Being a Palestinian means that you wake up daily to more dehumanisation and oppression. Whenever I have a panic attack and a friend asks what started it, I realise they have no clue about how we experience violence. It’s ongoing. It’s constant.
If you’re Palestinian, you’re born with generations of trauma. We are killed daily, in physical and metaphorical ways. The cycle of violence is endless. We experience it all the time and everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Palestine or outside.
I carry with me numerous memories of joy from 22 years of my life with my loving family and friends in Gaza. But even as we lived these joyful moments, we experienced violence. For example, my father’s release on May 20, 1985 has become an annual celebration of freedom that is usually marked with a reunion with my dad’s comrades and families over delicious food, nostalgic memories flavored with a dark sense of humor, which Palestinians mastered over the years as a coping mechanism. At these celebrations, we would be laughing at our pain without realizing. 15 years of oppression and isolation in Israeli jails, far from sunlight, are reduced into dark humour. No regrets, even though they were rounded up as teenagers and pushed into ‘graves for the living’, as my father would call Israeli jails, for at least 15 years as a punishment for resisting the Israeli colonial occupation.
When I think of the moment when I successfully crossed Rafah border after dozens of failed attempts on September 29, 2013, I remember my tears that were mixed with a feeling of happiness, freedom and relief. I used to leave to Rafah crossing before anyone in my family woke up because I couldn’t tolerate seeing their pain and frustration for me every evening I dragged my luggage back without success. On the same day I shed those tears of happiness in relief that I don’t have to repeat this journey of dehumanisation and humiliation to Rafah, however, that very same day, I realised I didn’t say goodbye to any of my family.
Upon reflection, I wept that very same day, realising the thin line between our pain and joy, and how in most cases they could be two sides of the same coin. It felt as if I was released from a prison; the source of joy. My family and friends, however, remain in that open-air prison, subjected to a life of uncertainty and constant oppression. I was deprived of a last hug, a last gentle kiss on my head from my parents, and all the rest of my beloved ones, and I didn’t realise then I’d be counting 4 years (still counting years) before I see them. I didn’t realise I’d be living restless, with thoughts like, what if I lost them to Israeli oppression and that was it? What if the last goodbye that I didn’t have was the last goodbye. This thought haunts me, especially at times like this when Israeli violence escalates in Gaza. It haunted me whenever my parents joined the Great Return March protests. I would impatiently be waiting to hear back from them while contemplating the pictures they sent beforehand with huge smiles full of pride and defiance, and eyes yearning for freedom and return.
My life may not be under direct threat by the Israeli killing machines now that I am out, but that doesn’t mean violence ever stopped. Being a Palestinian in exile, weighed down with numerous traumatic memories from waves of mass killing and destruction which I survived, is not easy. We experience violence differently, but also endlessly. As we reflect on our extraordinary lives; as we talk to our families and friends there, whom we miss constantly. As we observe our simple struggle for dignity, justice and freedom made complicated by a global propaganda machine that inverts facts and protects the aggressor while blaming the victim. We experience violence as we surf the news. On TV screens and newspapers. As we walk in banks, supermarkets or academic institutions. Normalisation of Israel kills us, and that’s why empowering BDS is vital, because it denormalises Israel.
While carrying generations of trauma, the pain of all those who have to live this constant violence in exile, I keep going despite being exhausted. We don’t have the luxury of despair because if our resistance is dispirited, it is a victory for those who profit from oppression. We have to keep fighting injustice not only for Palestine’s sake, but for humanity, for human rights to be actually universal, against supremacy, against racism, against imperialism. Palestinians are doing a favour to the whole world by leading this struggle against the only remaining colonial occupation of our modern world. This global dehumanising and oppressive machine that violates us constantly is a threat to all those who are more privileged, even if being locked in their comfort zones doesn’t allow them to see it.
We will continue to fight as long as oppression continues. With our lives. While inspiring. With a smile. With existing. While resisting. With maintaining ordinary life amidst extraordinary situations. While being human, even as we experience dehumanisation.
How long will this oppression last? The answer is in our hands, collectively.