In My Head, I Call It Palestine
In my head, I call it Palestine. It’s important to me, to give a name to the corner of Earth I’ve heard so much about, to try and remember when we cross the border. As we pass through endless golden hills, rolling with tall grass and cypress trees, I have to remind myself that I’m really seeing it – the Holy Land. I’m not religious, but this place holds significance, and the very dirt seems sacred. This land has ben fought over for thousands of years, and the current day is no different. On this trip, as I’ve said, we’re searching for threads of hope. Here and in Israel they are harder to find, and more fragile when you do find them. During our stay in Ramallah, one of the places we looked for hope was at the Jalalzone refugee camp, one of the longest-standing refugee camps in what is now the West Bank. It’s so established that it seems more like a small town than the Syrian refugee camps that we’re used to seeing now. We met in one of the camp’s administrative rooms with a community leader to talk about the history, needs, and feelings of the camp.
We all expected anger and frustration, but what we got was a narrative that had been brewing since before 1948. Name shared not only his pain connected to his Palestinian identity, but also that of his father and his grandfather, who had been displaced from his home in Haifa. He spoke about his dream of returning to that home one day—although he didn’t seem to consider the possibility that the physical home may not exist anymore. He spoke about the issues that Palestinians in his camp faced, from economic stability to a sense of normalcy to basic human needs like water and electricity.
On the walls surrounding us were pictures of children and teenagers who had been killed by Israeli bombs or soldiers. He told us their stories; that each one had been innocent, playing soccer or walking to school. When asked if he knew of any Palestinians that had been committing terrorist activity, he answered that there were none. That there had never been any Palestinian terrorists in the history of the country.
And this is where it gets complicated. For various reasons, I am far more inclined to fight for the rights of Palestinians—I recognize the power imbalance, I recognize that right now, Israel needs to take a larger share of the responsibility because it’s a legal state, and that’s what legal states do. But the situation isn’t black and white, it’s nuanced. As an outsider, there are narratives I will never understand, there are histories I will never grow up with or internalize, and it is these very narratives that I believe stand at the heart of the issue. Until we reach a point at which these narratives are deconstructed, at which fault is admitted and compromise is possible, there won’t be a solution. The conflict is proof that if you tell a story long enough, regardless of how much is true, it begins to be fact. It begins to be a foundation. These sides are so entrenched in their versions of history that I don’t predict the world will see an end for a long time, but for the sake of the land and the people living on it, I hope they start soon.
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Zoe Brouns is a member of the 2016 Ibrahim cohort. Read more about her experience on her blog: Jamil Jedan: A Trip Through the Middle East.