Entry 18: Why I argued with the ambassador

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This is Entry 18 in the Mondo Awards end-of-year Inspire-us contest.

When I was a freshman in high school, I decided it would be a good idea to start an argument with Israel’s ambassador to Korea. For some reason, when I heard that a government official from Israel was visiting my school for career day, I considered it a prime opportunity for some sort of action. Who could blame me? I was fourteen, and discovering my Palestinian roots. The days of my childhood when I had insisted, “I am an American girl!” as my dad tried to speak to me in Arabic were long gone. Now I was Palestinian, and as such, I had to fight for the liberation of my people.

I asked the ambassador a question about an issue (possibly the only issue) I had heard about on the news recently: Why were Palestinian students in Gaza with scholarships to U.S. universities not being allowed to go abroad and receive their education? I do not remember the details of that conversation. I do remember lots of other things though. First of all, I remember being frustrated when the ambassador refused to answer my questions directly. I also remember him making statements that were contrary to what I had heard, which made me second-guess my knowledge. I remember him accusing Palestinians of being terrorists—weren’t we taught that such generalizations are racist? I began to get flustered. Eventually the argument escalated, I broke down in tears, and my friends took over the debate. The ambassador started yelling. My friends started yelling. Chaos ensued.

As I cried like an idiot, I began to look around the room and realized the absurdity of the situation. I saw the ambassador’s rosy-cheeked son, who was one of my classmates, chuckling at me. To this day, his round little face is forever burned into my memory. All the other students had left, the bell had rung, and I was supposed to be in art class. My friends were shrill, speaking passionately about a topic they barely understood, while I, the initiator of the confrontation, was trying unsuccessfully to fight back tears, and crying in part because I couldn’t stop crying. I have to say the ambassador lost his composure and uttered at least one profanity. Spit was flying. Faces were burning red. And in the midst of the battle, my high school counselor stood very quietly, watching aghast as career day’s keynote speaker bellowed at three teenaged girls. Eventually, the counselor stepped in and said we should be going to class. The ambassador, apparently realizing the error of his ways, fumbled to correct the situation by asking me about my family in a suddenly lighthearted and conversational tone. I brushed off his attempt at reconciliation and left.

I returned to class feeling ashamed of myself. As I thought about all the Palestinian people who were suffering because of the conflict, and all the people who were really taking action, I realized the insignificance of my petty bickering. And yet, it was my desire to affect the situation, to be an activist, which drove me to argue with the ambassador. I wasn’t equipped to go about making any sort of difference, but I wanted to try. I wanted to act as a voice against the injustices that I was hearing about, injustices that were so close to home, and yet so far away.

This experience has been an important part of my ongoing attempt to connect to the Palestinian part of me that was obscured in my American upbringing. It’s a journey of self-doubt, one where I know I’ll never be able to fully understand what my cousins go through, or what my father went through. All I can do is continue to learn, to study Arabic, to read about the situation, to create art that’s relevant, to talk to people about it, to get involved in activism. That is what I try to do every single day.

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