Palestinian teen reveals father BANNED her from taking scholarship


Branded a criminal for playing sport, surrounded by bombs and BANNED from leaving the country without a man’s permission – new documentary reveals the reality of life for a teenage girl in Gaza

  • New documentary The Girl From Gaza shows the realities of children in war
  • The film follows  16-year-old Mariam Al-Muzainy, as she copes with the Gaza war
  • In the movie, the teenager described being labelled a criminal for playing sports

A Palestinian teenager who was labelled a criminal for playing sports has revealed her fight to secure a scholarship to study overseas in a new documentary.

The Girl From Gaza, which premiered at Italy‘s River Film Festival this month, follows the life of Mariam Al-Muzainy, 16, and her mother Bara’ah Abu Rass, 49, as they cope with day to day restrictions in the country they desrcibe as ‘an open air prison.’

The documentary, which was filmed by British director Nicolas Aujula, shows the teen learning she had landed a place to study abroad at the King’s Academy in Jordan.

However she was left devastated when her father, whose permission she needed to leave the country, forbade her from going.

With her mother’s backing, Mariam tried a number of other avenues, determined to leave Gaza and start her scholarship, with the film charting her struggle with multiple setbacks.  

Mariam Al-Muzain, 16, appears in the short film The Girl From Gaza where she reveals how she copes with the day to day restrictions of war

Mariam Al-Muzain, 16, appears in the short film The Girl From Gaza where she reveals how she copes with the day to day restrictions of war

The Israeli security forces have stepped up their operations in the West Bank in recent months, carrying out almost daily raids to arrest suspects after a spate of deadly attacks inside Israel, that has left several civilians dead.

Tensions in the region are at their highest since last year’s so-called 11-day war, also known as the 2021 Israel-Palestine crisis, which saw clashes in the West Bank as well as air and rocket strikes fired across the border of the Gaza strip.

During the film, Mariam explained how she grew up with a single mother after her father left when she was months old.

While she continued to see her father, she didn’t have a close bond with him.

Mariam  was born in Gaza but has spent her life trying to do well in school in order to gain a scholarship overseas and leave

Mariam  was born in Gaza but has spent her life trying to do well in school in order to gain a scholarship overseas and leave

Meanwhile Mariam and her mother revealed how they struggled to find security when surrounded by bombs and said there was an emotional turmoil to living in Palestine. 

Mariam said: ‘There is no safety in war, no street, no building is safe.  I have never had any sense of belonging in any house in Gaza because we’ve moved so much.

‘First we lived in front of the sea in four different apartments, then the place by the sea became more dangerous because Israel would bomb from the military ships stationed out at sea.

‘We moved inland but then it was fighter jets bombing buildings.  We’re surrounded, from all directions, bombs and carnage. You feel nothing is actually safe is Gaza.’

The ongoing conflict in Palestine has wrought havoc on Mariam's life, and with her mother Bara'ah, they' say they are constantly 'fighting for a future' while battling against Israeli occupation

The ongoing conflict in Palestine has wrought havoc on Mariam’s life, and with her mother Bara’ah, they’ say they are constantly ‘fighting for a future’ while battling against Israeli occupation

She said: ‘When you witness bombs from an early age, hear screams of children dying, can’t sleep at night and are constantly changing apartments to be safe. 

‘You think it’s normal but it should never be normal for a child to be growing up surrounded by the fear of death and destruction, but this is the reality for everybody in Gaza.’

Despite Mariam training in Taekwondo from an early age, to channel her frustrations and learn a strong spirit, she had to give it up due to local patriarchal attitudes.

She said: ‘An Arab girl playing sports is considered criminal and seen as unacceptable, living under cultural rules is hard and I had to give it up which made me so sad.’ 

Mariam and Bara’ah explained they both felt they were ‘fighting for a future while battling against Israeli occupation, bombs and patriarchal rules’

Despite her description of her life as an ‘open air prison’, Mariam found hope through Taekwondo and education as an A-grade student. 

Meanwhile she was determined to gain the opportunity to study abroad in order to secure her ticket out of the country. 

Mariam explained how she and her mother Bara'ah spend a lot of time together and work as a team to secure a happy and safe future

Mariam was raised by her single mother Bara'ah Abu Rass, 49, however the two detailed their struggle to survive in the new film

Mariam was raised by her single mother Bara’ah Abu Rass, 49, however the two detailed their struggle to survive in the new film 

She said: ‘I want to leave Gaza to study, laugh and breathe, my mother also shares my dreams, and together we’re aiming for a scholarship. 

‘We were ecstatic when we got offered a place at the King’s Academy in Jordan. 

‘It was a dream come true, an opportunity of a lifetime to study in peace and security.  I was so happy and ecstatic but we needed my father’s permission to leave Gaza.’

However, when she visited her father to ask if she could accept the scholarship she was very nervous because she feared he’d say no.

She said: ‘I was nervous seeing my father as I know what he’s like. We went to speak privately and I explained I want to leave Gaza to pursue a scholarship and really needed his permission to follow my dream.

‘He interrupted me even before I finished and said no. Even though I explained I already had a scholarship, he would not listen and started getting angry and shouting that I couldn’t go.’

Mariam dreams of studying overseas in peace and security and when she secured a place in a school in Jordan she thought all her dreams had come true

Mariam dreams of studying overseas in peace and security and when she secured a place in a school in Jordan she thought all her dreams had come true

Mariam was devastated, but she and her mother were still determined to leave. 

They put in a formal request with Israeli officials, but they refused because Mariam’s father is allegedly connected to Hamas. 

So then they tried the Rafah crossing via the Egyptian border. In Gaza you need a male guardian’s permission to cross the border, but the pair were willing to try it.

Mariam said: ‘My mother had an old paper which had allowed me to travel outside of Gaza previously for a poetry competition so we attempted our luck and tried it hoping it may still be valid. 

‘The day we were leaving my heart was beating so fast, I was so nervous, I tried to act like I was sick hoping that no one will notice me and just let us through. 

‘When we handed over our passports at the border, they asked to see my father’s permission. He looked at the paperwork and said ‘madam we can’t let you travel with such an old paper, it is invalid for travel’. It felt like the end of the road.’

The documentary director Nicolas Aujula, who was born and raised in London, said he had found inspiration to make the film from years travelling in the Middle East. 

He spent over a decade working as a therapist dealing with stories of trauma and triumph of Arab royalty, entrepreneurs, ex-offenders.

He told FEMAIL: ‘My travels and relationships in the Middle East served as inspiration to film stories with an Arab perspective.

The documentary director Nicolas Aujula, who was born and raised in London, said he had found inspiration to make the film from years travelling in the Middle East

The documentary director Nicolas Aujula, who was born and raised in London, said he had found inspiration to make the film from years travelling in the Middle East 

‘I also want to break stereotypes, for example Arab women are generally portrayed in Hollywood films as either a belly dancer, terrorist or hidden behind a veil even though women here wear many more hats than they are given credit. 

‘Despite cultural differences with the west and on-going patriarchal issues, I have met extraordinary women who are determined, live purposeful lives and are leaders in their own right. 

‘Their stories deserve to be told to build bridges.’

He was inspired to film ‘The Girl From Gaza’ after noticing the many girls from Gaza who have received scholarships to study abroad.

He added: ‘The majority of us will never meet people from Gaza who despite their traumas and daily difficulties have great strength, resilience and sense of humor that it is imperative to tell their stories.

‘It is vital to keep conversations going regarding the catastrophe facing the Palestinian people.’

For more information and to watch the trailer visit thegirlfromgaza.com

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