When I was nine years old, my elementary school had a writing contest. They sought out the best writing piece and the prize winner would be featured in the school newsletter and would have their name announced on the loudspeaker for all of the school to hear.
I was nine years old. And while much of my competitors wrote stories of fantasy, of their families, or answered the lingering question of what they wanted to be when they grew up; I knew I was far past my time.
I submitted a writing piece labeled, “My home in Palestine.” It described my love for a land I had never seen, for olive trees and skies that I was eager to feel. I described my love for my grandparents who would speak to me on the phone with their calm voices saying, “Habbibty, Laila.” I was nine years old and I could fully grasp what it meant to have family in Palestine. To wonder if they were okay. To think what life could be like for them. I wrote in my submission, that I wished one day I could save Palestine and that peace would come from the cracks in ground and into the homes of each and every person in the Holy Land.
I won the contest in the fourth grade and I went on to see my submission on our newsletter. My parents were in complete happiness and showcased my writing piece to anyone who entered our home.
At nine years old, I knew what problems would lay in the midst of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And I knew that as long as I was living, I would take on my Palestinian roots with pride.
When I entered college at 17, I remember learning more about the opinions of others in regards to the conflict. Some people were advocates, others were temporary supporters, and some were just ignorant. I had never had an opinion on how others should feel or believe.
To each its own.
However, one day I was told in the process of looking for a job, that I shouldn’t showcase my Palestinian roots, since many people did not want to be associated with the political/religious conflict and that many of my future employers may be pro-Israel or have one-sided views.
I spoke with advocates and supporters of Palestine. Some told me of their fear that being apart of protests and rallies would affect their opportunities to obtain jobs in certain areas. When they asked for my advice, I told them that they need to do what was best for them and their future.
But what I failed to realize and what many others did not realize, was that no matter where I go in this future or what opportunities I hold in my hand, I will forever be Palestinian.
My olive skin and dark eyes, not to mention my last name will forever portray my roots and my people. For me, advocacy and protesting has no affect on my life and opportunities. I am proud of who I am and most of all, I am proud to have roots to the brave souls who have lost their lives on those lands.
At nine years old, I was able to comprehend somewhat of what lies in the Middle East. I knew nothing of hate, just peace. I was a fourth-grader who only knew that there was a fight between two peoples and that they just needed to come together as one.
At 21 years old, I know more of what lies in the Middle East more now than ever. And while the world would expect me to release hate towards those who have hurt my homeland, you will not find hate in my soul.
Because just as that nine year old expressed that she wanted peace and that she would forever hold Palestine in her heart, I do the same now.
I am and will forever be a Palestinian. There is no taking away this beautiful label that I hold across my heart and skin. Peace is at the tip of my tongue. And Palestine is forever and will forever be my love.
So whether you are just learning about the conflict for the first time or you have been following the conflict your whole life, remember to form your own opinion and find others who can support your thinking as well. It is in our human nature to disagree at times. But it is not human to base our beliefs solely off what we see on television. Live outside your borders.
#FreePalestine #PeaceForGaze #Solidarity #Love