First published on Ahramonline: http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/11995.aspx
I am from Nazareth. I’m Palestinian, one of the 1.3 million Palestinians known to many as “’48 Arabs”. I belong to the forgotten part of the Palestinian nation, who fought for decades to keep our “identity” (haweyyi) and our baqaa —call it our “right to remain”.
We did not immigrate or choose to live in Israel. It was Israel that emigrated to us. We remained on our lands and are still fighting against our transfer from our homeland.
And so we had Israeli citizenship imposed on us.
We hold the Israeli passport, which we did not choose as well. In fact, we had no other choice. It was either we give up and leave to join our brothers and sisters in refugee camps who were forced to leave during the Nakba, or we stay and stick to our lands and identity as the remaining part of the Arab Palestinian people.
We wrote back in the early 1980s in what we call the “document of the banned assembly” (referring to its ban by Israeli authorities): “We did not deny and we can’t deny, even if we are faced with death, our deep-rooted origin: we are alive, conscious and active part of the Palestinian Arab people.” This is who we are.
My generation, the third generation of the Nakba, maintained to hold this torch, we insist on our Palestinian identity, resist Israeli policies and refuse to be second-class citizens in Israel.
Yet since the establishment of the Israeli state we have been segregated by Israel in order to cut our relationship with our Arab world, and more importantly alienated by the Arab world, perceived as spies and traitors. For decades we did not have direct means to communicate with the Arab world. We were in a double-siege and our story did not come through for a long time. For decades we have not been allowed to visit Arab countries; today we have access to few of them. Even for those countries we are allowed to enter, we are automatic suspects due to the Israeli passport we hold. It is as if we are blamed for the Jewish militias who occupied Palestine, displaced our families and destroyed our villages, and built their country on our lands.
Today, we look with admiration at our Arab peers in Arab countries who are demanding freedom and dignity; we pay respect to thousands of freedom martyrs. We follow minute by minute the Arab revolutions, share videos and information and praise their courage. A group of young local singers dedicated a special song they wrote and filmed to the Tunisian revolution; it was circulated widely through social media. When Mubarak stepped down, we took to the streets to celebrate as if it was our own revolution. We demonstrate regularly in Nazareth and other places to support and show solidarity with Libyans, Syrians, Bahrainis and Yemenis. We communicate with friends from the Arab world through new media —we share the same values.
These revolutions have given us the hope we were about to lose. We have been also struggling for decades for our freedom, to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine, to end Israeli racism and discrimination. You probably do not know that we are the makers of the “Land Day” which Palestinians and many Arabs worldwide commemorate. You probably do not know that the song “Unadikom” that you all know by heart was written by our poet and political leader, the late Tawfik Zayyad, who is from Nazareth. You probably did not know that poets like Samih Kasem and Mahmoud Darwish are from “’48 Palestine”.
During the Egyptian revolution I happened to be in Cairo. I was privileged to witness Egyptian people writing history. I felt thrilled to be part of this. And I would also say, like many Egyptians underlined, this revolution has changed my life. At the same time, I understood how much my story was unknown to many Egyptians, and how much my passport was a burden. Since then, I applied for visa to visit Cairo again; it was rejected twice, without any explanation.
I believe it is about time to break the siege that Arab regimes and their media imposed on us. We call on our peers, the generation of Arab youth, to help us break down the walls that have been separating us. We are not traitors and not spies, “we are alive, conscious and active part of the Palestinian Arab people”. We are proud Arabs, exactly like you, and thanks to you!