|Photo by Ramzi Hazboun.|
By Iman Hamayel
I’m a Palestinian who currently lives in Palestine. I haven’t always lived here; I actually moved here from the United States when I was ten years old. The age of ten may seem rather young to you, but I can assure you it’s not, because by age ten, I had a lucid vision of what a community was supposed to be like - you know sitting at the library reading books on different topics, meeting people and having productive conversations, attending conventions to advance humanitarian causes, organising and going to public events, volunteering and doing charity work such as having food and clothes drives or fundraisers. The things I didn’t experience myself, I had seen other people, like my parents, participate in. Since I was in a private school, all activities were organised by the PTA and the school itself, which didn’t receive outside help, a fact that, I believe, brought people from different countries and backgrounds together to form their own community within the community. There were Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Pakistanis, and African Americans who managed to work as a team to provide us with many opportunities. As for the academics, I won’t get into that, but what I will get into is talking about the motivation and competition often created by extracurricular activities and teaching in such a way that stimulates thinking and looking for more answers. That was the idea of community embedded in my head.
I was very excited about the move, which happened during the summer. Summer break was just fine, but when school started my excitement drained away. It was terrible because I had to memorise everything; no projects and no activities. The kids were vulgar and aggressive, always fighting and being raucous. The teacher was scary, always yelling. Nothing was appealing at school. Learning wasn’t fun anymore, and I lost my thirst for knowledge.
I had a very blurry background on Palestinian history but had always been proud of my hometown and loved to visit during the summer. All I knew was that the Zionists had stolen our land by force and without right and the only way to get it back was to fight for it. I must admit I was taken aback by the lack of compassion many people showed. They just got on with life as though Palestine wasn’t occupied. It wasn’t what I had expected at all. After living in Al-Bireh for almost a year, I remember Hamas winning the (PLC) elections in 2006. I had no clue what Fateh or Hamas was and I was surprised to find out that they were rival Palestinian political parties; how could Palestinians be rivals? It made no sense! But my ultimate shock was when the conflict began, and by conflict I mean they began fighting, shooting, wounding, and killing each other… To be honest, it was horrifying. I remember this going on continuously, even after the elections. I couldn’t grasp what was going on because it just didn’t make any sense. How could a Palestinian kill his own brother, his own flesh and blood? Weren’t we supposed to be fighting the Zionists? It was wrong on so many levels, and to me it seemed barbaric. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed over such a foolish cause, slaughtering their own brothers and sisters; it’s something I’ll never forget or ever forgive.
That was my first peripeteia. You see, as those unfortunate events took place, as my own people began turning against each other, as I witnessed hate creep into us due to differing political opinions, as I listened to the nonstop bickering over this subject, as more Palestinians were getting killed while others showed no sympathy or care, I began to resent them. I kept thinking to myself that none of these people deserved Palestine. That’s right, the Israelis deserved it more than we did. Look how they keep the streets clean, no meaningless graffiti on buildings, how they stand up and defend a country that isn’t even rightfully theirs. I’ve never heard of Israelis turning against each other, not like us. Look how much they appreciate learning and reading, look at how many books are published each year. It’s the tiny details that show the true concern of a citizen towards his country. And then just look at us, the exact opposite of them. Why couldn’t we be like them? Well, we’re not like them. Like I said, Palestine is probably better off without us anyway.
I dragged deep frustration and irritation along with my newfound opinion regarding Palestine and its people for about a year. We simply weren’t worthy of such a holy spot.
But when Gaza was attacked in 2007, my lack of knowledge about Palestinian history, events, and places began to get in my way of comprehending what was going on. So I decided to start reading about my country’s past. Just because people around me were careless didn’t mean that I should be too. The first place I resorted to was the library, where I found plenty of books especially written for beginners and young readers, so this was my monthly task. By the time I finished reading the first book on Palestinian history, any thoughts still floating around in my mind telling me Israelis were better than us had completely vanished. Their crimes against Palestinians were unjustifiable and inexcusable.
After reading a couple more books I realised that there was so much I didn’t know about this country and these people who have been fighting and sacrificing their lives. Feeling deep shame in believing we weren’t worthy of Palestine, I realised that I had been asking the wrong questions, looking for answers in the wrong places, and comparing us to the wrong things and the wrong people. Now was the time to get my facts straight, now was the time to expand my horizon. I needed to read more and I needed to become a useful part of society. Every time I left a café, I’d take a copy of each of the youth magazine issues on the counter by the exit door.
Reading them for the first time I was thrilled, I just couldn’t believe how many things like public events went on every single day without my hearing a thing about them. I was truly overwhelmed.
This Week in Palestine was the issue I stuck to reading on a regular basis, considering it my monthly guide to inspiration. For the first time I felt that I was finally in the loop, aware of events and causes around me, feeling like a part of an active, concerned society. Reading about people’s stories, about important personalities and famous activists has helped and still helps me define who I am and who I’d like to be, and without doubt has created an inner motivation that pushes me to raise my voice and speak my mind because I now realise that I share the opinions of others concerning many topics. I realise that there are many people - and not just Palestinians - doing many things for this country. And I got a glance at a different world, one that has always existed and that had been right there in front of me. I guess I was so caught up in being pessimistic about everything and everyone around me that I hadn’t allowed myself to notice it.
This Week in Palestine got me more enthusiastic about many things and opened my eyes to self-development opportunities within reach, for instance, the school student council. I tried out for it and ended up being vice president for a year and president the year after. I think that had the biggest possible impact on my personality and gave me a taste of society and the creative minds out there that are willing to help us as Palestinian youth. Every time I worked on a project I stumbled into a whole new web of activists, opinions, opportunity, and hope. And since then, things keep getting better.
Throughout these past few years, I’ve slowly comprehended what Theodore Roosevelt meant when he told us to do what we can, with what we have, where we are. That’s been the story of our lives for the last 64 years under Israeli occupation, creating and designing our own opportunities as we go along.
Iman Hamayel is a sixteen-year-old Palestinian originally from Al-Bireh and born in the United States. Iman currently attends the Al-Bireh Secondary Girls’ School.