Dear Palestine: before I pack up my things and leave, I want to say a few things. I want to say thank you for your generosity, for the numerous cups of tea with mint and coffee with cardamom. These two things shall always remind me of you. Thank you also for the multiple lunches, dinners, and weddings I was invited to. The food was always delicious, the hospitality humbling and the conversation warm. I would also like to thank you, dear Palestine, for thanking me, even when I was the student and you my teacher; when I was the guest and you my host. I won’t forget the faces of gratitude the people in faraway villages and country sides showed visitors like myself. In these places where the harsh reality of your life under occupation is prominent, the people were always eager to share their stories in hopes that they would be echoed louder around the world. Even though they receive curious visitors every now and then, they didn’t seem to be fed-up. Rather, they were always warm and hopeful even when they told the same stories to different groups at different times. Their hope and hospitality were always intact even when the reality is that we came and left and not much changed in their lives.
Dear Palestine, I’m sure you’ve heard this before but I still feel compelled to say: you are beautiful. Your hills and valleys, green fields and deserts, summer and winter, are all beautiful. You Palestine are a land of contrasts not only in your topography and climate but also in the rest of your being. Contrasts, contradictions, ironies and paradoxes are things I will remember about you. I will remember how people lived in this land way before states existed and how states now question the statehood of your people, as they deemed you a “land without a people”.
I know history can’t be changed; but the reason why the present and the future cannot either, baffles me. The Nakba cannot be undone I know, you also know, but I don’t understand why its features should be continuously perpetrated now, in the 21st century, 64 years later. Why houses are demolished, farmlands confiscated, villages “unrecognized” now, in the present will be something I’ll continue to struggle to understand. I just hope that a time will come where we’ll all stop and realize what has happened, acknowledge how we have failed, reconcile the past and the present, find healing in forgiveness and justice and live in peace.
Puzzling is also how you are forced to live with your situation yet you have to appeal to your oppressors and those that signed you off for your basic dignity. You plead to the “international community” to hold your occupier accountable, to name-shame, castigate and even punish. When it fails as it often does, you call on the help of human rights organizations and global citizens in solidarity to prevent some of the pain that torments you on a daily basis. Sometimes, those who come to your help, be it for accompaniment, olive harvesting, protesting, documenting violations, advocating on your behalf are “good-willed” citizens of your oppressor and its accomplice. This is probably the third thing that strikes me – how you are forced appeal even to those who may belong to your occupier and its allies to win your freedom; how they’ll come to do “cultural exchange”, give “development assistance”, show “good will gestures” etc. to assuage but not to heal.
Also interesting was the realization that not only are you chained powerless but that you also have to polish and ‘oil the wheels’ of the chain that holds you captive, in order to afford yourself the slightest of movements. The wall around you and the settlements inside you are all the designs of your occupier but mostly the work of your own hands. It hurts me to see your people forced to make these decisions all the time: put food on the table by working in settlements or boycott working for the oppressor and go home empty-handed.
Dear Palestine, please know that this is not coming from a place of pity, but rather empathy. It’s coming from a person whose faith in humanity has been both shattered and reconstructed time and again throughout her stay. Shattered because I no longer know which is the stronger force, humanity’s potential for good or evil. Disappointed because I was wrong in assuming there’s always a reason (one I may or may not agree with) behind every action. Apparently pure hatred, selfishness, racism and arrogance directed at your people can serve as blatant motives. Even more disappointing and appalling is how this has been tolerated by the ‘international community”. Oh, one more thing: there’s no “community” in the “international community”; it’s all politics and lip service.
But no, pessimism is not my take-home message from you Palestine. Rather, it’s resilience. Your people have shown me what it means to live beyond and above occupation: to laugh, live and love life and embrace everything that comes, and rise above it. They endure, resist, persist and live again, just like an olive tree. They rebuild, replant, and regenerate everything that is demolished, uprooted, killed and destroyed. They do not give up, neither do they give in; but they live and they do so rising above their Nakba. That is my take-home message: to live is to rise up above life’s obstacles, to persist and to resist but (and this is important) without forgetting to enjoy life as it is and without hesitating to make the best out of it. And I am indebted to you for this lesson. Perhaps the next time I come things will have changed for the better – inshallah. Long live Palestine.
Melkam Lidet is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.