This month, I mark two important events which took place five years ago and changed the course of my life. It has been five years since I moved to Israel from New York and five years since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and the closure of the enclave tightened.
I was job hunting from the Haifa bedroom my mother and aunt shared growing up, reading in Haaretz about Gaza's factories shutting down, and here I am, five years later, working for Gisha
, an Israeli human rights organization promoting freedom of movement for Gaza residents.
When I moved to Israel, hoping to live nearer to my dear grandmothers and make use of my newly obtained international affairs degree, I didn't expect to find myself where I am today. I remember asking, in my second interview for the job -- so why Gaza? And why freedom of movement?
For a starry-eyed American-Israeli girl, Gaza seemed sticky, far away and obscure. I had never been there, and my only association was my mother's stories of driving with friends to eat fish on the beach at a time before my existence was imaginable to her.
Reading about what was happening in Gaza in June and July of 2007 and thinking of the memories she had shared with me, I had to know: how did we get from there to where we are now?
A few weeks after I started working at Gisha, Israel's security cabinet made a decision to limit freedom of movement into and out of the Strip, making official a policy which had already been in effect since that June and rendering Gisha its most vocal opponent in Israel.
In those early days, like most people who know little about Gaza, I had a hard time understanding how the enclave figured into the larger picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Still, I connected, deeply and immediately, with the stories of the individuals my organization represented in proceedings before Israeli administrative authorities and courts.
Many of them were young people like me -- young professionals, business owners and civil servants. Hearing their stories and speaking to them was like being at the edge of another world and finding that the people on the other side aren't unlike you. It was exhilarating and heart-breaking and motivating.
They were students, as I had been, who wanted to study abroad, as I had done. They were engineers, like my father, who were struggling to cope with dilapidated infrastructure. They were young mothers who wanted to advance their careers to better support their children. Freedom of movement was an essential pre-condition for these individuals to fulfill their goals.
Gaza was more than just what you could read in the paper or see on the news. It didn't make the question of Israel's security any less urgent, but it did make me appreciate that in meeting its security needs, one had to also consider the fate of Gaza's 1.6 million residents.
Five years later, no one is closer to figuring out next steps in the difficult political landscape of this region, especially regarding Gaza. That notwithstanding, individuals like myself and like the people served by my organization are marking other, more mundane anniversaries: they are trying to advance their careers and plan families; waking up and doing the wash; preparing breakfast and visiting friends.
It's not because I am starry-eyed that I work to promote human rights, but rather because I am a realist. Anyone looking closely enough will see that if we are no closer to solving the conflict than we were 64 years ago or to figuring out what to do about Gaza than we were five years ago, the everyday needs and rights of average residents should figure even more prominently, not less.
This is what Gaza has to teach us about this conflict. If we care about the future, then individuals, especially young people, should have access to the tools to build better lives for themselves and their families. They should be able to strive for the best attainable standard of living, irrespective of who their visionless leaders are and as long as their striving for a better life doesn’t infringe on the security and rights of others.
In fact, in the last two years, Israel has relaxed some of the travel restrictions to and from Gaza without compromising its security, and much, much more can be done. My hope for this solemn anniversary is that those who are newly engaging the issue of Gaza, as I did five years ago, will learn quickly that security and human rights are anything but mutually exclusive. The author is director of international relations at Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.