A love letter to Palestine, from the Diaspora

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…]

Closing the Gap to the Diaspora: Reflecting on UCLA’s Divestment Win

Guest contribution by Dana Saifan

As a Palestinian living in the diaspora, I have at many times reached points of hopelessness in my organizing work. My paternal grandparents are 1948 refugees from Jaffa, and my maternal grandparents were 1967 refugees from Anabta. Growing up, my parents spoke little about Palestine, a land they themselves hardly knew. Speaking of Palestine was marked by a painful past, a sense of shame and loss, and a notion of despair. Questions about my grandparents’ lives in Palestine were pushed aside, and my parents answered with phrases such as “I don’t know,” which was, of course, the easier answer. The distance that stood between my family and our homeland always made us seemingly immobile actors in the struggle for liberation. There didn’t seem to be anything we could do except to take to the streets or passively watch footage of the Second Intifada on the television. Though these kinds of things didn’t have any direct impact on the ground, they triggered my consciousness from a young age. They triggered me to understand what it meant to be Palestinian in America, especially post-9/11. While children spent their weekends watching cartoons and playing outside, I joined the Palestinian community in downtown demonstrations. When children openly spoke about their ancestry in class, I felt the burden that comes with a forced silence. Responses to my identity were marred with ignorance, from the vague “What’s Palestine?” to the clueless “Palestine is not on a map” to the offensive “Your country is filled with terrorists.” To speak of Palestine in class was a political act in itself, apparently worthy of condemnation by my teachers. And if it wasn’t condemnation, it was correction. “You know Israel? It’s that.”

I didn’t understand the microaggressions that I faced throughout my life, and especially through my education, until I began college at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2010. I was quickly exposed to Palestinians who demonstrated pride in their identity and who did not seem to be intimidated into silence. I became close friends with Palestinian student organizers who inspired me to get involved in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and I followed the trials of the Irvine 11. I was introduced to the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for the first time, and I learned more about my own identity through collaborative work with organizations such as Afrikan Student Union and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA). [Read more…]

Photo of the Week: The First Intifada turns 27

Photo credit: Jeffrey L. Rotman
Date taken: March 1, 1988
Location: ‘Anata, West Bank, Palestine

Three stone-throwing Palestinian youth flash ‘victory’ signs through the broken windows of a house that had been attacked by the Israeli military.

The First Intifada began on December 8, 1987, as a direct challenge to Israel’s brutal and suppressive control of the Palestinian territories. The Israeli government had for years sought to exhaust Palestinian resistance to the occupation through all sorts of dehumanizing collective punishments. Scores of Palestinians were thrown into Israeli military prisons, hundreds of homes had been demolished, and soldiers crept the streets day and night to intimidate Palestinians into accepting their fate. [Read more…]

Our shared duty to Eric Garner and Mike Brown

This post was initially published on our Facebook page on November 26, 2014. We have updated and published it here.

We were recently asked why Sixteen Minutes to Palestine — a Palestine-centric blog — reports outside of its scope on the shooting of Mike Brown, the choking death of Eric Garner, and the nationwide protests these and similar tragedies have sparked. We figured that the best response would be a public one, where we would be able to reiterate our mission statement and our values and show how important it is to connect with allied struggles for justice.

SMP specifically explores the richness and authenticity of the Palestinian identity. We present news, first-person accounts, and visual content related to Palestine as a way of highlighting our vibrant culture and history and maintaining our own narrative.

The Palestinian struggle is unique in many ways, and many have characterized it as the human rights struggle of our time. But it shares many values with other critical social justice struggles around the world. Government corruption in Mexico has turned the police against the citizens and further marginalized those of a lower socioeconomic status. Governments that collaborate with Israel, in Palestine and in neighboring countries, have similarly turned Palestinians into second-class citizens, denying them of their basic rights. Gentrification in urban neighborhoods throughout the United States has forced many minority groups into poverty, limiting their access to schools, hospitals, and fresh produce. Similarly, the Israeli government sponsors settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories, effectively displacing Palestinians, restricting their access to their own land, and imposing virtually total control of their movement. These are just two of the seemingly infinite connections that exist between struggles. As unique as the Palestinian struggle is, there are things we can learn, teach, and share in order to make each struggle that much more effective. [Read more…]

The future of SMP

SMP emerged nearly five years ago partly as a reaction to my discontent with mainstream news coverage of Palestine and the Middle East at large. But mostly, it was a personal project, a proactive approach to keeping tabs on my maturing social and political attitudes and on my understanding of what it means to be Palestinian. The idea was for me to follow it and for it to follow me. Through the blog, I have learned so much about Palestine and the world around me. From reading guest submissions — like this one and this one — to researching for my own pieces, I have stumbled across a wealth of information that has deepened my pride and strengthened my commitment to the people of my land. In a similar vein, the blog has served as an intimate window into my thoughts on Palestine. Readers who have followed the blog longitudinally might have been able to tell when I was feeling reflective, argumentative, hopeless, snappy, or inspired.

Lately, SMP has seen a lull in activity that has largely gone unexplained. It was never part of the plan for me to go on bouts of intense activity separated by bouts of quiescence. I can’t help but feel that every missed news update, every lost thought, every misplaced scribble is a breach of trust, a failure on my end to keep the promise I made when I opened the blog. There are so many relevant and important stories that I have failed to cover, especially in the last six months, from the solitary confinement of Rasmea Odeh to the growing list of boycott and divestment victories across the United States to the tension in Jerusalem that is only recently being covered. And although the blog was never intended to be a news website, SMP has certainly missed a lot. [Read more…]

Photo of the Week: A family of smiles in Al-Khalil

Photo credit: Marjut Tuulikki
Date taken: September 18, 2012
Location: Al-Khalil, West Bank, Palestine

A father and his two children smile as their photograph is taken inside of their home. [Read more…]

Highlights from the 2014 National SJP Conference

Last month, more than 500 student organizers representing nearly 120 colleges and universities from all over the country convened at Tufts University in Boston for the fourth ever National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the U.S. to Palestine,” a strikingly fitting theme building on the previous year’s commitment to connecting the Palestinian struggle with other social justice causes, especially those in our backyards here in America.

T-shirts bearing the logo design for the 2014 National SJP Conference are prepared for distribution on the opening day of the gathering. Photo credit: S. Damra

Boston-based hip hop group Foundation Movement performs at Saturday’s cultural Night of Freedom at Tuft University’s Cohen Auditorium. Opti Browne, far right, drapes a Palestinian flag around his neck. Photo credit: Christopher Hazou

A conference attendee looks at the weekend’s program after checking into registration. Photo credit: S. Damra [Read more…]

Photo of the Week: The scars she will see and feel every single day

Photo credit: Eman Mohammed
Date taken: 2009
Location: Northern Gaza Strip, Palestine

Farah is cradled by her grandmother, Um Mohammed Matr Abu Halima, months after Israel’s 2008-09 invasion of the Gaza Strip. The two of them experienced severe burns after the Israeli military launched white phosphorus shells at the family’s home. Farah was two years old at the time. Her brother Ali, just two years her senior, and her uncle also survived. Her father and her four other siblings were killed. [Read more…]

Photo of the Week: Palestinian mothers take on Israel’s “force, might, and beatings”

Photo credit: Robert Croma
Date taken: 1988
Location: Jabalya Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, Palestine

Palestinian women from the Jabalya Refugee Camp confront Israeli soldiers over the abuse and mistreatment of Palestinian children and youth. Israeli soldiers were given authorization and encouragement to break the bones of any youth caught throwing stones and any men involved in demonstrations against the military occupation. Shortly after this photograph was captured, the Israeli soldiers used batons and tear gas to disperse the women. [Read more…]

Footage: Racially-charged exchange on Israeli bus further contextualizes hanging of Palestinian bus driver

On Sunday night, Yusuf Hassan Al-Ramouni’s body was found hanging inside of a transit bus in Jerusalem. The 32-year-old Palestinian father of two worked for Egged, an Israeli transit bus company, and his shift was set to begin at 9:20 pm. But his bus never left the depot, and in the middle of it hung his body by a thin cord.

Despite initial reports that Yusuf had been attacked and lynched, the Israeli police ruled the death a suicide. The police later issued another statement saying that an autopsy report revealed no evidence of foul play.

However, a medical expert speaking anonymously told Ma’an News that the autopsy suggested Yusuf was the victim of “an organized murder”. Aside from his intact first verebtra, which would have likely been dislocated in the case of a sucide by hanging, Yusuf’s body also showed that livor mortis was found in the buttocks of the body, indicating that he was sitting rather than hanging when he died.

Additionally, photographs circulating the internet purport to show extensive bruising on Yusuf’s body.

Several of Yusuf’s colleagues have spoken up about the abuse faced by Palestinian bus drivers on Israeli transit services. But Palestinian drivers are not the only individuals at the receiving end of racially-charged abuse.

Footage published online just days before Yusuf’s death shows a group of Israeli passengers ganging up against a Palestinian citizen of Israel. The Israeli passengers demand that the Palestinian give up her bag to be checked. There appears to be no reason why she is being targeted except for the fact that she is Arab. It is not clear which city the bus is driving through.

Toward the end of the exchange, one of the two armed Israeli soldiers on the bus attempts to be a voice of reason and says that because he has studied “a lot about Islam and Qur’an,” he can “identify” with Arab culture and, presumably, with the Palestinian passenger. He goes on to say that “Israelis are in a very tense situation now,” as if to reassure her that there is justification behind the intimidation. [Read more…]


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