Four years ago, I was riding the train home from school when I looked over to my right and saw who I believed to be Ariel Sharon himself. The man even had a look in his eyes that was cold enough to pierce through the train’s weather-beaten metal frame. Considering he was supposed to be in a coma thousands of miles away, my better judgment told me this wasn’t really him. But I was convinced otherwise, and I managed to convince myself that it was my duty to convince you as well.
So for the next fifteen minutes, I timidly positioned and repositioned myself to get the perfect photograph of him without him knowing. I moved from chair to chair as I pretended to search for all the things I had supposedly dropped. Fearing he’d caught on, I switched seats again, this time to peer out onto the breathtaking view of yellow brick two-flats in Chicago’s northwest side. I even concocted an elaborate plan to chat him up before guilt tripping him into thinking he owed me a selfie. Surely my plan would work.
I had only just founded this blog and after two blog posts, the first being an introduction to the website, I had run out of ideas. And there I was, panicking about how impossible it would be to maintain a blog when Ariel Sharon of all people sits ten feet away from me and basically begs me to run a front page exposé on him.
That’s exactly what I did. I nervously snapped a picture, scurried out of the train cart, and uploaded it to the website within the hour. It was his lucky day. I accompanied the image with a few paragraphs of text that were equally as pointless. I had published my third ever blog post.
Moments later, I received a snarky email from a longtime mentor who basically called the site a TMZ-wannabe. She made me take down the blog post, citing all sorts of reasons without any shortage of angry words, and taught me that establishing a credible blog about something as heavy and as sensitive as Palestine and the Palestinian identity is a responsibility never to be taken lightly.
This is a lesson I’ve continued to learn from over the course of my time running Sixteen Minutes to Palestine.
Admittedly, the next few blog posts weren’t great either, but I was happy to have a platform up and running. Despite the blog’s initial lack of direction, things escalated very quickly. Two months in, a humanitarian mission aboard the MV Mavi Marmara was attacked by Israeli commandos in international waters and I decided to cover it. It was the first all-nighter I pulled for the blog. I didn’t have a choice; it had become one of the top live-update websites covering the Flotilla raid. Sleeping just felt selfish.
Four years later, it still feels selfish. The blog is established now — at least within the confines of the tight network of Palestinian activists in the American Midwest — and it hauls an archive of news, information, and photography that might one day prove to be invaluable. I never expected it to get this far, but it did. And as odd as it feels, I know that some people actually look to the blog for knowledge or even inspiration. Keeping SMP alive and well with high quality content, insightful commentary, and thought-provoking visuals is a promise I made the moment I took down Ariel Sharon’s doppelgänger from the front of the website four years ago, and it’s a commitment I still stand by today.
That being said, I haven’t always kept up my end of the deal, especially these last few months. Here is where I extend my deepest apologies to all those I’ve let down or to all those who expected new content. Things have changed drastically over the course of the year and it is becoming less and less likely that I’ll ever be able to keep the blog as actively updated as it once was. I even missed out on writing a celebratory birthday post for the blog. But SMP is still the only long-term project I’ve ever embarked on that hasn’t tanked, and I certainly don’t intend on letting it tank now — or ever, for that matter.
And why should I? As much as I see it as a moral obligation for me to utilize my skillset for the betterment of humanity and more specifically to draw the public’s attention to the grave injustices happening just beyond our fingertips, the blog has also helped shape me into the person I want to become. It has helped me make sense of my own identity as a Palestinian in America. It has revealed to me my love for photography and storytelling, which are two very critical components of the Palestinian narrative. It has guided me to new connections and lifelong friends. It has taught me to consider struggles far from my own. It has exposed me to a breadth of information I hope to one day learn and build upon. And its readers have continuously inspired me with their own words, their own takes on the collective Palestinian identity, and their own ways of resisting injustice.
It is only right for me to close off by thanking each and every one of you for keeping this blog relevant. From the mentors who teach me life lessons in rather controversial ways to the friends who help me edit in the middle of the night, from the readers who make this all worth it to the commenters who remind me that spelling tests need to be taken more seriously, from the translators who’ve expanded the reach of the blog to the racists who’ve tried and failed to shut the blog down, and from Avi Mayer whose painfully awful politics keep this blog busy to the old mother in Gaza City who thanked me once for sharing a story about her son who had been forgotten for far too long, you are each an element of any success this blog sees. Thank you.
And happy (belated) birthday, SMP. Let’s get back to blogging.