After 11 days of crisis, Israel and Hamas agreed to cease hostilities on Thursday, halting a flare-up of the 53-year-long conflict between Israel and Palestine. UPR’s Manuel Giron spoke with Motasem Abualqumboz, a former Utah State University graduate student born and raised in Palestine, to learn more about his experience.
Manuel Giron: You spent all your childhood and adolescence in Gaza up until 2014 when you moved abroad. What was the situation like for you growing up in Palestine?
Motasem Abualqumboz: So, as most people know there is the Gaza Strip and the West Bank where the Palestinians should have control of. So I’m from the Gaza Strip. It's just a small piece of land. It's like 365 square kilometers, and it's one of the most dense places in the world. There's over 2 million people living now there.
The city is a coastal city, so we spent most of our time, especially in the summertime, going to the Mediterranean: swimming, fishing, doing all this kind of stuff. We have very beautiful sandy beaches. But because of the political situation, we had many times where we had to be under too much fear and sadness because of Israeli attacks on the Gaza strip, especially to civilians.
Manuel Giron: What is the view that Palestinians have of Israelis in Palestinian territory?
Motasem Abualqumboz: So, it's very bad to see other people living in your land, in your houses. One day, my father, he took my grandmother to see her house before she was forced to leave it because of the Israeli settlers. Very heartbreaking to see other people taking your houses, your home, the place you spent your childhood, your memories, everything you did since childhood untill adulthood, and beyond that, are taken by someone else and just not buying. It's not a trade, you have no choice, either you leave or you going to be killed.
Manuel Giron: I assume you have friends and family in Palestine, what do they tell you about the current situation or what has been their experience.
Motasem Abualqumboz: A couple of my friends, they posted to Facebook, they said literally we were not expected… we'll not expect to have to see the sunrise again over us because it was very hard. Sounds are very terrible, very very strong very loud voices and sounds, the rockets hitting the ground in the civilians’ houses. All the towers they attacked, they were civilians and one of them the al-Jalaa tower where the Al Jazeera and even the Associated Press news channel were there. One of the directors of the Associated Press said, “I was shocked because the Israelis know that we have our offices there.”
This was the situation: no one was safe, even if you are civilian, kid, woman, elderly, if you live or reside… and even the hospital because the only center for COVID testing in the Gaza Strip was attacked. The only center they had was attacked and we know how COVID is doing in our communities nowadays. It's no different than here, people are being tested and if they test positive, they will be asked to social distance or isolate or this kind of stuff. Now, the only center for COVID testing is destroyed in the Gaza Strip and they know it.
We have many incidents where the United Nation place also was attacked too. So, living for 11 days in a place where you know for sure that you're not gonna be safe, it doesn't matter what your status [is]: civilian, kids, women, it doesn’t matter because you will end up either killed, injured, or your house is demolished over you, and you're just waiting for the rescue to come.
Manuel Giron: Well, this has been an incredibly insightful interview. Thank you so much for talking to us today.
We have been speaking with Motasem Abualqumboz, a former Utah State University graduate student born and raised in Palestine.
Thanks for joining us. You have been listening to Utah Public Radio.