I am a Palestinian. I am a Palestinian because my father was born in Palestine in 1947 and I am a Palestinian because all the atrocities going on make me want to tell the oppressed that I am with them with every fibre of my being. Growing up I went to a wonderfully cultured and tolerant school, where we were vegetarian and meditated before the day began. It was a place that did more than just teach me the curriculum, instead it taught me confidence, tolerance and integrity. But there was one area where I felt I was always stifled: Palestine. I was never given the opportunity to debate the events that were the fuel of my identity. I was passionate about Palestine and the Middle East, passionate about politics and the Left and passionate about debate and discussion. I felt those things got somewhat sidelined at points, hell my head of sixth form wrote on my end of term report: ‘less passion more poise.’ It was a difficult restraint to bear during my formative years.
There were many consequences of this: the first and most pronounced was that by being forced to avoid Palestine, the growth of my ideas were stunted and my opinions were driven more by emotion and outrage rather than constructive reason and rationality. I rarely ever discussed it with my friends nor did I ever really talk about it publicly. I never got into it with people I wanted to be friends with, fearing it would change our dynamics; I never posted anything on social media or spoke up when someone said something I disagreed with. It wasn’t until I went to university and, more crucially, until I went to Paris and met some astounding people that I started to engage in dialogue. My experiences working with the Palestinian delegation at UNESCO and setting up the website infita7 with my Palestinian-American friend Hani have taught me that being political is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a pivotal thing.
So now, I’m older and wiser. I’ve read, engaged and come to the shattering conclusion that silence is nevergolden. What good were my ideas and my solidarity with Palestine if I did nothing for them? I may have been free in my own mind but by attempting to secure that liberty, I had allowed my tongue to grow idle. From now on, my friends (and anyone else who cares to know) should be in no doubt where I stand on this issue. I went to an 18th birthday paint party with ‘Palestine’ emblazoned in Arabic on my forehead and yesterday my poem came out on YouTube with the same name. Last Friday night I passed by the Notre Dame at midnight and bumped into two New York Zionists, I spent an hour and 45 minutes talking about Palestine with them, trying to be articulate and rational. That’s the woman I want to become – one who champions causes regardless their sensitive nature. If you disagree, then that, of course, is your prerogative, but be prepared to back it up and be prepared to be pragmatic. And if you call yourself ‘neutral’ by not understanding the conflict or are not fully aware of its complexities, then, with respect, you are ignorant. And I mean that word not as an insult, rather in its etymological essence: you are unlearned and uninformed. It’s not enough of an excuse to be unaware.
If you’re reading this, odds are, you live in the West. That means you’ve got (comparatively) good education and (comparatively) free media. You’ve got the tools to unlock any issue you want. To my old school friends I say to you: your parents have poured enough money into your brain to buy a house (or two), by ignoring issues such as Palestine and any other oppression you’re throwing away their sacrifice, regardless of which Russell Group uni you graduated from. If you don’t understand, that’s absolutely fine: get engaged, get talking, you’ve got to start somewhere after all. Make your reading diverse and critical and seek knowledge from anywhere you can get it. Apply integrity and thought to everything. At the very least you owe it to the Palestinians because Britain (and France and the US)’s historical role in the Holy Land is deep and pertinent and goes a long way to understanding the mess we’re in now.
So I’m here with one simple message: get engaged. I am not afraid anymore, I’m tired of trying to not ‘offend’ friends and – note – that doesn’t mean walking around insulting the world nor bombarding social media but that means standing up for my beliefs: for Palestine, for truth and for justice, with respect and politeness. It does not make me ‘outspoken’ because if I were to not mention it I would be only complicit and silent, throwing away one of the most beautiful gifts Britain has offered me: freedom of expression. As Desmond Tutu said: ‘if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.’ Neither will the Palestinians. And history will remember you for being silent during one of humanity’s biggest crimes in recent times.