Guest contribution by Amal Ali
Every Palestinian knows the gist. Every city has its qualities and the natives of each have their characteristics. People from the depopulated city of Lydd are like this. People from Bethlehem usually do that. People from Gaza tend to be this way.
The stereotypes get around. By the time we meet a new Palestinian and ask that the inevitable question, “Min ay balad inti/inta? What town are you from?” we maintain the entire interaction with a preconceived perception of his or her character based solely on municipality.
It’s not a new concept: stereotypes have been part of functioning society since the first caveman began to attach assumed traits to loincloth style and club size. And while several people operate on the “stereotypes save time” mentality and don’t believe in abandoning them for convenience, the long-term effects of these ideas becomes clearer and clearer with every hesitation to reveal details of one’s identity.
My father’s family traces to Surif, a town in the Khalil district in the West Bank. When I was growing up, people’s first response to me after hearing where I’m from was always a “Fi wahd Khalili” joke that feebly mocked Khalaylas as hardheaded, old-fashioned, and sometimes even dense. As a child, I was always surrounded by Palestinians from other cities and towns, so I never heard the flip side to being from Khalil — the good parts — and consequently spent the better part of my life ashamed of the fact that my paternal lineage had no other legacy but stubbornness and backwards living.
My mother’s family traces to Qada al-Quds, and I’ve always found a way to be proud of that, in addition to my pride in simply being Palestinian. I’ve always loved the easy-going, generous nature of those from my mother’s village and made it my goal to emulate that as best as I could. Meanwhile, due to the difficulties of connecting with my father’s family as a result of the occupation and the volatility in Surif with the start of the second Intifada, I found no such link to the people from whom I would have ideally learned positive Khalili traits.
It’s taken me until this part of my life, semi-adulthood, to begin to learn of the exceptionally resilient nature of the people I share a hometown with. It’s taken recently-acquired stories about my grandfather, visiting my father’s town of Surif, and meeting other Khalayla from across the country for the first time in my life, to finally shed the shame that I once carried with that part of my identity. I deeply regret the time it took me to reach this point but I also bear deep gratitude to those who helped me reach this point now as opposed to later, or even never.
We live in communities perpetuated by stereotypes. It’s the reason why profiling is a rapidly-growing problem here in the United States and why people register shock on their faces upon discovering how outspoken a woman can be. They have become a fact of our existence, but dangerously so: surely I am not the only person who’s felt somehow lesser because of some aspect of her identity and has attempted to hide or manipulate it in some way to cope with that sense of shame.
This is especially true within the Palestinian community. I share this for the sake of challenging everyone to change their perceptions, and review the impact of preconceptions and words that accompany them. We are a beautiful people, with enough impassioned fire in our veins to light a forest ablaze, and soul beyond measure. Despite these, we’re also a people with several splinters in our collars. Addressing those flaws internally is essential as we continue striving for liberation, for liberation and self-determination will mean nothing if we remain held back by our limited peripheries and stubborn attachment to stereotypes.
Amal Ali is an activist, grassroots organizer, and community builder. She is an undergraduate student at University of California – Riverside where she majors in Ethnic Studies. She tweets here.