I cannot even begin to describe to you what it was like growing up as a Palestinian, in Canada.
But I will try.
Artist: Imad Abu Shtayyah
Imagine being a child on the road to finding your identity, yet you are unable to convince the world that you exist.
No no, what do you mean you’re Palestinian? Just say you’re from Jordan, it’s what the majority of Jordanians are anyhow, and at least you’ll find it on the map.
The map. Did I mention Palestine exists – in all the hearts & minds of its people, its soil, culture, food, music, dance – I’ve even been there, smelled its sweet air, touched its green leaves, basked under the shadow of its olive trees… but “the map” will not show its existence. Instead it is lumped under an occupier’s name, one I refuse to acknowledge as legitimately formed.
What do I mean by lack of legitimacy? Imagine being thrown out your house by gunpoint with your family members, half of them killed in the process, and made into scattered refugees through violence. Meanwhile these thug criminals take over the house that you built yourself and comfortably live in it, with all your possessions intact. Yet it is now “not yours”, and in a twisted colonizer’s view, “never been yours”. Can we call the occupier a legitimate owner of the house? Never, and a thousand times no.
To be robbed and have it acknowledged as injustice is one thing. But to be robbed of material possession, as well as dignity and pride, and then be somehow blamed for it, is a whole other tragedy on its own.
Imagine being a 10-year old child in a privileged North American country, with little concerns in your pampered little life, when you walk into the living room as the news (obviously not CNN or Fox) plays. You see a small boy and his young father crouching behind a wall as the bullets shoot through the smoky air – and then both father and son crumple. Sudden death, completely avoidable, and completely deliberate.
Imagine knowing that their only crime was that they had Palestine flowing in their veins, but someone else decided they should not be safe on their own land. The land they built with their own hands.
Imagine living in a lovely place like Canada, and instead of feeling as though you are in Paradise, you instead can’t shake off the guilt that your life isn’t as difficult as the kids who risk their lives everyday just walking to school – because the bored soldiers at checkpoints could shoot at you or treat you like a bowling pin to knock over, by launching rocks at your head. (It’s all a game, let’s see who gets more points!) Meanwhile I am here, in Canada, feeling guilty at being safe, as though it were mandatory that a Palestinian child to be in constant danger.
Imagine feeling horrible for being helpless to fight the oppression your own flesh and blood overseas are forced to endure regularly. Imagine this burden on a 13-year old’s conscience. That was me.
The worst of it was, there was no one I could talk to about this. Things may be different now, but rewind over a decade and a half back, I was the only Palestinian (and even Arab), in my grade. It would have been nice to have someone who understood your inner torment, even if you didn’t need to express it.
“call me angry
i hear your voice salt with guilt
and I laugh.
look how easy it is to reveal you.”
— anger is a natural response to oppression (Nayyirah Waheed)
My only outlet in my youth was to write poetry – lots and lots of poetry – to express my frustration and anger. But who cared about the writings of a kid who had an entire country that “doesn’t exist” on her mind, when she should only be concerned with fashion and boys?
I have learned to smile through the anguish until I am now used to having people tell me they cannot picture me in a state of unhappiness.
But if you look past my dynamic colorful outfits and my radiantly positive attitude, you will find a burning sadness inside for the lost part of me I cannot seem to take full ownership of it until it is free.
Inside you will find a fire of rage for the silence of those too reluctant to speak justice when given the platform to do so (and here, the decision to “remain neutral” rings out the opposite message loud and clear). Inside you will find a volcano that erupts every time a Palestinian woman is degraded, every time a Palestinian man is humiliated, and every time a Palestinian child’s dreams are destroyed.
And still inside this heavy-loaded heart you will find the source of my smile, my strength, and my tranquility: the knowledge that Palestine will be free. It is one of those things that cannot die while people believe in it, and millions around the world are not giving up on it anytime soon.
Imagine being Palestinian, outside of Palestine, and realizing your heart never left it.
It is a beautiful ache.