#51: Free Palestine

A guest piece by Jenan Matari on how Palestine forever lives in the hearts of those it belongs to.

Hi, I’m Alya Mooro and you’re reading The Greater Conversation, a fortnightly newsletter honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Alternately, there’ll be some thoughts from me, or a guest piece, along with recommendations of articles, books*, podcasts and etc worth consuming. If you’ve just subscribed, welcome! If this issue was forwarded to you, add your email to join the list.

Sidi, is/was (may God have mercy on his soul) my seemed-to-be-forever-80-something year old grandfather. He was always “old” to me.

When my brothers and I were little, we used to see my grandparents (Sidi & Siti) every Thursday. Thursday was the day that Mama would go to work full time, so Sidi and Siti would be there after school to babysit us. Thursday was the day we’d learn Quran in the evenings – the day we’d get chased around the house with a sha7ata (old lady slipper) by Siti – laughing – because we tickled her side while she was making us dinner. She still hates that.

There are lots of things I remember about Thursdays when I was little, but the one thing that stands out the most, was the question we’d get from Sidi the moment we got home. It was the same question every Thursday (and every other time we’d see him). It basically became his signature greeting to all his grandchildren.

Every Thursday, we’d run into the house, drop off our backpacks and just before we’d run back outside to play he’d say, “Jenan! Ta3ali hawn (come here).” I’d roll my eyes because I knew what was coming next. I’d hustle over and say, “Na3am (yes), Sidi?” To which the conversation below would follow…

Sidi: “Min Waan, Inti?” (Where Are You From?)

Me: “Ana Min Falasteen, Sidi.” (I Am From Palestine, Grandpa.)

Sidi: “Min Ayi Balad?” (From What City?)

Me: “Min Beit A’nan.” (From Beit A’nan.)

Sidi: “Shatra.” (Good.)

And then he’d walk away.

Lord knows that as an elementary school aged child, being asked the same question over and over again for however many years becomes a nuisance. I’d think to myself, is it because he’s old? Does he not remember that he asked me this already? Does he think I forget, or does he forget?

I am 25 years old now, and it took me 20 something years to understand the purpose of this question. It wasn’t until I was 23, when I began extensive research on the history of Palestine, and where my family came from, that I finally began to appreciate this memory. And it is now the most precious memory that I have of my grandfather.

Sidi didn’t ask me this every Thursday because he just wanted to be annoying or because he didn’t have anything else to say. He didn’t ask this because he “forgot” he already had - he remembered. He asked the same question over and over again, because he wanted to make sure that – in a time that seems as though Palestine is rapidly disappearing from western knowledge – we knew where we came from.

He wanted to make sure that we always remembered where our family got our start, where he was born, where his father was born, where his father’s father was born, and so on. He wanted to make sure that when people asked, “I meant where are you from from?” we knew the answer to that.

You can take away our lands, demolish our homes, tear down our fields of olive trees. You can turn us into refugees, and you can imprison us for refusing to leave and for fighting back against our oppressors. You can make life difficult by creating “pop-up” check points, you can deny us entry (or exit visas) after interrogating us for 16+ hours in your fancy airport. You can even completely remove us from your “world maps” and attempt to falsify geographical history (and present day territory). But you will never make Palestine disappear. Because she isn’t just a place. She doesn’t only exist if you say she does.

She is the blood that runs through our veins. She is the courage that is in our souls. And she is the pride that is in our hearts. Palestine is “us.” You can teach your children whatever history you’d like – we will teach ours the truth. You can tell your children that Palestinians are an ancient “lost people” – we will tell ours that they are the legacy you tried to erase. You can tell your children that Palestine and Palestinians do not exist – and we will simply stand in front of you, because just our silent presence will prove you wrong.

To my Sidi up in heaven, I am from Palestine. I know where I am from because that’s what you taught me. I know that she exists and will forever exist, because that’s what you taught me. I know that my existence, and my children’s existence (Inshallah, one day) is important to Palestine’s existence, because that’s what you taught me. Every Thursday, I will ask my children where they are from, and they will respond to me with an annoyed sigh saying, “Palestine, Mama,” because that’s what you taught me.

Jenan Matari is founder & Editor in Chief of @MissMuslimNYC. Follow Jenan on Twitter and Instagram. This piece originally appeared on MissMuslim.


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TGC alternates weekly between a guest piece and my own shares. If you identify as a Middle Eastern woman and would like to contribute a guest piece, please email me. You can share anonymously too if you prefer.

  • Books: My faves @thecandidbookclub have put together a starter list on Palestinian books to read. Some more reading lists on Palestine. I’ve also just finished reading Black Wave by Kim Ghattas and found it hugely insightful into the history of the region and all the power players and failures that have made it what it is today.

  • Newsletter: Why it matters that more celebrities than ever are speaking up about Palestine.

  • Podcast: Two Palestinians in the diaspora talking about what’s happening in Palestine.

  • In non-Palestine related content, there are two new episodes of my podcast Talk of Shame. Episode Two features Nour Emam, founder of Mother Being. We talk about how we’re so often disconnected from our bodies and raised through shame and fear, and how she’s going about trying to raise a sex-positive daughter. // For Episode Three I spoke with Maryam Ghouth, a Saudi shadow worker, as well as Haesue, a therapist, to gain some insight into the impacts shame can have on our lives. Catch up on the episodes here. If you enjoy the podcast, please subscribe, review and share. Thanks :)

Thanks for subscribing! I'm Alya, the person behind this newsletter. I am a freelance journalist and the bestselling author of The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. You can follow me on Instagram here, and Twitter hereBuy me a digital ko-fi.
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