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My People
by Dana Halawa
2010-12-15 09:38:15
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It’s hard to believe that Israel was only established 62 years ago, and that before 1948 there was no Israel, just my Filastein. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive, Israel is a fact, there’s no denying that, and it’s not like we can just cleanse a land of the people on it, or can we? Regardless, Israel isn’t going away anytime soon and I realize that.

A relative of mine was actually old enough to remember being exiled from her home and country during the catastrophe of 1948. 60 years latter this 70 something year old lady is still traumatized by her past. Decades later she still keeps her jewelry and valuables packed up near the door so she can grab them if she is ever banished from her home again; she jumps at the sound of a telephone, she yells at loud sounds “they’re here, they’re here, grab our things”. This is a lady who went through her entire life without ever feeling safe or at home.

I have met way too many of these people. Refugees even we Palestinians look down upon, low classes from the ghettos. I’ve heard their stories, some of these people lived in fancy homes, were actually considered aristocracy! And, in the matter of a day they went from the elite to the rabble, from owning a land to unwanted pests on it. Their whole environment changed overnight, it’s like the habitat to which they were once acquainted just vanished, without warning. Their neighbors, friends and family were gone; dead or exiled with no news on their whereabouts or health. Their land became foreign and unwelcoming. They were treated as scum.  Their lives, homes and possessions belonged to someone else now. Reduced from their lavished lives to knocking on their former house doors begging the new inhabitants for some of their belongings, just their old blankets they’d beg, to protect them from the cold of the winter.

My favorite question is where are you from? Every inch, every nerve of my body gloats with honor and conceit to be able to answer back, ‘Filastein’. These are people who have lost everything, people who stand alone as they are massacred, while the world perceives them as terrorists. Yet, somehow, despite all my people have been through, despite the daily attempts to destroy their hopes and their ability to survive. They have this fortitude, this unbeatable will, this strength. They never gave up. They never surrendered. Their perseverance and will to go on are mesmerizing. Rachel Corrie wrote in a letter to her parents a month before her murder, “I am just beginning to learn, from what I expect to be a very intense tutorage about the ability of people to organize against all odds, and to resist against all odds.”

How can I not be honored to call myself a ‘filasteinyah’? How can I not gloat with arrogant pride to have the blood of heroes run through my veins?  But the truth is, I am not like my people. I have lived in Filastein, I have been exposed to war and terror, I have had family members murdered, I was forced to miss out on 3 weeks of school after the only Christmas break I spent in Filastein because I was stuck there under a curfew and incapable of going back to the states in time. I have been denied the right to accomplish my dreams or dream of new ones, to be a teenager or to live through the stages of life. I have been forced to grow old and brave, to disregard and not fear a riffle pointed at me in the hands of a soldier unhesitant to kill me had I presented him with the slightest opportunity to do so. I have been robbed of my innocence, of my peace, security and happiness. My childhood was taken from me too early. I have been denied access to neighboring cities in my country. But my suffering doesn’t even slightly compare to that of the people of Filastein. I haven’t been as dehumanized as my people. I have not been humiliated at checkpoints but treated with respect because of the citizenship I carry. I have never had to starve to death or risk dying because I couldn’t get to a hospital. I have a voice.

You see, I was born in a different world than that of my parents, a fortune that gave me rights. I have opportunities my people can’t dream of and despite the connection I thought I had from afar to the blad –home, I never really imagined that world I was soon to be part of, not in my wildest of imaginations. Unlike my people, I once was a kid, I got to experience that amazing innocent peaceful stage of childhood. No worries, no responsibilities. I’d throw a fit because on the days we were actually allowed to eat fast food my dad would take us to White Castle instead of McDonalds which he thought was just junk, or because I wanted to go to chucky cheese or the mall or a water park and my mom couldn’t take us. The first 11 years of my life consisted of fun, like nonstop limitless worry-free fun. The world was perfect, peaceful, and beautiful. But I, like my American people, people from the world I was born into, was blind and incapable of seeing its beauty. Things, places, activities got boring fast. Nothing was ever satisfying, always wanting more, needing more.

I remember, after we moved to Palestine, an Arab family friend died in the states and my little 3 year old brother, Omar, couldn’t understand what happened to her. I mean that’s natural for a 3 year old toddler to not know what death meant, but to my now Palestinian little brother living in the intefada, death was too familiar a term. To have a friend or neighbor or family member and not the next day was just a normal part of life. My brother’s surprise wasn’t of the term death, it was of the means and place. His immediate and shocked response to the news was “There are Israelis in America?” and after explaining to him about old age and illness he still couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that people could just die without being shot by an Israeli. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, not when the first thing we experienced after moving to the blad was the murder of both, my uncle and cousin, a few months apart. The first sounds we heard of the blad were gun shots, tanks, and speakers yelling for curfews and then a couple hours without curfew for people to buy their basic necessities, and I mean basic; we bought flower instead of bread. People would buy as much as they could afford with no income because there was no guessing how long it would be till their next chance to get out; hours, days, weeks.

I used to go out with mama during curfews to buy food and medicine for our neighbors and selves. We’d walk long distances on empty streets, knowing that we could be shot on sight for breaking the curfew, flashing our American passports at tanks trying to convince them we needed to buy medicine for the ill and food for the hungry. Some mocked and sent us back while others respected America enough to show some fake humanity, sarcastically adding ‘you may go but you will not find anywhere open to buy from’. I used to wonder what it was like for other people, how they managed to survive without having or living near someone with American citizenship, a document that meant we were human while my people weren’t, a document that allowed me freedom of movement around my own country, the right to take pictures on checkpoints, the right to object and have a voice.

Despite all this, they never cease to amaze me. The people of Palestine have been exiled all around the globe, living as refugees in the numerous countries of the world. But wherever they go, whoever they become, whatever they do, they carry Filastein with them. A favorite quote of mine is “everyone has a country they live in, except for us Palestinians, we have a country that lives in us”. I have met Palestinians from all over who despite never being allowed into the blad will tell you the name of the country they live in but that they are originally Palestinians when asked where they come from. That can recall every detail of our history, describe every inch of home, every speck of dirt without ever having been there. They make sure to tell their stories to their grandchildren over and over again as to never forget, to pass the keys of their old homes in the blad from generation to generation, making sure that if they never live to see the day when they’re allowed home their grandchildren one day will return to the one place they truly belong.

I wish there were some way to show the world the truth of this holy land and of its people. It changes you. After you’re exposed to it, there’s no going back. You’re no longer blind, you see beauty but it still carries no satisfaction because you know that your beautiful is causing great ugliness elsewhere. I have changed, I mean I’ve always been ‘filasteinyah’ and taken pride in that, even without living in the blad. I have always listened to and read our stories, but I could have never educated myself or prepared myself enough for the reality of the situation I was soon to be exposed to. I am not afraid of death at the hands of my enemy, a loaded gun pointed at me doesn’t scare me, the sound of airplanes in the sky no longer remind me of relaxing fun vacations but of military airplanes about to assassin a hero, known to the world as a terrorist, driving for over half an hour without a military checkpoint feels weird, the sight of young children being kids surprises me when I’ve met 10 year olds that have taken over responsibility for their orphaned younger siblings. And even though I know my experience doesn’t compare to that of my people, I will always refer to them as my people.

I will always carry Filastein with me, your fortitude and will to live and love life, despite every reason to give up, will be my strength. Wherever I go, whoever I become, whatever I do, I will always carry dignity and pride with me.

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fady sulaiman2011-01-10 00:05:16
كلامك حلو دانا.. يعطيك العافية

Don't need to know :)2011-03-28 04:18:07
Dana I dunno what to say exactly, i always had the inability to express feelings and ideas by writing, i prefer face-to-face rather than it :) but anyhow i'll try to say what I have.
this article was awesome, both the subject and the way you write were marvelous. You are one of that type of writers (or let's say bloggers for now) that have a fantastic style of showing ideas, sending them directly to the heart, touching our feelings, and making us inspired with them. I remember once I read other articles for you about 2 years ago, and you still have the same style, words ,,,,, and subject xP

**I'll continue my reply tomorrow, I just feel sleepy now to collect my ideas and write them down ^_^

A2011-03-28 10:55:25
nicely written ...

Jamal B.2011-03-30 00:33:24
Thanks Dana,you highly express the suffering of our innocent people...

Rula Issam Hijjawi2011-03-30 22:06:15
اسلوبك رائع جدا.. ومزيد من التوفيق باذن الله

Tharwat2011-04-02 03:07:39
A great article dear Dana....
You brought tears to my eyes..
you could greatly express some of our feelings, and describe some of the bitterness and suffer of Palestinians go through their occupied land....
Hope to read you always :)

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