Friday, September 28, 2007

Being Palestinian: A Blessing or a Curse?

Even while on assignment in Cuba last week, my Palestinian origin caused a little bit of a stir. I guess it must be like coming across a rare species of bird that's about to go extinct... there aren't very many of us, less than 10 million in the whole world.

What was special about this stir was a comment from one of the reporters, an Argentine travel writer: "I would have liked to be Palestinian," he said.

The comment didn't surprise me because it's a notion I've wrestled with my entire life. Being Palestinian: love it or loathe it?

Being Palestinian isn't like being Egyptian, or Swedish, or Saudi Arabian, or Bolivian, or even Cuban. The closest thing I can think of is being Kurdish - a large nation with history and roots in the Middle East but denied a national territory - but even that's a little different.

When you are Palestinian, your mere birth is an act of rebellion.

For decades, entire PR campaigns put forth notions that the Palestinian people had no presence in history, and therefore no claim to any land. There were simply there, and one day they would all die, and with them the idea of Palestine as a modern nation. They would join the Moabites, Canaanites, Amorites of history - people who exist only in encyclopedias. Just like McDonald's came up with "I'm loving it", slogans like "A land without people for people without a land" or Golda Meir's bewildered: "Who are the Palestinians? They did not exist." were introduced and repeated throughout most of my parents' lives and my entire childhood. It took Yasser Arafat, the first and second Intifadas, and later Hamas, to keep the idea of Palestinians of flesh and blood alive and off the dusty pages of ancient history.

When you are a Palestinian, you are a defacto rebel. Che Guevara's steely stare will adorn your walls. You will read Norman Finklestein, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Said Aburish and George Orwell and you will always vote the lesser of two evils. You will be asked your opinion on pretty much any political topic under the sun and will be listened to with both awe and skepticism. People will say you are biased and so can't be trusted, and yet they will recognize that something lurks behind your eyes they will never be able to see for themselves.

To be Palestinian is not only to see the world as Che Guevara, Ernest Hemingway, or Simon Bolivar might have - it's to live it every single second of your existence. It's to fight against extinction.

So the socially conscious Argentine reporter might very well have liked to have in his blood that rebel gene rather than have to run after it, cultivate it with curiosity, exposure and empathy, but would he have been prepared to be Rebellion personified, from the day of his birth until the day he died, and every day in between?

I don't know. It's a heavy burden, one I can't say I've always wanted, But given the choice, would I chose to be reborn free of it? It has its good days and its bad days, but overall, yes it's a privilege to be a part of such an important piece of history.


Marilyn Brant said...

This was so beautifully written I printed it out... Thanks for being so candid and for expressing your thoughts on the Palestinian experience in such an eloquent and thought-provoking manner. I'm hardly indifferent on the subject, but your passion is rare and awe-inspiring.
Hugs to you!

Dona Sarkar-Mishra said...

Hmmm, someone is MIA...maybe a meme to get you back in gear?

I have tagged you for a meme over on my blog:

Have a great day!

Maureen McGowan said...

I always find your posts so thoughtful and interesting, Nadine.

Pssst. I hope you're reading your comments these days, cause you've been tagged. See my blog for details.