Life in the Palestinian diaspora as a third generation Palestinian living in the West is a life full of privilege, conflicted identity and guilt. Privileged, because I get the luxury of calling myself a Palestinian without having to live under the daily horror and struggle of the Israeli occupation. Conflicted in identity, because when asked the simple question of “Where are you from?,” the answer has always been, “I was born and raised in the U.S, but my family is originally from Palestine.”
I have never felt a sense of belonging to either, so I try to fit myself somewhere in between.
In between the Western society I am familiar with and my homeland I long for. The Western society I was born in but don't blend into, and my homeland that I am unfamiliar with due to my family’s forced displacement. The Western society I don’t quite belong to and am a visible minority in, and my homeland that I don’t quite belong to because I am seen as a visible foreigner too.
Guilty, because I am living a life of opportunity and safety while my people in Palestine are denied their basic human rights. The feeling of helplessness consumes me as I scroll through social media witnessing the genocide and systematic oppression my people have faced and continue to face for the past 73 years.
Life in the Palestinian diaspora as a third generation Palestinian living in the West is constantly striving to stay connected to your homeland, heritage and roots as to not allow your young to forget. It is an ongoing fight for your right of return in your own capacity. Within my family, this has taken many different shapes and forms. I grew up with my grandparents documenting their existence by telling stories about their childhood in our village of Sebastia, Nablus.
Growing up in a Palestinian home, my parents instilled in my siblings and me a love for our land. The significance of Palestine from a religious perspective as well as it’s rich history throughout the centuries was always a topic of discussion. My parents only spoke to us in the Palestinian Arabic dialect they grew up speaking. My mother served, and still serves, the Palestinian foods she learned how to make from her mother that are traditional to the village our ancestors are from.
Dome of the Rock; image source: Danah Shuli
My father kept us informed about the political situation and encouraged us to take part in Palestinian global and community initiatives to raise awareness about our people and the injustices they face at the hands of Israeli occupation.
Life in the Palestinian diaspora as a third generation Palestinian living in the West is experiencing first hand a tiny glimpse into the inhumane treatment and humiliation of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) at the Jordanian land border crossing while trying to enter Palestine. It is recognizing you are among the select few privileged Western Palestinians who are able to enter. It is waiting hours in the heat at the border while your family’s car is searched and disassembled.
It is having your passports taken away without reason and having to wait for the IOF to return them in order to leave the border. It is being interrogated about your family lineage, origins, reasons for visiting and trip itinerary. It is witnessing the hours-long lines of Palestinians waiting under the scorching heat at city checkpoints. All the while, your family passes through with ease by simply presenting an American passport.
As your car zooms by, you try your best to avoid eye contact because you recognize the pain in their face and the privilege you hold. It feels shameful, but you are secretly relieved you don’t have to face the same treatment. It is embarrassing. It is unfair. It makes my blood boil.
Life in the Palestinian diaspora as a third generation Palestinian living in the West is amplifying the voices of my people living under the Israeli occupation undergoing systematic ethnic cleansing. For the first time in the history of the occupation, the recent movement has allowed Palestinians living in the diaspora to amplify the voices of their brothers and sisters living under Israeli apartheid and settler-state violence in a way that has brought about real awareness.
Masjid Al Aqsah; image source: Danah Shuli
With social media at the forefront of the movement, it has allowed Palestinians on the ground to become their own journalists due to the lack of proper media coverage. Despite the censorship, Palestinians living abroad have been able to share and spread awareness in effective, innovative ways. Through creativity and consistency the Palestinian struggle has reached a broader audience than ever before. The recent movement has shed light on the dire situation happening for generations but has never received any serious attention by the masses.
Life in the Palestinian diaspora as a third generation Palestinian living in the West is constantly thinking about your privilege as a parent raising a family in safety, and the misfortune of other parents raising their families under life threatening circumstances. It is cradling your child and shielding her from her fears. Her childhood fears seem irrational to me but are valid. Fears of innocent childhood, the loud sound of crashing waves, the darkness of the night or trying something new.
As she is in my safe embrace, I think about being a parent living under military occupation and war. I think about parents shielding their children with uncertainty from the ear piercing sounds of war planes and drones; reassuring them with hesitation while the rocks of explosions surround them; entertaining them to form a distraction from their own fright. In my moments of comforting my child, I think of how defeated and paralyzed those parents must feel. Unable to be the source of comfort for their own children. To be stripped of your safety in your own home is colonization of the land. To be stripped of the ability to pursue your God-given role, that is colonization on an intimate level.
Life in the Palestinian diaspora as a third generation Palestinian living in the West is preserving my heritage and resisting our erasure by the colonizer. Our existence is our resistance. The only way we will continue to exist is if we pass down our traditions and history to our children and future generations. Now as a mother myself, I understand the importance and urgency my parents and grandparents had to instill in my siblings and I the love for Palestine. I embody it.
Danah doing tatreez embroidery.
In recent months, preserving my heritage has meant learning the art of the Palestinian cross-stitch, tatreez, and teaching it to my family, friends and community. Tatreez is a trademark of the Palestinian woman. It covers our thobe, the traditional Palestinian costume/dress. It is our medium of self expression. It is our voice when we feel suffocated by the hardships of life and silenced by the injustices of our colonizers.
The alignment of each motif and the colors used narrate the stories of the embroiderer. There is depth and meaning intertwined with the intricate beauty of each shape and hue. Learning this sacred art form and teaching it to others has been my personal journey in honoring the legacy of my ancestors and bridging a connection to my roots.
Life in the Palestinian diaspora as a third generation Palestinian living in the West is longing for your homeland from afar, from the comfort of a place you call home, and none of it feels quite right.
As part of her journey in preserving her Palestinian heritage and resistance to exist, Danah offers "Tatreez for Charity" classes online and in her local community. To stay updated on future classes, follow and connect with her on Instagram.