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Belonging can’t be given or taken away

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Among all the beautiful things that my cousin Nadya embodied, she carried within her heart a deep love for her homeland, Palestine. Like me, she fell in love with our village back in Palestine, which she could never visit, because our grandmother beautifully weaved an image of it in our minds with her stories, songs and fig trees. Like me, her heart was weighed down by the pain of forced exile, and the dark shadows it threw over one’s sense of belonging and one’s sense of safety and inner peace. Like me, she would find Palestine suddenly showing up: in the colors of her earrings, on the soft surface of the canvas she painted on and in conversations about the sea that carried her in its dampened wind from Beirut to Acre.

My Nadya passed away in a tragic accident last week. Her loss engulfed all of us who loved her in a cloud of deep gripping pain. In the midst of tears and heartaches, I couldn’t help but notice how such moments of deep pain and loss heighten our connection to the present: to feet firmly resting on the ground supporting the weight of our bodies, to the slow trickle of tears imparting coolness atop cheeks warmed by pain and to reflections roaming the space of the mind freely, and persistently demanding a reckoning with one’s purpose, mission and legacy in life.

And 9 days after her passing, it’s time to sit amidst yet another loss. On the long Palestinian timeline of pains and losses, today, yet again, is Jerusalem’s turn. And just like in my cousin’s passing, I can’t help but notice the grounding that this loss stirs in me. I don’t despair today. I am not angry or surprised or disappointed. Simply because belonging can’t be given or taken away.

Simply because freedom is a natural state, that despite all temporary oppression, will eventually prevail.

Simply because pain, loss and suffering was set in motion a long time back, and persisted every single moment of every single hour of every single day.

Simply because this very same ongoing pain, loss and suffering gives birth every time to resilience, to carrying on, to perseverance because there is simply no other way.

And simply because I still know my grandmother’s stories and songs of the homeland.

I still have a fig tree in my backyard. I tell my children today the same stories and I sing them the same songs. I tell them that if a Palestinian owns a small piece of land, nothing but figs and pomegranates would grow. And when they fall, I tell them they are extraordinarily strong. And when they ask me why, I tell them: because everything Palestinian is.

And so, our stories, songs and fig trees live on. Beyond statements, resolutions and passing presidents, they live on. Beyond power pacts and morally bankrupt positions, they live on. Our freedom will prevail, for how do you defeat stories, songs and fig trees? This is my resistance. This sits at the heart of my legacy. And as I type these words, I look at a picture of my beloved Nadya, standing tall against a backdrop of Palestine from a trip she took to southern Lebanon. She’s holding a Palestinian flag. And I can hear my grandmother singing: “And this love for the homeland gave us,

Oh but a lot of heartache it gave us, but still let the mountains hear me say this: “part away, oh mountains, so I may see my homeland.”

Rana Askoul

Rana Askoul is a Middle East based writer focusing on women’s issues, Palestinian identity, human rights and social change advocacy in the region. She is also the founder of a women empowerment initiative advocating for women empowerment and women rights in the region. You can follow her on Twitter at @ranaaskoul.

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2 Responses

  1. Citizen on December 8, 2017, 11:55 am


  2. JosephA on December 8, 2017, 6:55 pm

    Rana, thanks very much for sharing.

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