Gaza To Canada And Back To Gaza: Why A Family Chose To Return
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
As bad as conditions are in Greece, they are worse just across the Mediterranean in Gaza. That's a strip of Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas. Israel and Egypt impose limits on entry and exit. Repeated wars between Hamas and Israel have killed thousands, which makes this next story all the more striking. It is the story of a Palestinian-Canadian family that got out of Gaza and then decided to return. NPR's Emily Harris asked them to compare their year in Gaza with the life they left behind.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Here's something that might surprise you about Gaza - there's a sod farm there. A few weeks ago, workers helped Canadian-Palestinian Ihab Al-Aloul put in a lawn.
HARRIS: This is one pro of the Aloul family's life in Gaza versus their life in Canada. In Vancouver, Aloul's family apartment had no yard. One con here - the irrigation water is salty. Aloul says it probably won't kill the grass.
IHAB AL-ALOUL: It's not recommended, but it's not killing that much.
HARRIS: The water for their swimming pool - another plus - is salty, too. This is a weekend home for Aloul, steps from the Mediterranean. One minus - Israeli military strikes destroyed one corner of the property and the whole house next door during last summer's war. Militants with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, were firing rockets into Israel. Despite the violence, Aloul says a big reason he came back to Gaza was family.
I. ALOUL: First of all, I miss my family. I missed my parents. I'm very close to my parents.
HARRIS: And he wasn't comfortable raising his six children in the West.
I. ALOUL: I didn't like to be, like, you know, in the West, boyfriend-girlfriend. I want them to be close to their religious beliefs. And that was very difficult there.
HARRIS: Money, too, played a role. Aloul is a software development manager and had his own company in Gaza before moving to Canada in 2008. But it wasn't so easy to get on his feet there, he says. Here, his father helps.
I. ALOUL: Here, my dad is rich. He has his land. He has a business, so he can support me.
HARRIS: Aloul's family now lives in an apartment on the upper floor of a building his father owns.
After nearly a year in Gaza, Aloul's 9-year-old son, Abdel Rahman, remembers some English.
ABDEL RAHMAN: How are you?
HARRIS: Two older children, both college students, feel they have more freedom here than they did in Canada. Ahmed, 22, can hang out with his cousins at beachfront cafes past midnight. Nour, 20 years old, says she does what she wants to do, too.
NOUR AL-ALOUL: My parents, they give you all the freedom here. Like, I go out, I do whatever I want because you walk in the streets, you know that no one will do something bad for you.
HARRIS: And although she liked the diverse range of friends she made in Canada, Nour says she feels more like herself here.
N. ALOUL: I'm around people who really understand me. I'm around people who really like me, people with same religion, people with same thinking. Like, I walk around, no one talks about my scarf.
HARRIS: She was teased about her headscarf in Canadian high school, she says. Her mother, Somaya, also loves Gaza as home. But she found more freedom and more opportunity as a woman in Canada. There was so much to do, she says - study, volunteer...
SOMAYA AL-ALOUL: Go out, do something, make volunteer, go to program, take the certificate, you know?
HARRIS: And here - what are your days like here?
S. ALOUL: Just at home, care about my kids, you know?
HARRIS: Somaya Aloul calls Gaza a box with no exit. The border with Egypt is mostly closed. Even though they are Canadian citizens, each family member needs a permit to leave Gaza through Israel because of Israel's security concerns. Ihab Aloul was not allowed to accompany his sick father for medical care in Jerusalem. But after 10 months in Gaza, it's 14-year-old Kareem who seems to struggle with the blended identity most.
KAREEM: People don't really realize I'm actually Gazian.
HARRIS: Mostly, he says, that's because he is crazy about hockey, which his Gaza classmates have barely heard of and care nothing about. But he also feels very different from his peers here because he has no experience in war. They've told him about it.
KAREEM: They're not so scared as much. But for me, I'm, like, so scared because I haven't lived one. So we're going to try it (laughter).
HARRIS: The Aloul family watched the last three wars in Gaza on television. There's a presumption there could well be a fourth. If so, they hope being Canadian would help them get out. Emily Harris, NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.