Middle East studies in the News
Gaza Natives Recall Life Back Home [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
Quinn Library, like most libraries, was quiet Wednesday. The peacefulness of Ohio University-Chillicothe's library may be one reason why many days you'll find Mona Abu-Amr, 23, reading at a table or tucked in a chair. The Gaza native said it is the quiet in America that is her favorite aspect.
Back home, her nights were filled with the sounds of war and fleeing for safety.
"It's just terrible there," she said.
Abu-Amr has been in Chillicothe since October visiting her uncle, Dr. Aref M. Amro, a cardiologist at Adena Regional Medical Center. In Gaza, located in the Middle East, the Palestinians are fighting for rights after decades of occupation by Israel. While the conflict can be traced back to even Biblical times -and is very complex - the recent fighting has involved Hamas, a political and social organization that includes paramilitary force, firing rockets into Israel and Israel bombing Gaza, killing more than a thousand civilians, mostly women and children.
"We used to have bombs all the time. Whenever it gets really aggressive between Palestine and Israel, we would flee," Abu-Amr said.
Abu-Amr and her family, who live near the border, would go stay with family who live nearer to the city.
"When I used to talk to mom, I heard the bombardments on the phone like they were here ... it was terrible," she said, adding she and her mom often get upset and cry while talking.
When the recent ground operation began, the family fled into the city only to find themselves in the midst of bombing anyway. Part of the family, which includes her parents, three sisters and two brothers, fled in an ambulance and the rest in Abu-Amr's father's car. Her 12-year-old brother was frightened not to ride in the ambulance, knowing it was the safer choice.
"He's become a war expert. Little kids are not kids anymore. They start thinking this way," she said, fighting back tears. "When my brother told me he heard the F16s, he said, 'I thought there was no more hope for life, and I'm going to die.' That was really hard and tough (to hear)."
Of course, Abu-Amr is an expert herself, describing a normal day in Gaza as walking to work because transportation is out - and on the way - someone beside you might get bombed.
"At the beginning of the uprising, I used to be scared and cry, but I got used to it. Life has to go on," she said. "I believe Palestinians are a little bit stronger, especially girls, because they have to cope with those things all the time. When we have truce, it seems like something is wrong."
Abu-Amr, who has a degree in English literature from the Islamic University of Gaza and taught English classes back home, spent two years trying to visit her uncle. Because the borders were closed, Abu-Amr had to ask for permission from Israel to go to Jerusalem to apply for a visa, but she was not allowed. So, Abu-Amr went the way of those who need emergency medical care in Gaza and went to Egypt. In Cairo, she waited a month to apply for a visa at the American embassy, she said.
"Anyone dreams to visit the States, right, but for me, it's special because (I have a) BA in English literature and I get to visit that place I used to study," she said.
Because she is here on a visitor's visa -not a student visa - Abu-Amr can only audit classes at OU-C; she has been sitting in on two classes, foreign policy and women in gender studies. She hopes one day to return to America for a master's degree in political science, and in preparation, spends a lot of time reading political books at the campus library. Wednesday, she was reading Rashid Khalidi because she heard his name during President Barack Obama's campaign.
"I really want to know more about what the world thinks," she said.
Amro, 44, and his family have enjoyed having his niece around, and he understands her interest in the States. He lived in Gaza throughout high school before furthering his education in Syria. He has been in the United States since 1991 and earned his citizenship in 2004, which he proudly hangs alongside his medical degree.
"It's really the American Dream. I remember when I was kid not knowing what is the States, and people would ask me what I want to be, and I say, 'A doctor in the States,'" Amro recalled. "It's the way of life in America, the way of life, you live it free ... unless you live abroad you don't realize how good you have it in the States."
Through hard work, Amro said the United States provides many opportunities he and others would not have in their home countries. For example, back in Gaza, he would be over-qualified, he said, because of his cardiovascular specialty and hospitals not having the ability to adapt.
Although he has visited many times over the years, because the borders are closed and because of the danger of the uprising - he had to fight to get his wife and children back when they visited three years ago - he has not been to see his family in several years. It's especially painful because he is unable to help his 82-year-old mother.
"Funny enough, she has a vascular problem in her foot, which is what I do here, and nobody there can help her. It's really painful. You can't help but think of it ... I can't really help my mom even though I'm trained to," Amro lamented.
As a child, Amro remembers what it was like being occupied by Israel - being stopped and checked for no apparent reason.
"There's some sense of pride and security missing, but for myself, luckily, I come from an educated family and we worked hard and I got out of there ... You can't forget Gaza, though. You still feel the pain of your extended family back home and hope those back home can have the same opportunities," Amro said.
Although some report the recent uprising is over, Amro said it is not.
"I just hope I see my mom before she dies," he said.
Abu-Amr's visa expires in early March, and she wonders what will happen if the borders are still closed.
"I want to go back, but it's peaceful here and I'm confused ... Gaza is an area that blows up every now and then. It's not stable. I wish I could work outside for a while, but of course, I want to go back," she said, adding she misses her family.
Both Abu-Amr and Amro have high hopes for the future and what Obama's administration will do in the Middle East. Messages of peace should not be sent just to the Palestinians, she said, but also to the Israelis.
"Please be fair. I hope he is going to look to both sides with the same eyes," Abu-Amr said, adding Gaza needs help reclaiming its rights.
As for average Americans, Abu-Amr hopes they educate themselves about the issues and not just listen to the media, which she feels is mostly biased. Through education, she thinks American stereotypes of Muslims, especially Palestinians, could be changed.
"I think every religion has extremism, not just Muslim," she said.
While Abu-Amr feels the Palestinians have a right to resistance and to rights, she also feels Hamas is going about things wrong, because violence is the last resort. She would like to see Hamas change its strategy and convey its message through peaceful resistance.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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