I thought I would take some time and explain to you what led me to become so passionate about the Palestinian cause.
I should start out by saying that, as I mentioned previously, growing up I didn’t really have much context to understand the struggle surrounding the Palestinian crisis. However, once I came to college my mind was bombarded with tons of new struggles and issues that I had never been exposed to you.
One of those was the Pro-Palestinian movement. I had some friends in some social activist groups, and so I attended some meetings. It was definitely interesting (and heartbreaking) to learn all about the Palestinian people, what they went through on a daily basis, and how I could help.
At this point freshman year, I couldn’t really call myself an activist. Sure I attended some meetings and started to defend Palestinians in conversation, but I wasn’t any more than that. At that point, the Palestinian issue was just one of a plethora of issues on my social justice palate.
But that changed when one of my friend gave me two books: Orientalism by Edward Said, and Unfortunately, It Was Paradise by Mahmoud Darwish.
I scoured through both of them very quickly, one immediately after the other, and when I finished reading, I was transformed. Together, Said and Darwish took me out of my comfortable passive activism and thrust me head first into becoming a pro-Palestinian activist.
You might ask what about these texts had such a profound impact on me; and that’s not easy to put into words. But I wanted to share with you how my perspective changed upon reading these books, and why Said and Darwish have become heroes to me.
I started with Orientalism. In the book, Said takes the reader through how the West has engaged with this idea of the “East”, and how that helped create the crises we see in the Middle East. Before reading it, I realized that I had always seen this racial and cultural divide in my own perspective. I realized that while I wasn’t against people from the Middle East, Asia, or Africa, I certainly saw them as different, and could not in any way relate to them.
Said opened my eyes to this. He made me realize that I myself was part of a problem perpetuated for generations by Western cultural leaders, who appropriated and “Orientalized” what we would now call Eastern culture. Through his writing, I understood that East and West were just concepts, and only now that it has become so entrenched in society are we seeing such a violent divide along these lines.
From this, I realized that I had to stand up and admit that I was part of this problem, and instead of just passing the blame to those “real racists”, I need to join hands with those who are oppressed and ostracized by my culture. The week after I read Orientalism, I already saw a change in the way I was interacting with Arabs on my campus. I no longer saw them as people to “tolerate” from a distance, but I saw them as humans like me. I found myself directly engaging with them, and talking to them about life – especially the everyday things we had in common. I was no longer a victim of the arbitrary divide that Said pointed out to me. I would admit that while I couldn’t relate to them in terms of oppression, I could relate to them as a person, as a friend.
The fact that Said was Palestinian made me think about how he could come to these conclusions. Then I read Darwish.
If Edward Said taught me to stop seeing an invisible boundary between cultures, Darwish plunged me right into the heartbreak of the Palestinian people. I had already started to empathize with the plight of Arabic peoples, but now Darwish’s poetry and prose brought the Palestinian collective experience into broad daylight with such clarity, beauty, and sorrow.
Each page was more enlightening from the next. No wonder he is considered the Palestinian National Poet.
I was captivated by his symbolism and storytelling. He made me feel like I had lost something myself, and that ache would always be there unless I did something to help. So I did.
The next day I joined my local Pro-Palestinian activist group on campus and the rest was history. For the rest of my college experience, my goal became aligned with the Palestinian movement. I wanted what they wanted: a home for the Palestinian people, and a return of all of the refugees who lost their home, both physically and symbolically, in 1948.
Viva La Palestina.