, they could never send you back?  Why did you destroy it?

[r] I destroyed it because I suffered so much because of that Palestinian passport.  You can’t go anywhere in the world, what’s the idea of that passport?  It’s just to show your identity, that’s all, but in this day and age the passport has started to become much more than that.  If you are from this country and you go to that country, you will be rejected as a Palestinian.  Maybe you heard, after Trump won the elections, he banned a lot of passports, and prevented people from entering the US.  The Palestinian passport is the worst passport in the world.  Especially that of Gaza.  Because people say that the city is controlled by militias and they don’t want dangerous people.  That is why the procedure is very difficult.  We are suffering so much because of this passport.  Even Arab countries, even Egypt, will not let you in. Egypt says no.  Why? Because Gaza is under the control of Hamas, and Hamas supported the ex-President.  Hamas even provided military support by sending soldiers, through tunnels underground.  And Egypt was very angry.  So they do not admit Palestinians, except for those who have a visa, and after a thorough check.  So when I arrived and said that I would never return, I destroyed my passport.  I didn’t know if they could send me back in a legal process or not.  But, I said: at least I will have a chance to convince them.  Because if I have my passport, and I apply for asylum at the airport, they might send me back right away.  But I said: I don’t want to take any chances

[i] To understand, you had that student visa?

[r] Yes.

[i] To get in?

[r] Yes.

[i] But your idea was not to come as a student, but to apply for political asylum?  Not as a student?


[i] That was the idea?

[r] Yes, because I read a lot.  On the government website.  Listen, if you apply for asylum when you enter the city, it can take 2 years before you get an answer. Maybe a yes, maybe a no.  And most of the time you get negative, because they reject you.  But if you apply for it at the airport, the decision will take a maximum of 3 weeks.  The decision … maximum 3 weeks.  I didn’t want to waste any more time, wait 2 years and live in fear.  And be afraid, 3 weeks is enough after what … I just came from hell.  I just came from hell.  I could still handle 3 weeks, but another 2 years? Waiting for hope?  I said to be or not be. I destroyed it.  I didn’t want to… yes or no … In fact, if they would say no, I don’t want to tell you what I planned to do next.  Maybe, from a… uh… stepping out of life…  If I lose my mind I can start doing things…  As I said before: if you want to send me back, shoot me and send me back.  That’s it, if they shoot me, they can use the heaviest force.  Using the heaviest violence … to send me back.  They put me in a closed centre.  Where they said: good.  He asked to see everything, he saw all my legal documents.  I had a copy of my visa, I had everything with me, and gave it all to him.  My original documents, my uh… my embassy documents, everything.  The embassy didn’t have to worry about me.  My original ID card, I had my ID card of Gaza, the original, I had everything, I gave them everything.

[i] And this was in a special room, in an examination room at the airport?

Yes, at the checkpoint.

[i] In a special room?

Yes, they took me to a special room.  Because I didn’t have a passport with me, the man called, and another man took me inside.  Afterwards they searched all my luggage and then I had to wait.  They called around, many phone calls, to confirm my identity and they said: yes, we know him. Yes, that’s right.  He didn’t ask for a passport.  That’s the person we gave the visa to, she checked my picture, all the trimmings.  And they took fingerprints.  Because when you arrive in a European country, you have to give your fingerprints.  And then they said: you are in the airport.  I was so scared, because there was a man…  and I saw him… a cameraman.  I’ll tell you why I call him the cameraman.  He told them: send him back… back.  He said: the plane.  Because you come by plane … and they put you back on the same plane.  So he said… I saw him… back, back.  There was… I understood… I was so scared, why was he angry?  Why back?  Once I lived in Belgium, I understood why.  Because many refugees reach this country, and it costs them more in taxes, that’s why people are angry.  Because these people come, and they get help from the government.  So I wondered: why is he so angry, why does he insist on sending me back?  But the detective was very patient, he was very dedicated to his work.  He was doing his job.

[i] He was professional.

[r] He was professional, he didn’t let his own beliefs or ideas influence his job.  I loved him.  I thought, if the other man was going to handle my case, I would be sent back.  He would just throw me on the plane.  I didn’t know what would happen in Egypt if they sent me back.  But I was just so scared.  And then after about 3, 4 hours…  He said to me: since you are applying for asylum …  you have the right to wait for a decision of the court.  And they sent me to a nearby centre.  No open centre, and that centre …  is next to the airport. So we saw all the planes.  From the window in the center we saw all the planes landing.  Really just before the airport.  This center had a special law, neutral.  Neutral, no government. They can forcibly send you back.  I saw a lot of people in the room where I was staying.  From Afghanistan, or… They used extreme force and they put them on the plane. They were beaten.  Very much.  They take them with 3, if they get negative they are forcibly sent back.  Because if you get negative, and then negative, negative, …  It is not like in the city. Because in the city, it is different.  They cannot force you because you are already in the city, but the airport …  Completely different law, they can use extreme force against you.  I finished the first interview, I was first in the center.  When I went to the center, even when it was closed, you have no permission to go outside.  When I entered the center…  I said: if I have to live in this centre for the rest of my life, I won’t ask for anything else. Let me live in this centre.  A room with 4 people and they feed you 3 times a day.  I do it.  I found electricity!  Finally 24 hours of electricity, you find electricity, you find good food, clean water.  And finally you see … I … I was happy.  So happy, I even saw some Europeans.  They were angry in the center.  They broke the windows and the chairs, they said: why are you putting us in jail?  Because they also came to seek asylum from Albania, there were Albanians and …  they destroyed things and I wondered …  You are angry, this is like heaven for me. Enough, I want to stay here.  I don’t want to go outside, if you don’t give me anything, let me live here.  I want to live in this center.  First eat 3 times a day, that’s enough.  At least I am no longer a burden for my father.  I have made it easy for him now, he doesn’t have to spend any more money on me.  The first interview was very hard, the interview was very difficult.

[i] In the centre?

[r] In the center, in the same center, they take you to the basement, downstairs.

[i] And who took it, the commissariat?

[r] A woman from the commissariat.

[i] Commissariat.

[r] She was very hard, in fact.  She said: you know that I can make a copy of your passport at the embassy, and that I can send you back?  She was very hard on me.  And I told her the story, what had happened to me.  And…  I had to explain to her my reasons, why I left Gaza.  And after the first interview you have nothing.  And the second interview …  In the first 5 minutes she told me that I was allowed in.

[i] In the second interview.

[r] In the second interview, she gave me the result in the first 5 minutes.  Because she said: in the beginning we checked everything, we’re sure, you’re from Gaza, we now know for sure who you are, and they decided to give you a positive.

[i] I’m going to replace the battery, it’s a good time now. (claps) Do you know why I’m doing this?

[r] Yes, for the microphone, to check the microphone.

[i] It’s to set the sync, that’s easier.  Because if you work with 2 cameras, and you merge them together during editing, and if I have that hit, it’s easier to merge them together, that’s why.  Because that sound is there, and this is here. It’s easier.  So…  You said you were with the person for the second interview.  The first interview … How long after that was the second interview?  What happened between the first and the second interview?

[r] Uh…  After the first interview was done, it took 3 weeks.  As I said: maximum 3 weeks.  So, uh… The second interview was after 8, 9 days.  After … the first interview.  And we go back to the center.  And they give you a normal life.  Uh … I wanted to learn … uh… because there is a library.  There is a library in the center, I wanted to study some Dutch …  Because I planned to come to the Flemish area, because of the VUB, my university VUB is Flemish.  And I wanted to be in the uh… this area life, because the Flemish region has better work …  than Wallonia.  I didn’t want to go to a poor area that would make it more difficult for me.  So I wanted to learn Dutch.

[i] And how did you know there was better work in the Flemish region?  Because of the Palestinians who already came to Belgium, we see the forms online, on the internet, you start reading.  You ask questions: I want to go to Belgium, which city should I go to, what should I do?  People ask questions, and I read a lot.  Because I wanted to build my life quickly.  So I decided, and even my university was a Flemish university, and when I uh…  went to the library they told me.  It was my first experience, the system is a bit complicated in Belgium.  Like, there are some institutions that are only French, and some institutions are only Flemish.  In this centre there was not a single Dutch book.  None, it was all in French.  I went to the man who worked in the library, and asked if he could help me with a Dutch grammar book.  I didn’t find a single book, all French, and he said to me: really? He came looking with me and we didn’t find any books.  And then I wondered: why? I don’t want to learn French.  And they said: we have a course, a language course. It was only French.  No Dutch course at that institute.  And I said: well, it’s better than nothing.  I actually wanted to learn Dutch quickly, but, uh… there was … uh … only French in that centre.  And I started learning French, greeting, the basics, the numbers from 1 to 100.  And then we were waiting for the final decision of the commissariat.  And then …  In the morning, as usual they came in the morning …  Uh … your assistant … my assistant…  uh… came…  and she said: [name] , you got a positive answer.  Everyone greeted me, they said: congratulations [name] …  Everyone was happy, and others got a negative answer.  They were very sad in my room.

Because most of them are there, they have to go back, don’t they?

[r] Yes.

[i] Not to come in, most of them are sent back, right?

Yes, most Africans get negative, Afghans get negative, Iraqis.  I even saw some people who were already in Belgium…  and they sent them back to the airport, back to their country.  Even though some people were already in Belgium.  And there was… I remember: maybe I was the only one who got positive.  All those I knew had all gotten negative, all of them.  And 2 days before that there was also an Afghan.  He was so badly beaten up.  They forced him to the airport, he refused violently, he started to fight, he wouldn’t get on the plane.  And when they brought him back, because according to the law, when someone behaves in a very strange or hard way, they give you a new chance.  Even though he had gotten negative twice.  They say: the whole process is resumed from the beginning.  So he came back and he suffered very much from the severe pain …  and he wanted to go to a doctor …  and uh…  I was so scared.  And that was 2 days before, I also wanted to resist if they sent me back.  I didn’t want to go back.  And I was afraid of how much they would hit me, or how…  what would happen to me.  I am a very skinny person, when I came to Belgium I weighed 51.5 kg.  51.5 kg.  And when I was in Belgium, I was 35 years old.  So 51.5 kg is really very little.  I can’t take any strength, if someone would hit me very hard or force me or …  I was worried that would happen.  And even … I couldn’t imagine having to go back to that place.  Uh… then I got a positive.  I was so happy.  And they told me to get ready the same day…  You’re going to leave the centre now.  2 other policemen came from outside.  They took me with a car.  And they dropped me off at the train station.  It’s just next to the airport, the train station.  Under the ground, you can see the trains there.  I didn’t know how to take the train, how to take the tram.  I didn’t know, because you have to buy some kind of ticket and such …  First I saw a machine, people went to a machine.  I looked at the machine, everything in Dutch, I didn’t understand.

[i] But they took you to the station, did they tell you to go somewhere?

No, yes, in the center they say they’ll send you to another, open center.  Until you… uh… find an apartment, until you… find your way around.  Finding your way.  They said in the centre: in Sint-Truiden.  Fedasil in Sint-Truiden, that’s your center.

[i] Did they give guidelines, or did they say: go to Sint-Truiden.

No, they wrote it down, no, I had some money left.  Normally they give you €20, but they saw: [name] has some money left.  Luckily that man in Egypt hadn’t taken it away from me.  Because if he had taken it from me, they would have given it to me.  I guess a maximum of €20, they give it so you can take the train.  And I had some money.  Because when they search everything, they find everything.  They have to write down how much money you have when you come to Belgium.  And I didn’t want any money from them, I already had some money left over from myself.  And then they sent me to Sint-Truiden, I didn’t know the city.  I immediately went to the computer department in the centre.  I looked where Sint-Truiden was, a small spot in the city, a …  I didn’t know much, I knew Brussels, Antwerp, I knew, uh… Ghent … so I didn’t know Sint-Truiden, a small town.  And they even said to me: you have to take 2 trains.  Like: wow, that’s very far away. But I discovered that Belgium has such a system, there is no direct connection to some places.  You have to go to Leuven, and there you have to change for Sint-Truiden.  But most importantly: when the police took me to the airport …  they said to me: finally, you’re free.  That was … the first moment in my life that I was outside the siege.  If you look at the picture: a big siege in Gaza …  a small closed centre in Belgium …  both are completely closed …  but completely different …  but at last, you’re free…

[i] And the police spoke english with you?

[r] Of course.

You are free.

[r] Yes, because I couldn’t speak Dutch.  Zero, we don’t speak Dutch in Gaza, or French.  Britain has colonized us, so …  We don’t speak French at all, people from North Africa do, we don’t speak French at all.  They said to me: this is it, go for your life, you are free.  I went to the airport and I felt the moment, the moment of freedom.  When you think about what is the most important or most precious asset in this life, it is your freedom.  That can never be bought with money … freedom.  I tried to understand how to buy a ticket, I was about 15 minutes in front of the machine puzzling out how it worked.  And then I discovered that it had to be paid for by bank card, which I didn’t have.  You couldn’t put any money in it.  Just like an ATM, it was not with cash, but with a bank card.  I couldn’t buy a ticket, so I didn’t know what to do.  And in the centre I asked how to go to Sint-Truiden.  They said slowly: take the train to Genk.  I said: Ghent? They said: no, no, Genk.  It was difficult for me. Genk and Ghent, I didn’t know the difference.  They said: if you take the train to Ghent, you end up on the other side of Belgium.  Be very careful.  I was just worried, I said: no matter where I get lost, I don’t care … I don’t care where I go.  At least I’m going somewhere else, it doesn’t matter.  I’ll find it. It was cold, it rained that night.

[i] What date was it?

[r] At the end of October, 21 October, 23 October.

[i] 2000 how much?

[r] 13.

[i] 13.

[r] That was the Day of Freedom for me. Then I took the train.  And I asked a lot… In fact, I didn’t know which track, which train to take, I asked a lot of questions to people at the beginning.  And there was a sweet man, he helped me, he told me which platform to be on, which train to take.  I had luggage with me, the train was coming, I didn’t know if it was my train.  He helped me with the luggage and said: fast, fast, this is your train, it goes fast.  I thought it took a while for the train to leave, but it leaves very quickly.  Just a minute or less, and he leaves.  And I wanted to be quick, before it got dark.  So he helped me, he put my luggage down and I got on the train.  I didn’t know where to get off, which train to take.  It was a bit difficult in the beginning.  And from there I changed trains, people helped me, guided me the way.  And then I arrived in Sint-Truiden.  I went to the centre, it was an open centre.  It was a bit difficult to live, you stayed in a place, not a room.  It’s like a big room, and they place wood between people to separate them.  And 4 in each room.  But it … you are with 20 people, but they placed wood between us.  So, it was not isolated between us, it was so noisy, because people turn on their radio and music, you could not sleep.  It was a little difficult life, but I said: it doesn’t matter, it’s a matter of time.  I met people who lived in that centre for 2 years, 3 years.  They couldn’t find an apartment.  Then I began to understand why…  I discovered many things like…  If you are looking for an apartment, you will be rejected.  They ask: what is your job? I said: uh… I don’t have a job, I’m just, uh…  just here as a refugee and I want to stay in the country. They reject you, they say no.  And even in the city where I was, Sint-Truiden, they told us in the center: don’t look here for apartments, because nobody is going to allow it.  Go somewhere else, go north, go to West Flanders, go to Antwerp, wherever you go, but don’t waste your time. Because, to search for apartments, we usually didn’t have internet …  in our country. We can’t go looking for apartments over the internet.  I didn’t know about that, you have to walk through the streets, and write down the phone numbers of the windows.  It was freezing, it was so cold. Because I had brought the clothes from my country.  I didn’t have the right clothes to keep you warm.  And it was so cold because it was November and it was freezing.  And it was so hard for me to find an apartment.  And even if I wanted to search in other cities, I had to take 2 trains.  It was like a small village, isolated from the world.  And 1 train per hour.  If you missed the train, you had to wait an hour for the next one.  And I kept searching, searching, and it was so difficult. Because the center told us: you just… 6 free tickets, back and forth … and if those are on his …  you don’t get any more free tickets. You have to keep spending all your money.  It was, I had to find something and…  I went to the computer department to talk to my family.  I’m there, they want to make sure I’m safe.  My father said: I can’t sleep all night…  When I talked to him on Messenger, Skype, on the computer.  And he said: I can’t sleep at night, I don’t know what happens to you.  Because since I left them, there was no connection anymore.  No contact, it started when I went to the centre.

[i] In Sint-Truiden, did you have the first contact with your family?

No, the first contact was in the closed centre.

Ah, okay.

[r] I started talking to them in the detention centre.  And they gave us a SIM card Ortel, a Belgian SIM card Ortel.  It was Ortel, but that doesn’t exist anymore.  And I called them on the phone.  And I told them that I was just waiting for a decision.  And then I discovered that there is another way to search for apartments: online.  I found a website called  That website has often saved me.  I’m guessing it’s now sold to, another website bought it.  Everything …  I managed to build my life in the beginning in Belgium, thanks to that website. Everything came from this website.  My home I found on Kapaza.  The furniture I found on Kapaza, very expensive here in Belgium. I wanted them second hand.  Everything I found on the website, everything in this house is Kapaza.  Everything, the computer, the bed, the sofa on which I sit, everything from Kapaza.  After 1 month, at the end of November, I found an apartment.  It was the last ticket of the 6. And the owner, in fact … it is the same apartment as where I now live.  I haven’t left here at all since I’ve been here.  Because I don’t want the same experience, suffering to find an apartment.  And in the center they make it difficult for you, they say: maximum €450.  We don’t allow you to find an apartment that is more expensive.  Because the government will give you €840, €850 and if you take an apartment of €500, how will you survive with the rest?  You need money for that, and they don’t give you enough money.  So I found an apartment for €455.  Including water and heating oil.  The heating is with fuel, not electricity or gas.  I said: okay, I accept it. Why? For one reason, it was a very sunny apartment.  If it wasn’t sunny, I wouldn’t have taken it. Why?  Because it was in fact so cold, so so cold.  In this apartment is another room … this room is located south ….  the sun warms me from the south, it keeps it warm.  The other room is north, I never sleep in the other room.  Ice cold, even in summer it is cold.  I was so happy to find this apartment, the owner first turned me down.  When I found this apartment, it was not the owner who put it on Kapaza.  Because those who put it on Kapaza were the previous tenants.  They wanted to leave, and looked for a replacement, because their contract was still running.  So the owner said: if you leave now, you lose your guarantee.  You have to find someone.  So I made an appointment, I came, there were 5 people who came along.  For this apartment.  I was… I saw it and said: I want it.  Everyone saw it, he likes this apartment, he said: okay well, everyone said: okay.  Everyone left after they had seen the apartment, I didn’t leave.  I said to the man, he was a man whose name was Domien, he lived with his girlfriend, and I said: can I please talk to you?  He said: okay, yes. I told him where I came from, where I lived, and that I really wanted that apartment.  It’s getting so cold, I want to start my life right away, right away.  He listened to my story, and he sympathized.  And he said: okay, I’ll try to talk to the owner.  I know he’s a bit difficult, but I’ll try.  He spoke to him on the phone, and he turned me down. No, find someone else.  He kept talking, talking, 40 minutes on the phone.

[i] And you were there?

[r] I was here, in this room.  I never forget this friend.  He was the first to help me so much, to convince the owner.  Give him a chance, I know his story, this man is not like you think.  Because people think that refugees are bad, they do terrible things.  This man refuses educated people, there are doctors, professors who come.  Refugees, they are not the way the media sometimes portray them, bad or that they do bad things.  Many educated people left their country because of war or bad situations.  He said: okay, I’ll give him a chance.  And I was so afraid that he would reject it, but when he said: I give him a chance, I was happy again.  I went back to Sint-Truiden … and…  When I came here after an appointment with the owner, he asked me many questions.  Tell me your story, tell me … many questions.  And he saw that I was educated, that I spoke English, that I …  uh… he asked me why I came to this town, or I knew there was no work here.  What is your work? I said I was an English teacher.  He said: no, we don’t want English teachers. He was, uh… it felt like an interview with the commissariat again, I don’t know.  Uh… then he would say: okay, I’ll call you.  To tell you what my answer is.  I took the train and I was in half the ride, I was almost in Leuven.  He called me and told me to wait. I waited 1 hour, 2 hours, no response.  It was getting dark, I had to go to the centre quickly.  Because you have to be there in time to eat. If you miss it, it’s gone.  So I wanted to get to the center quickly, I was on the train.  And he called me after 3 hours.  He said: okay, where are you now? I said: I’m on the train.  He said: no, come back.  I came back to Antwerp, and he said: okay, I accept you.  I was so happy, it was only 1 month.  People waited 2 years in the centre. They asked me: [name] , do you want us to put you in the paper?  They said to me: you are the first one in this center …  ever … who found an apartment after 1 month.  Because, I didn’t want to lose any more time of my life, I lost 35 years of my life, it was gone.  I wanted to start my life immediately, feel the freedom.  To walk through the streets, to …  Imagine moving from country to country, that’s …  from city, not from country.  I’ve been in Belgium for 4 years, I’ve been outside.  Because it looks huge for me. Finally you can go from city to city.  This is the maximum level of freedom, from city to city.  People say: go outside. For me, travelling is terrifying.  I’m afraid of travelling, and because of what I’ve seen, the experience, it scares me.  Terrifying, I don’t want to go anywhere, I want to stay here.  This is it, I want nothing more than this.

[i] If you feel safe here, and not…

[r] I feel what I want to feel, no more than that.  4 years in Belgium, and I’ve never been outside.  I visit other cities.  Like Liege or like …  Bergen, I visited Ghent, other cities, I said: that’s it.  If I want to go in the future, I really need to discover the world.  I said: first I want to build my foundation, find work, finish my studies.  My studies had already started.  It was very difficult, you had to study hard, 2 years master, a full program.  Lots of research, lots of exams, a thesis and …  And finally I graduated with distinction …  at the university.  And I started looking for work, building my life, trying to find work.  That was also difficult, because of the language by uh …  My university was in English, not in Dutch.  And the VDAB told me that, if I wanted to work in a school, uh…  If you want to work in our schools, you have to have a very good command of Dutch, and it will be very difficult for you to be a teacher here.  Even though I was trained to be a teacher.  I have 2 years of experience at the UN, I have a bachelor’s degree in English, I did my master’s degree in Educational Services.  So everything that has to do with education.  And if you want to work in Belgium, you need a diploma.  They won’t hire you without a diploma, or at least a course.  And it was hard for me, I started applying for other jobs.  And finally I found work at Red Star Line, the museum.  And I keep hoping that one day I will find a permanent job.  I want the first permanent job in my life.

And, um… you started learning Dutch in Sint-Truiden?

[r] Yes, in Sint-Truiden, they gave us free lessons.  And when I came to live in Antwerp, I started an intensive Dutch course.  I was very fast, I passed all the courses, I had the highest points.  But I had problems practicing.  You study at school, and you know, I know the theory and the grammar.  But talking needs practice, practice every day.  I tried to find social communication at Atlas, here in Antwerp.  Contact with people.  It was not easy to find people, very difficult …  to reach people.  And they showed me groups, like once a month, twice … not enough to practice your Dutch, and then the university started in English.  I quit Dutch, because it was too difficult.  It was in Brussels, in Etterbeek.  I didn’t want to look for an apartment in Brussels, that was even more difficult.  So I went there for 2 hours and back for 2 hours, with a change.  And at the transfer you have to wait if you miss the train, there is no direct line.  To get to Etterbeek you have to go from here to Brussels-North, from Brussels-North to Louvain-la-Neuve, and you get off in Etterbeek.  Uh after that I started looking at how I could meet people.  That was mission number 1, to learn Dutch.  How can I meet people, reach people, to practice Dutch together.  I found different ways to contact people, to reach people.  Like my friend, who lived in this apartment.  He wanted to play soccer and he wanted to take me with him. Come with me, [name] .  We went together.

[i] Do you play soccer, too?  Yes, I play soccer very well. I love it.

[i] I play football sometimes, too.

[r] Thank you, I wanted to play football too, and I played well when I was 17 years old, 18 years old, and at school I often went to the Cup.  I play soccer very well, but it’s been a long time since I quit.  Since the war started in Gaza, soccer stopped, because something more important became: leaving the place.  And afterwards, I went to Brasschaat to play football.  There is a football centre there, also for sports, there they play football.  They talk to each other very quickly, but I try to understand what they say.  Sometimes I understand it, sometimes I don’t understand it, because I also come across the dialect.  When I had more experience with Dutch, I started a course Administration and Reception. The whole course: in Dutch.  That was the first course in Dutch.  I followed the course, it was not an easy course, you have to study a lot of administrative things.  How to formulate an answer to someone who has a complaint, how to deal with customers, all in Dutch, not a word of English.  I followed the course, a very intensive course, of 8 o’clock in the morning …  I left at 8 a.m. to start at 9 a.m., until 4.30 p.m. So the course lasted a whole day.  I learned a lot of Dutch, my Dutch got better.  And I passed the course the first time.  And I was so happy that I had finally followed a course in Dutch.  Even though I didn’t understand everything during the course, I passed the exam.

[i] And uh…  How is daily life for you here in Antwerp?  Daily life?

[r] Yes, here in Antwerp I am really very happy, really very happy.  A quiet city, and I have many friends now.  Since I was a child, I had no friends.  Since 15 years … without friends.  It is now important for me to have new people close to me.  To get to know the culture of Belgium.  To understand the mentality, what is good for them, what is not good.  It is important to understand people, because sometimes you do something and that person gets angry with you.  And if we don’t understand the culture, we have a lot of cultural problems.

[i] I can imagine that…  Saudi Arabia and Gaza is a totally different culture than here in Belgium …  so I can imagine that you are every day …  sometimes in interaction with people you don’t understand things or that you …  funny things like: oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.  that you think differently and so, precisely those cultural differences.

Yes, the first thing is girls.  When I came here in the beginning and I looked at the girls … um …  because I’ve never been married or been with a girl or had a girlfriend, to this day.  Today I have friends, no real girlfriend, know your friend.  Like, I talk to girls, I talk to them all, slow at first.  In the beginning it was difficult for me to speak to girls.  I turned red, and I didn’t feel calm.  Because speaking to girls was a new experience.  With girls it was difficult in the beginning.  And normally I’m also looking for a girl to marry.  I said: I’m going to marry a Belgian girl.  But first I have to understand what people … how it goes here.  In our country, it is the mother who does everything. You tell her and she does everything.  But here, how do you do it? You don’t know, you don’t know anyone, and…  I asked my friend Domien.  When I have seen a beautiful girl on the street, and I have spoken to her, I like you, I can …  He said: no, no, no, don’t do that.  I said: why?  He said: that’s not… no, that doesn’t happen here in Belgium.  Have you seen a girl and you talk to her, she’s going to get scared of you.  Maybe she calls the police because she thinks you’re a bad person or something.  He said: here it is completely different, how a relationship arises.  They know each other first from school or colleagues from work or a place like that.  But I don’t know anyone, I haven’t found a job yet, at university they are all people from other countries, and in Brussels.  And it’s an international faculty, so…  I also know students from my class, but they all live in Brussels and Antwerp.  What should I do?  In order to… to get people to know me?  So coming to talk to me, that was the biggest problem.  When I came here.  I go to Atlas a lot, what should I do? What should I do?  And… slow, slow, Atlas sometimes doesn’t help a group …  as I said once a month or more than that.  Then I found something else.  And I find that the best way to get to know people.  It was a website.  Again, with the computer. The computer was my real friend.  The computer helps me with everything.  How can I go to Belgium? To read a lot.  The computer helps me with everything … To this day, I am still …  a computer addict … until today.  Every day, I always sit with my computer, because on this computer I have found all the solutions to the problems in my life.  I found a website:  And this website helps you to find social events.  Soccer, I didn’t find soccer, I found volleyball, going to bars together, philosophy, … so …  I found that website and created an account and then …  I started to get to know people little by little.  And now I’ve gotten to know a lot of people on my Facebook, through this website.  And now I’m happy, I’m not alone.  I live alone in Belgium, all my family is there.  I am very sad for my family.  I do my best to deposit money when I have it.  When I save money, I immediately pass it on to my family.  And now I have almost 3 or 4 events a day here in Belgium.  In a café with people, or in Brussels, I also go to Brussels, there is a philosophy group.  I do a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, uh…  activities here now …

[i] I’m going to go back to the camera for a while … hopla …  Settings.  Still a little less light …  Hmh.

[r] Yes, very cloudy, today.

[i] But yes, it’s still ok, the light.

[r] I can turn on the light…

[i] Natural light … It’s still okay, though.

[r] Yes … Yes, is good …

[i] Ah, there’s something else uh…  Maybe very obvious, or maybe not important either, uh…  We can switch back to English uh …  I didn’t ask you … you grew up in Saudi Arabia, you’re from Gaza.  Muslim countries … uh … Is religion or spirituality important in your life?

[r] I have friends of all faiths, of all, of everything.  I know atheists, who people do not believe in God.  Christians, I know Jews … also.  Because for me… it doesn’t matter what you believe.  What is important to me … is how you treat me…  Respect … It is not important. Each person is free to choose what he wants.  As long as you are friendly with me, and you have no problems with me.  And we talk together and so and through Meetup, the Meetup site, I have many friends, we play board games.  A lot of people, we laugh with each other, we play with each other, that’s important, respect.  It’s not important what you believe. Because my faith is personal.  From me and my heart. But with other people, respect is important.  That is something of yours, you have chosen what you want, and that is … your faith.  That’s not my business, I can’t say: that’s good or not good.  Every person is free to choose what they want.  For me it’s important, if that person respects me, then it’s okay.  Then it’s my friend. Here in Antwerp, I have many friends of all faiths.

[i] That was a good answer, I’m…

[r] One day I was in the cafe, and a girl came to me and asked: why… Did you come to Antwerp knowing that many Jews live here?  I said: I didn’t choose the city, the city chose me.  Because I searched online for an apartment, and I found this apartment.  And I came here and found lots of sun and a good price and …  I chose this apartment. So the city chose me, not the other way around. That’s one. Number two: that it’s not important, as I said, who you are, what you believe.  The most important thing: how do you speak to me, how friendly are you?  That’s the most important thing. If you’re good with me… That’s enough.  That’s all for me.

[i] Hm, can I get myself…

[r] In every country you see good people and bad people, in every country.  In the Ministry of Gaza, there are good people, there are bad people.  Bad people hate. They hate you because you are not from that city or any other kind of hatred. In every city you find people who love you, people who hate you.

[i] It’s not that you’re missing something or something, in terms of culture of Palestine or Gaza?

[r] Uh…  The culture is a big name, the culture exactly … for example, uh…  Uh … the relationship, the relationship with white people, I see that completely differently.  Uh … here people start a relationship in a different way.  That’s why I’ve been trying to find a relationship so far, it’s a bit difficult.  Because you don’t know many people, and if you know people for example…  For example my first experience with a relationship.  I haven’t had a relationship so far, but the first time I…  I found a girl and I talked to her.  It was in the shop, in the supermarket.  And she was at the checkout.

In Antwerp?

[r] In Antwerp, she worked at the cash register.  And I see her sitting at the cash register and I was very interested.  And uh … but I didn’t do anything.  I was not calm. What should I say? What should I do?  And I saw people coming to the checkout, so I didn’t do anything.  The second time after 1 month, after 3 months, I see …  And I always went to the same cash register.  Because I wanted something that brought me to her.  She was a Belgian woman.  Then one day there weren’t many people, few people in the supermarket.  And I said: okay, I haven’t said anything 3 times now, I can’t… Okay.  I have to be a little strong, and I have to talk to her.  I have to do something.  Normally, in our country, if the girl has a ring on her left hand, that means: married.  On the left hand. And the right hand: engaged.

Engaged [i] .

[r] Here in Belgium: no ring.  She may be in a relationship, you don’t know, difficult, you don’t know.  If the woman is in a relationship or something, you can see that in her hand.  Normally the hand is the signal.  The signal: I have a husband, sorry, you don’t have to come.  But you look at the hand, and you don’t know… so…  I have uh… It was hard to go to her and I had to have the courage to speak, it was really super hard.  It was my first time.  And I said: do you have time? She said: why?  I said: I want to say something.  She said: okay. She looked around, no customers.  Yes, you can say it.  I said: I’ve come to the supermarket a few times already and I’m very interested in getting to know you.  I find you interesting and I want to know more about you.  And the woman uh… was very friendly. A lot of respect.  And she said in English, I had said it in Dutch, but she didn’t understand me so maybe that was a bit wrong.  She said: are you going to ask me out on a date?  And man… I became super red!  Because there was another woman behind her at the cash register, she had heard it too and I: oh, they heard it.  What are people going to say, what are they going to do, what is she going to say now?  Maybe they will call the police! (laughs) I was so afraid: what’s going to happen next? Um…  I said: … Yes, I’m interested in getting to know you.  Uh…  And she has said… first she was so (looking down) …  And she said: thank you, thank you, thank you, but unfortunately, I have a friend.  Ah ok, then I understood that people without a ring can also have a relationship.  That was a short problem I had experienced in Belgium.  You don’t know, who is married, who is not married.  Who has a friend, who has no friend.  No signal.  I was a bit really sad, that was my first time, but I was very sad because … I don’t know… uh…  I felt like… I don’t know, I was very sad.  I went home.  And I didn’t talk to anyone and I was at home.  And, I don’t know, I felt very sad.

You liked it what?

[r] Sad.

[i] Sad.

[r] Sad, sad, I felt very sad, I don’t know why.  But it felt like… I had lost something…  I was very sad but I said: okay.  I said: okay, I’ll maybe try it another time, with another person but… I’ll see.  And then I felt better after almost 4 days, 4 days I didn’t feel better.  That was the first time, so sometimes cultural thinking is difficult, to know what the culture is like and to know how it happens here.  Normally people in Belgium know each other from school or work.  This is very difficult for me, because I came to Belgium and I don’t know anyone.  That’s why it’s difficult.

[i] And uh…  How important is family to you? It’s very far away now…  More than likely you won’t see them again.  But can you describe, I already know what the answer will be but …  I think it’s important to ask the question again.  What does your family mean to you?

[r] The first day, when I left Gaza, I cried, I cried because I knew I wasn’t going to see them again.  And I never want to go back to this… to hell.  When you come from hell, do you want to go back to hell? That was not an option for me.  I talk to my family via Skype or Whatsapp …  Thanks for the technology, with technology, with Whatsapp, with the apps you can talk to your family.  But my father, my mother…  didn’t think they wouldn’t see me again.  They thought, maybe [name] will come back or something…  They don’t know it was the last time they saw their son.  They don’t understand, my father thought I would return to Gaza or something.  But I said to my father: you saw what happened…  With me, when I was there in Gaza.  And what happened when I tried to leave.  Normally my university started in September 2013.  But because I couldn’t leave Gaza, my university was gone.  The university started, and then there was October, and I couldn’t start.  So I called the university: please, you know the situation here.  Could you please make a new visa for September 2014.  Because I can’t come in 2013.  The university has said: okay. And they made one for 2014.  If they had said no, everything would have been… gone.  And now I miss my family very much.  And I want to see my father one more time, my father wants me to see him one more time.  I told my father: come to Belgium, I can try.  My father said: I am now … 74 years old.  And I live half of my life as a stranger … foreigner.  And I don’t want to feel like a stranger anymore.  Enough, I lived in Egypt, Libya and so on … Enough.  I want this country, I want to die in my country.  I don’t want to see this life anymore, I’ve seen enough in this life.  I want to leave this life, and be able to think and see that you have a good life.  That is what I want. My father said: I have not seen a good life, but I want to see you have a good life. A quiet life, and that is what my father always asks me: did you find a job, did you find this, did you get that, …  Because if he has the feeling that everything is stable, normal, then my father is okay.  I don’t want any more.  Sometimes my father calls me: can we see each other?  When the borders are open? But that is very difficult.  For example, if I make a visa for my father, a visitor’s visa.  Not as a refugee, as a visitor. That’s very difficult here, because I don’t have a job.  Difficult rules. And if I make a visa and the borders are closed, then the visa is gone. Then all the money is gone.  So, maybe, I hope to see my father one day, when the borders are open in Gaza …  in, for example, Turkey or something like that … That is easier.  Or maybe in Belgium, I don’t know.  But I do my best to find a job first.  But my father doesn’t want to…  Because he said: I want to die in Gaza. I want to die in Gaza.

[i] But you never go back, even when you’re very old?  Or can’t you say that …

[r] Yes … (shakes the head) When I left Gaza … I said that: I never, never, never, never, …  never… back to hell …. Gaza is hell.  This is why many people go to war… Why?  They don’t go to war because they think they’re going to win.  They go to war because they think…  If the war starts, we’ll be dead soon.  If I have 2 choices for you: do you want to die quickly, or die slowly … What do you choose?  You have 2 things, I’m going to kill you now, and you have to choose: fast or very slow, with a lot of pain. People say: no, no, I certainly want to go fast.  So people say, when the war starts: okay, come war, and kill us and then we’ll be quiet.  No more pain, no more problems, no more things.

Could you say… um …  I’m going to ask in English. Could you say … um …  Are you happy?  From the first day I was in Belgium, I was so happy.  So far I still can’t believe I made it.  That I came here to Belgium.  Especially when I see the beautiful green gardens everywhere.  I go to green places, I see green everywhere.  I see peace, no problems, no suffering, clean water, I can drink from the tap.  Water, I don’t have to go 300 meters to carry water.  I see 24 hours electricity … I see … I mean, what more do you need?  I don’t need more than that.  Just live your life, I’ll find maximum happiness when I find a steady job.  Then I will be really happy. Because then I will have the opportunity to start my real life, find a wife, get married here and have children.  And… For me it’s too late because in our city …  When the girls turn 30, that means: desperate.  She has no hope of finding a man, after 30 years, it’s gone.  Because many boys, there are few boys …  There are more girls, because the boys died in the war.  So if a girl finds a boy, it is the happiest day of her life.  And men go to the girl.  That’s why I want a stable life, a steady job.  And… I mean, I am happy, I am very grateful with what I have now.  I don’t want any more.

[i] As you said, for the future you want to make a good permanent job, and a family. Do you also want children in the future?

[r] In our culture we say… the father says …  The one I love more than my son is my son’s son.  So, it’s like a dream for the father to have your son…  He wants to see your son, the son of my son.  He says: the one I love more than my son, is the son of my son.  As for me, I just wanted to make my father happy.  And I know that … uh… even if I have a son, if I want to have children…  I am happy because they are not going to see what I have seen.  What my father has seen, what we have seen.  They will live in a good life, eventually.  So 1 is for my parents, I want to make them happy.  To see my children. I succeeded in this life.  Because for them, marriage, having children, is the ultimate goal.  It’s like: okay, this is our life.  If you manage to find work and have children, that means that you have accomplished your mission in this life.  That’s why every time they ask the same question: have you found, haven’t you found?  I say: I try, I try. First I need work and, uh…  I have to find a way to find my soul mate, as they say.  And then, uh… let’s see how life goes but…  I am so happy now and comfortable and I am… so grateful.

[i] Do you have anything to add to this interview, [name] ?  Anything important you want to say?

[r] I want that one day… the people in Gaza have a good life.  And that the pain stops. That’s what I want. Because I have a lot of … I am sad.  For my family, because they still live there and have a difficult life.  I want this pain to stop, and for there to be a solution to this problem.  That … is what I hope for now.  And I hope that there will be peace in the world.  And that people no longer hate each other because you come from that country or …  You have that faith.  It’s not important what you believe, it’s important to respect each other.  I hope that for all people in the whole world.  If that happens… then we have no war, no hatred, no problems.  And we live together.  I hope that will happen one day.