My university classes are quite cosmopolitan these days. The Ottoman Empire was characterized by ethnic and religious diversity, but its successor, the modern Republic of Turkey became, at least ostensibly, more homogeneous. In recent years, however, migrants, students and refugees from Middle Eastern neighbours and some African countries have been altering the ethnic mix. My classes include young people from Libya, Jordan, Malta, Syria and Iran.
One young man, Yaser, a recent arrival from Palestine, wrote this short piece when asked to share a vivid memory. I want to share it with you:
‘It was about two years ago. I was living in Gaza when the war came. I was 15 years old and the war started with twenty killings by the Israeli ‘terrorist’ army. I was very angry about that and afraid at the same time – not for myself but for my family and the people I love.
‘The war lasted three months. One day I was watching a movie with my family to forget the war a little bit. While we were watching the movie outside in the garden, Israeli planes bombed the house of a family near ours. They fired rockets. I remember the sound of it, it was so loud! I couldn’t hear anything else at that time. I ran to help my mom and my little brothers go into the house. There were rocks flying and people crying for their children. There was a lot of dust and flames reaching up to the sky; smoke and the smell of burning people. It was really a terrifying day.
‘We lived our lives like we would die tomorrow. One day we will free Palestine. I feel so angry about the things that happened in my country. They killed peaceful people, children and old people – and the Israelis say we are the terrorists! Can someone be a terrorist in his own country?
‘When the war ended after three months there were 2,500 killed by Israel’s army, and more than 10,000 injured.’