Originally published: https://anfenglishmobile.com/features/muna-yusuf-a-story-stretching-from-gaza-to-serekaniye-73676

Muna Yusuf’s parents are from Gaza. She herself was born in northern Syria and was expelled from her birthplace by the Turkish state. Today, the Palestinian woman is involved in the Syrian Women’s Council to organize women from the Middle East.

09 June 2024 | ANF

The history of the Palestinian and Kurdish people is marked by occupation, oppression and persecution. Both peoples were expelled from their land and deprived of their rights. However, they have kept the spirit of resistance alive and continued their fight for freedom and justice. One of them is Muna Yusuf, a Palestinian who was born and raised in Serêkaniyê in northern Syria and comes from the large Semur family in Gaza. Muna Yusuf spoke to ANF about the story of her parents and her life in Syria.

“My parents lived in Gaza in a camp called Shati. They were married in 1948, when child marriage was still common, according to old custom and tradition. My father studied medicine at Cairo University and therefore lived with my mother in Egypt. When he was just completing his fourth year of college, the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinians from their land in 1948 and from Gaza in 1952, began. My parents made great efforts to return to Palestine, but in vain. While Palestinians living in Gaza were expelled, returning was impossible for them.

During these events, my father’s family was forced to leave Gaza, and he had no idea about their whereabouts. After a long time, he learned that one of his brothers was in Saudi Arabia and one in Dubai. The fate of the others was not clear at that time. My father had lost his family and was alone with his wife and children. Due to financial difficulties, he had to work and switched to agricultural engineering without completing medical school. Since it was not possible for a woman to study in Gaza in 1948, my mother had no education and was married off by her family at a young age. My mother’s family was scattered, and only one brother remained. She gave birth to my brother and sister in Egypt.

Emigration to Syria

Due to the good relations between Syria and Egypt at the time, my father was sent from Egypt to Syria in 1956 to work on a major project in Syria, the so-called State Gardens. After arriving in Syria, my father learned that his family had died on the way out of Gaza and had been buried along the way. More than 27 members of the Semur family lost their lives during the Nakba.

My parents had to constantly renew their residency papers with the Syrian authorities. This was the most difficult problem. My brother and sister studied engineering, but they could not find work because they were not Syrian citizens. They could study, but not work.

Hope of return

My father and mother lived until their last breath in the hope of being able to return to Gaza. When my father came home in the evening, the first thing he did was turn on the television and watch the news. My mother always talked about Gaza during the day. She was very interested in what was happening there. She was not in Gaza, but her heart was there. Times were different back then. The tools of communication were cassettes. To find out about the situation of the people in Gaza, they recorded their voices on cassettes and sent them there. I spent my childhood listening to the cassettes of their families in Gaza.

Hard life in Serêkaniyê

My family settled in Serêkaniyê in 1971. We are eight siblings. I was born in 1973 and am the sixth child. The two eldest were born in Egypt, the others in Syria. I graduated from high school and then went to university to specialize in biology. In 1992, after graduating from high school, I got married. I continued my biology studies at first, but had to stop because I became a mother. Our life was very difficult due to our financial situation. I could not complete the last year of my studies and could not find a job because I did not have a Syrian ID. We had no house, the economic hardship was great. We had no roof over our heads. With the money we saved, we first bought a piece of land and lived in one room for ten years. After ten years, we added another room. We increased the number of rooms as we found financial opportunities. Our house was finished, but then war was at hand.

Displacement by Turkey

When the civil war in Syria began in 2011, fighting broke out in Serêkaniyê in 2013, and the region was finally occupied by the Turkish state in 2019. What my mother and father had gone through in Gaza came alive before my eyes and in my soul. Serêkaniyê was occupied and we were displaced. For two weeks, no one knew about anyone. During that time, I realized what the country meant: the country where I was born and grew up was occupied. We left Serêkaniyê many times for short periods because of the war, but since 2019 we have not been able to return. For me, Serêkaniyê was more valuable than Gaza because I was born and grew up there. My work of almost 50 years was destroyed in one fell swoop. Our house and our land were left to the occupiers.”

The strength of the Rojava revolution

After the Rojava revolution began on 19 July 2012, Muna Yusuf, a mother of four children, found the fight for free women and a free country important and sensed that crucial developments were taking place. She took part in educational programs in the commune. The emphasis on brotherhood and self-government of peoples captivated her. It was the moment when her energy, which had been suppressed for years, emerged.

She said: “I joined Kongra Star in 2015 and since then I have lived with the conviction that organizing women will liberate peoples. Since that year, as a member of the Syrian Women’s Council, I have been trying to reach out to women from Syria and the Middle East, organize them, and fight alongside them. I used to be an introverted, shy woman who was afraid and hesitant to express her thoughts. With the Rojava Revolution, I recognized myself and my strength. I feel like I have been reborn. I think this experience is important for all women. The peoples’ struggle for freedom will grow day by day and this idea will spread throughout the world.”