Via: Al-Ahram Weekly.
Bigger than land on map, Palestine is the name of all universal struggles for a better world, writes Samah Sabawi* in Melbourne
This is to all of the Palestinian parents in exile and the long trail of olive trees they’ve planted around the globe.
A few days ago, my father e-mailed me a photo of my mum and him standing proudly next to my newest sibling; a young olive tree they’ve planted in their garden in Queensland, Australia. I was moved beyond belief looking at that photo and thinking of my beautiful Palestine.
To many Palestinians of my generation, raised in the Diaspora, Palestine is more than the landscape, old stones and holy places that so many have written about yet most of us on the outside have never seen. As hard as we try to imagine the magnificence of our ancestors’ orange groves, or the enchantment of the scent of jasmine flowers as it lingers at night, we know that we are severed from that world. We know that we can only listen with empathy when our relatives talk of that feeling one gets facing the sea in Gaza, or walking the old streets of Jerusalem, as we’ll never come close to truly grasping the depth of those experiences. And while we eagerly read the works of acclaimed poets and masters of the word who confess their undying love for that land, many of us on the outside, born and raised in the suburbs of Canada, Australia, the US, and so many other places may find it difficult to profess our love of a physical piece of land we’ve never set foot on. Yet there is an undeniable connection we share and there is a beauty we see in a Palestine that is constructed in our minds, in our hearts and in our homes.
When my parents were uprooted from Gaza, they carried my siblings and I on a journey that took them from the refugee camps, through the Arab Gulf all the way to Australia. We grew up in dozens of houses, always on the move from one contradiction to another, one culture to another, one life to another and one language to another. Throughout our life’s journey, we knew beyond any doubt who we were and where we came from. We knew we were distinct. Our story was difficult to tell and school projects were particularly challenging. Like many others in the Diaspora we had to explain to teachers and peers where we are from and why the name of our country is not written on their maps. We became experts at reconciling the worlds and identities that inhabit us; feeling the weight of oppression in countries and places that offered us citizenship and freedom and travelling with ease with our Western passports while always remembering our relatives and loved ones under siege, under curfew, behind the checkpoints and under occupation. We appreciated our civil liberties in ways only those who stripped of their human rights can. We, the generation born and raised in exile, began to see the world differently and as a result we now understand our human identity in a way that is truly unique.
My father always told us, “To be a Palestinian means you must speak truth to power and you must never give up.” He was always busy teaching us through his poetry and his stories about being good citizens of the world, identifying with the oppressed and standing for the rights of those who have none. He brought home dozens of movies including Gandhi and Cry Freedom and he sat us down to watch the series Roots, always discussing the movies and stories afterwards. It didn’t matter if it was about abolishing slavery, apartheid in South Africa or non- violent civil disobedience in India, the message was always the same: Palestine is not one battle, it is an epic human story told again and again of how the oppressed stand up against oppressors. “To understand our story, we must understand the age-old human battle for freedom.” My father had a strong conviction that to be of use to Palestine you had to be a part of the world at large. “Palestine is not about a tiny spot on the map,” he always said, “it is about the awakening of the human conscience.”
As for my mother, she never failed to give us doses of a quiet yet infinite love, filled with all the colours of a culture that could not be crushed, denied or forgotten. If you spend some time with my mother you will know Israel has a losing battle on its hands. She kept Palestinian food on the table, told Palestinian folk tales, sang us Palestinian lullabies, and when we were ready to move away and start our own lives, she orchestrated for us Palestinian weddings that didn’t miss any of the details they had back home. Palestine lives uninterrupted through the army of millions of exiled Palestinian mothers who, like my mother, have became a solid bridge to the homeland for their families.
My family has lived in exile now for more than 40 years, and even though I’ve made many visits back to Palestine, I never really lived there. Yet like all Palestinians in the Diaspora would say, Palestine lives inside me. I have become weaved into the tapestry of Palestinian activism that places me in a larger community of human rights and justice advocates. My global village is filled with inspirational people and their stories of triumphs and tribulations in the face of oppression. Today, I know with certainty that my beautiful Palestine is not just that piece of geography my parents yearn for, and that my people don’t all have the same Semitic eyes, skin or hair as I do. My Palestine is wherever there is injustice in this world and my people are the truth seekers and the peace activists. They are my sisters and my brothers.
I look at the photo my parents sent me, how extraordinary their journey has been and what examples they’ve set for us. Indeed, my beautiful Palestine transcends space and time. It is much larger than any one country on a map. It is a trail of olive trees planted around this globe. My beautiful Palestine is the undefeated and unbreakable human spirit soaring above borders, over walls and beyond oppression.
* The author is a writer, playwright and poet. She was born in Gaza and is currently residing in Melbourne, Australia.