Guest post by Dalal Al-Waheidi, executive director of We Day Global. This is Dalal’s second post in a series about activism for canadianliving.com.
Photography: Getty ImagesI haven’t seen my parents in three years and I don't know when they will meet my nine-month-old daughter, Zeina, who is their first grandchild. Of course, we Skype and my mother and father have photos of Zeina, but that is so very different from being together in person. That’s why people wait in jam-packed airports to travel to their loved ones during the holiday season. My parents and siblings live in the Gaza Strip. We were forced to move there from Kuwait in 1991 after The Gulf War ended, and there was systemic racism against Palestinians. In 1993, the Oslo Peace Accord was signed, and Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank were given Palestinian passports. But still, it was hard to get visas to other countries. I came to Canada for university and now have a dual Palestinian and Canadian passport. When I travel, I am grateful for the simple fact that no one demands to know where I’m going, or why I want to go there, or scrutinizes my paperwork, deciding whether I should have the freedom to move about. That was the situation I regularly faced as a young Palestinian woman living in the Gaza Strip. It was demeaning and infuriating to be denied a basic human right—to be told I couldn’t be free. This holiday season, like thousands of people around the world, I will be spending a lot of time in cramped airport lounges, along with my husband and Zeina, wriggling in our arms. I am flying overseas to my sister’s wedding in Egypt. I am so excited to see her get married, and for Zeina to meet her aunt at last. But I am a bit anxious, too, because I don’t know if my parents will be there. The Rafah Border Crossing is the only place where people can travel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and it has been closed for over a year. Only people who have foreign passports or are facing medical emergencies can get from Gaza to Egypt. This is why I haven’t seen my family since my wedding in September 2012, and my mom wasn’t able to come to Canada for Zeina’s birth. When I am travelling over the next couple of weeks, I won’t take my dual Canadian citizenship and my right to travel for granted. I’ll count my blessings, even though I don’t know if I will reunite with my parents and introduce them to Zeina. It’s important to know your rights, to stand up for them and to not take things like health care, education or our freedom to fight for equality for granted. So I will remind myself of what it was like to live in Gaza and not have the right to move about freely and I will hold onto the hope that others, like my parents, will be allowed to travel too. Happy holidays.