Monday, February 23, 2015

"Defining a Palestinian"

"I'm trying to say that you being a Palestinian shouldn't take away your right to live your life on your own terms"

While reading the following, if you did, keep that in mind the entire time. 

I have never truly thought about what it means to be born a Palestinian, not until a couple of years back. There was always some kind of resentment towards my identity, I always hated the fact that this life was forced upon me, I mean, would it have been so wrong if I was born in Greece or Italy or anywehere else . At one point or the other, all Palestinians living in Palestine or refugee camps  must've made that wish, or so I assumed. 

It was only 3 years ago that I uttered the words, "Well, I'd rather be born a Palestinian with a just cause than a misguided Israeli soldier battling my own demons on whether it's right or not to kill a Palestinian kid and then commit suicide after finishing the military service", this came within a certain context of course but you get the general idea, I was happy I was born a Palestinian. 

Being raised a Palestinian, we were taught of course like any other humans to be proud of our nationality, to be proud of the cause we and our ancestors before have carried on our shoulders for years and years and years. The same as we're taught that there is a God and we have to believe in him and worship him, that we're Muslims (since I was raised a Muslim, doesn't apply on all of course), that our parents are also Gods and make no mistakes, and that there is something called a normal childhood, that it's okay to have dreams, that there is such thing as humanity, justice, and that we're ultimately free. 

We weren't supposed to doubt any of this, they were like God-given facts, there is no room for doubt. 

Then we grew up, and this perfect world that was built for us, that was forced upon us, started tumbling down, and escaping or even surviving this perfect world is one of the hardest things we all have to go through. We grow up to realize that it is sometimes difficult to be a Palestinian, it's even more difficult to be a proud one. We realize that yes, we have a just cause, but this just cause has caused us to lose so much, on every level possible. We start realizing that God isn't always there for us like we used to believe, and we doubt him. We realize that our parents, sometimes, make more mistakes than we do. The image of pure perfection they used to resemble and we carried in our heads of them will be destroyed. And we realize that there is no such thing as a "normal" childhood. That humanity and justice aren't facts but merely human aspirations. And that freedom is not ultimate, but has a prison of its own. 

That's why it's a constant struggle to be a Palestinian. 

In order to be a Palestinian there are certain things you must be. You have to be proud for being a Palestinian and support anything Palestinian, even if it was wrong. You have to be against normalization programs. You have to honor death, because life here is just a passing privilege while death is the route. And for that same reason, you must by all your heart cherish the life you have, and always work, breathe, love, hate, cry, scream, paint, study, dance, and die for that passing life. You need to accept death, sorrow, and pain. You can't be selfish and choose your own happiness over your people's. You can have your own dreams, but you can't leave Palestine and your people out of them.  

This of course doesn't apply to all Palestinians, I am talking about what being a Palestinian's like from my own experience. If you'd ask my neighbor or any of my friends they could and probably will tell you a completely different story. 

In the past 3 to 4 years I've broken several of these "musts", and that's when I started losing connection to my own identity, and still do most of the time. I wasn't proud of everything we did as Palestinians. Yes, I understood the motives behind our actions but I couldn't support them. For instance, I understood why some students, workers, and employees would go and blow themselves up to kill Israelis, as a little kid I wanted to even do that. All I saw in these Israelis was the enemy, the killer, the soldier and I wanted them gone. That was me as a kid. When I grew up I still saw them this way, I still do, but now I can't support our reaction to be like this. Because right now I'm at this phase where I don't want to become my worst enemy, I don't want to become them, the killer. I want my cause to be a cause of justice and some sense of humanity, and hence I can't support such actions anymore, even though no matter how many times I look at it I know we can't escape it. I've said it once, twice, thrice and I'll say it again, the environment we're living in here in Palestine is nothing more than one big monster-creator factory. Yes there is such means of fighting back as peaceful resistance and so on, but by now we all know - or so I assume- that whether as Palestinians we resisted peacefully or "violently" the result is the same, you will get hurt, you will get killed. Peaceful resistance isn't really peaceful here, check one of the result of peaceful resistance on this link

I also participated in a normalization program, which started this entire cycle of losing connection to my identity. And this lost identity crisis wasn't out of constant self-blame for participating in this program, but it was because of my people's reactions, specially my friends and acquaintances. There are certain lines we can't cross as Palestinians, and being on peaceful terms with the enemy while they're terrorizing your and your people's daily lives is not an option; it's a red line, and I have crossed it. And that made me an outcast, by some people I know, but most importantly by myself. 

Before joining the program, I was to some extent an outspoken person about the situation here, I had my own struggling opinions that changed every five seconds - one of the perks of being a Gemini- but I also had some fixed morals, and among these was "no to normalization programs". For those of you not familiar with the term, it's peace programs that bring together Palestinians and Israelis to reach some kind of joint understanding about each other and connect more on a human level than the political one.  Loads of bullshit to be honest, I mean people would keep saying over and over again that "politics is not everything, it's not life", but these people don't realize that saying that is a privilege not all of us have. I personally don't. Checkpoints, arrests, torture, house demolitions, Israelis and Palestinians ... are labeled "politics" abroad, it's a topic to discuss, to write papers about, or used as a method to impress a girl with all the knowledge you have about "conflicts in the Middle East", and that's about it. 

But in reality, THIS is the reality. It's not "just politics", it's not just talk, it's real life. The political conversation that people want to avoid abroad, is real day-to-day interactions for others. That's why it's a load of crap to say that Palestinians and Israelis should sit together, leave out the politics and focus merely on who our favorite singer is. What's the point really, so then I'd go back to my "politics" of crossing checkpoints, arrests, and house demolitions by the same Israelis who wanted to connect more on a personal level outside "the context of politics". 

See, I realize all of that, how wrong the program was and how stupid, yet I did it and that took something away from me as a Palestinian. 

I still write about Palestine, I'm still politically opinionated if we had to put labels on it, and I still fight against normalization programs, but I feel like one big fat hypocrite. Who am I to preach patriotism when I have committed one of the ultimate treason, I've normalized with my occupier. It's like anything I do now which is related to Palestine won't feel genuine anymore, and all of this's happened because I broke several "musts" rules, all by my own. 

I still can't recover from it, but it was because of this program, because of breaking one of the "musts", I was finally able to utter the words "I'd rather be a Palestinian ...", which I know is no big deal to most of my fellow Palestinians but I'm not perfect like you, realizing that tiny little fact was one huge challenge. And it required me sitting in a room face to face with an ex-Israeli soldier who said she'd rather bomb an entire building filled with tens of innocent people to get rid of one "security threat" rather than letting this "terrorist" get away. I won't go on and on about how shocked I was, specially that this shouldn't have been new information to me, Israel has been doing this to Gaza since 2008, murdering masses of innocent people to get rid of "one security threat". Demolishing the entire house of an entire family for being related to a "security threat". Bombing a car, while destroying the surrounding area, in order to get rid of "one security threat". Yet that was what I needed in order to solve one of the identity issues I had, at that moment I loved nothing more than being a Palestinian and not an Israeli soldier. 

I still struggle with my Palestinian identity, the feeling of disgrace because I chose fulfilling my own desires of traveling and studying abroad (part of the normalization program I participated in) over my people's cause never leaves me most of my self-conscious times, unless I try hard to ignore it, but at the same time getting out of the "musts" zone gave me new insights. 

Here's what I came to terms with so far, as hard as it is to be a Palestinian on daily basis I'm still among the luckiest.  I am an insider in terms of being a firsthand witness to most of the atrocities that happen here, but still an outsider since I never truly lived them. Like I've said in previous posts, I've never been arrested, shot, tortured, got my house demolished .. etc by the Israeli authorities but I've been a witness to others having to deal with that. The normalization experience I went through will always be a part of me, to empower me at times and weaken me at others. 

Being a Palestinian could take away things from you, like your humanity, yourself, and your dreams, but it gives you back so much more. You'd be fighting a cause for justice, whatever it might be, to be established. And being a Palestinian kid has nothing "normal" about it in the normal sense, I never knew as a kid that it's bizarre to have tanks, soldiers, and checkpoints everywhere, it was my reality as the young Palestinian author Dalia Taha has stated in one recent interview  "... and a child's views of a conflict is different from an adult's. "When you're growing up, you don't think it is strange. You don't respond to it as, 'Oh, I wish I was living somewhere else.' This is your reality, what you think the whole world is like." Hence what is normal and what is not is relative, there is no such thing, and letting go of such "ideals" is liberating. 

And most importantly, it is okay to not follow the "musts" rules. Being a Palestinian has so many layers, and it's not limited to one certain model. Even though I participated in a normalization program and I still doubt my identity from time to time, it's okay.  That doesn't make me any less of a Palestinian, Edward Said was among the most prominent Palestinian-American intellectuals of his time, he fought for Palestine till the day of his death, and still he had his own version of what being a Palestinian is. Further more - and I'm by no means comparing myself to him - he was a normalizer himself, he started this orchestra (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra) that brought together Palestinians and Israelis, in addition to other Arab nationalities, in order to play music together. I'm not going to argue if this is right or wrong, but I have to admit, there's something pleasing about having something in common with Edward Said, we both share the same secret (not a secret anymore though). 

 But the beauty about being a Palestinian lays in it not being as limiting as it I used to believe while growing up. In addition to being a Palestinian, I am still a young struggling woman in a patriarchal society, a dreamer, a fighter, a friend, and a whole long list of roles ... and just because I am a Palestinian doesn't mean I have to prove to the world that I have some kind of normal life and it also doesn't mean that I have to prove I'm someone living under the gruesome Israeli occupation all the time. Being a Palestinian should never ever be limiting to one certain thing. Being a Palestinian is simply being, and that alone is more than enough to tackle. 

 "I'm trying to say that you being a Palestinian shouldn't take away your right to live your life on your own terms", that's what one of my friends abroad has told me once. When he first said that to me I completely refused it, because I believed being born with this nationality would take that away from me; "a life on my own terms".

But now I realize that being born a Palestinian means exactly that; fighting for a life on my own terms. 
That's what we are after all, all we really know how to do is to resist and fight for what we want. 

And in the end, as much as it is terrifying to destroy what we thought were the perfect images in our heads of everything we've been raised on, the fixed images, as much as it is liberating. That's why growing up in this world a Palestinian is suffocating most of the time but it is just as liberating too. And in one way or the other it's a blessing, because the beauty in our struggle is that it was never a lone struggle, all humans under any form of injustice have lived all of the different stages of forced limits and breaking free, as Dalia Taha has also said, "Being a Palestinian doesn't mean I am part of just this struggle. I see myself as someone who is part of everyone's struggle - against oppression, discrimination, colonialism, the cruelty of capitalism. It doesn't matter where you are exactly in the world. What matters is where you stand and what you are responding to."