Guest contribution by Alia Al Ghussain
I fell in love with my homeland after its soil reclaimed my grandmother, who had lived there all her life. I realized that I could no longer shut myself off to a heritage that I wore like an uncomfortable shawl over my shoulders. I fell in love with Palestine when I picked up Absent Presence by Mahmoud Darwish and had my complicated feelings fall into place, like puzzle pieces creating an image of Palestine in my mind’s eye.
Discovering Palestine allowed me to find myself, regardless of borders, passports, and language. Digging underneath the rubble of grief for my grandmother, and regret that I did not invest more time with her, I found a sense of purpose. I found an explanation to the discomfort I felt when I saw Israeli produce in the supermarket, when friends mentioned that they were thinking of spending the summer lying on a beach in Tel Aviv, when I tried to speak Arabic and my tongue treacherously tied itself up in my mouth and silenced me.
And so I went back. Not to Gaza, where my family is from, but to the West Bank – as close as I could get. I was taken aback at the legendary strength of Palestine, described to me by my father and in the countless books and articles I had read in an attempt to understand my history and ancestry. It was in the way in which checkpoints are negotiated with dignity, day in and day out. It was in the insistence of including Akka, Haifa, and Jaffa in Palestine. Most of all, it was in the sheer fact of existence. The strength to continue an existence in such adverse conditions, and to continue it with one’s head held high, living with a sense of pride and grace so firm that I still cannot quite understand it. I am still not entirely sure if I found, or left, a piece of myself in the streets of Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron as I walked around, trying to soak up every sight, smell, sound. [Read more…]