"This War Cannot Be The End Of My Story" - An Aspiring Entrepreneur In Gaza Tells His Tale "I am here to make a dent in the universe, not only to manage my survival within war."

By Mahmoud Alwadia

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Mahmoud Alwadia

Two years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with excitement. I had just landed my dream job; I was working on personal projects, living healthily, and I was in the best shape of my life, mentally and physically. I felt on top of the world, with a very promising future ahead.

Four months ago, I traveled to Gaza for my annual family visit, only to find myself trapped in a brutal situation as the war unfolded. I experienced the loss of family, friends, home, work, and nearly my own life.

I tried telling myself that this period was just part of the inconstancy of being alive today, but in truth- it hurt deeply. I hated feeling like a victim of war and the greed of politicians, but that is the reality.

My eyes were opened at a very young age to the violence and misery that afflict my people. I was four years old when my brother was injured in the second Intifada, and my father lost his work. When I was seven, my cousin was murdered. In 2008, when I was 12, I witnessed my first war, and at 16, I experienced the 12-day war that took place in 2012. At 18 years of age, after finishing high school, a brutal 51-day war in 2014 forced my family to flee our home under heavy bombing, and I lost many people I cared about.

After 2014, numerous small military escalations in the region occurred, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians. This devastation is what prompted my decision to leave Gaza, and establish a safer life, away from misery. In 2020, I moved to Germany after receiving an offer of employment from a company there.

The first couple of months I spent in Germany were an extremely shocking experience. The stark contrast between my home in Palestine and in Germany left me reeling, and my brain struggled to process the differences. Life in the West felt like a paradise compared to Gaza- ease of movement, the constant availability of goods and services, including water, electricity, internet, food, opportunities, freedom, and, most importantly, no bombings or wars.

I built a beautiful life, met incredible people, and worked for multiple companies. These experiences gave me the foundation to follow my entrepreneurial dreams, and I thus began to build my own company as well. However, something inside me was still missing: my family were not around. After all, I am a Middle Eastern guy, and family is at the heart of our culture. So, I continued to visit my family every year, undertaking an arduous trip through the Egyptian desert. Since Gaza has no airport, and the only entry point for me is via Egypt, I had to travel at length through the Sinai desert until I reach the Rafah crossing point. The journey is incredibly tough, but I thought little of the discomfort. The opportunity to see my family once more erased any sense of weariness.

However, autumn of 2023 was starkly different from the other times I visited my family. I had traveled earlier than usual this time, because I wanted to focus on creating my startup business at the end of the year. But war erupted on October 7th while I was in Gaza.

This war is distinct in the intensity of its brutality. I had to evacuate my home multiple times, running from bombs and a certain death. Death, however, remained close, meters away. New technologies of bombing, military operations and strategies, and more powerful explosions than witnessed in previous wars added to the ordeal. However, this was not the only challenge; all of life's essentials were cut off- water, food, electricity, and the internet. The cold weather became a part of the struggle, as we left in a rush under heavy bombing, abandoning our clothes and mattresses. Since the beginning of the war, people have lost everything- their homes, their life's work, and, most importantly, the dignity of living.

Image courtesy Mahmoud Alwadia.

One takeaway from this situation I am stuck in is that, unfortunately, despite all the progress humans have made, and the knowledge and education humankind has attained, we are still ruled by violence. We invade, destroy, and murder the children of others, we engage in collective punishment. This is not the civilization we dreamed about.

But enduring these brutal wars is not the most challenging aspect of this experience. I have understood such endurance as a type of hardship, an experience through which strength is gained, if I survive. The true challenge lies in the reduction of individual life to a statistic of death, communicated to evoke an emotional responses on television, or to serve as a political cost for leaders. While world leaders express concern about the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, including innocent children, their actions are limited to providing minimal food aid to prevent the death of starvation.

Honestly, my biggest concern is not death; I overcame that long ago. My concern is that the people of Gaza may lose hope- in humanity, in a better future, and in the hope that this war will one day end, bringing peace to the region. I won't hide it; disappointment has taken over the people of Gaza. They have experienced the most brutal situation humanity has seen since World War II, and so, they have the right to feel that way. Honestly, it is sadder than one could imagine. I hear people who wish to be bombed, who call for their own death, hoping it will stop the madness and misery they have endured since the start of the war; in some cases, since the moment they were born.

But I don't want us to succumb to this feeling. This is incredibly important to me- to give people hope for a better life, to make them feel like they have a place in this world where they can live peacefully. I have been reassuring people about the future, telling my people that the world is vast, full of love and happiness, and that we deserve our share of this world. So, please, I ask them, my family and friends, to hold strong, and keep on surviving. I keep sharing my experience in Europe with my nephews and nieces, emphasizing how beautiful life is, and how wonderful people are. I tell them about the acceptance I have experienced there in Europe, and I assure them that they can, too. Please, hold strong and survive.

Hate has dominated the people of the region through a 75-year cycle of occupation and oppression. Both sides are influenced by this hate, perhaps to different degrees, and with different intentions. The deaths and misery of hundreds of thousands of innocent people throughout the years have fed this cycle of hate. Personally, I was not dragged into it. Do not get me wrong; I have tasted all kinds of pain caused by oppression, but it did not turn into hate, or at least, the hate did not endure in my case. I worked hard to let it go, and to turn my resentment into a sense of awareness of our position in the world.

Such an awareness has helped me to endure pain throughout the years. I am aware that I need to struggle 10 times more than many other people in the world, simply because I was born in Gaza, and I need to accept that to be content with my fate. Otherwise, I will be dragged into a perpetual state of victimhood, and from there, I will be pulled into the cycle of hate. I need to take my fate as a test of my ability to overcome adversity. Most importantly, I guard my awareness of the cost of freedom, both for society and for individuals. This knowledge has been shaped by my birth into an open-air prison, by experiencing the strict control over what my friends and family could eat, how much we could eat, through the daily restrictions on our freedom of movement, the limited hours of electricity we could access. From within these walls of confinement, peace has always been an exorbitant expense. Awareness, born out of this knowledge of control and confinement, has been my answer, and it has helped me to act accordingly.

The fact that I am stuck here in the middle of this brutal war hurts me to the bone. I should be pursuing my dreams of making the world a better place, unlocking my potential. And yet, I find myself stuck here, trying to survive from moment to moment. The fact that this is not my first time to be stuck in Gaza fuels my sense of resentment. Since I was a child, I have wished to escape war. I used to go to the beach, and dream about standing on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. When I was 24, I had the chance to travel to Spain, to stand on a beach in Barcelona, and make that dream a reality. It was a very emotional moment, a moment of revelation.

My moment of revelation came before, and I am sure it will come again. I have high hopes that the war will end, and people will get the opportunity to live again. Peace, love, and happiness are what the people of Gaza deserve. They have endured enough war with endless suffering. I am not sure how it will happen, but I have high hopes in humanity; the good of humanity has touched me on many occasions throughout my life, and so, I am a hopeful man. As a wise man once said: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." So, our dream of a peaceful Gaza will not die, or, at least, that is what I hope.

Mahmoud Alwadia in Gaza in December 2022. Image courtesy Mahmoud Alwadia.

The future is exciting; I cannot hide from you that I have always felt like I am meant to achieve something meaningful for humanity. I used to declare this feeling loudly in my inner circles. I always had the itch to create something on my own, something that people want. But, to be honest, I am not sure if I will make it alive through this war. Still, I believe this war cannot be the end of my story. My dreams are waiting to be realized. I have a taste, voice, thoughts, and dreams that I want to share with the world. I am here to make a dent in the universe, not only to manage my survival within war.

In a couple of weeks, I will close my 27th year with the uncertainty of making it. So, this is my story in case you hear my name in the future. In the event of death, know that I was here, nurturing dreams just like yours- not just a number. And in the event of success, I want you to understand my struggles, and recognize that millions are enduring similar, if not worse, challenges.

This article was facilitated for Entrepreneur Middle East by Manara, a social impact startup funded by the top investors in the world including Y Combinator, Seedcamp, Precursor Ventures, Neo Capital and angels including Reid Hoffman, Eric Ries, Marc Benioff, Paul Graham, and Jessica Livingston. Manara's mission is to untap the full potential of tech talent in the Middle East and North Africa. Manara was born in Gaza from two female founders. It has a social impact commitment to women throughout the region, and to Palestine, including specifically Gaza.

Related: Unlocking Potential: Silicon Valley-Based Manara Bridges The Gap Between The MENA's Talent Pool And Their Dream Jobs

Mahmoud Alwadia is a software engineer from Gaza, Palestine. He had studied two years of computer science at a local university in Gaza, but then decided to drop out, and forge his own way. He moved to Germany in 2020, where he landed his first job in Munich with FINN Auto, and he later joined Shopify. The 27-year-old had secured a place in the prestigious Antler entrepreneurship accelerator program, and his edtech startup was just about to launch, when he, while on a visit to Gaza, got stuck in the city, as war broke out in October 2023.

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