I rarely broach the topic, but whenever Penn students find out I am Palestinian, they feel compelled to lecture me about how much they “love Israel.” With my unique set of experiences and identities, I know it is important to give you validation. I have spent the last 14 months at Penn entertaining you with compassion, kindness, and even glee, sacrificing all of me to supplement you with evidence that Palestinians by nature are not antisemitic: We share a history and unique tenderness and adoration for the land, rivers, and people from the River to the Sea.
This column does nothing to advocate for the rights of Palestinians and Gazans — I know it would shatter your reality to challenge this idealized Israel, or ask you to recognize the right of Palestinians to live. I want to assert that I don’t represent the comprehensive Palestinian experience: We are a people too varied, strategically dispersed, and traumatized to honorably depict and compile into this account. I am simply here to texture the understanding of stepping foot on Locust Walk, the pathway that centers our campus, with the perspective and lived experience of an extremely privileged Palestinian.
As a child, the Israel Defense Forces were my biggest fear: They were the guys pointing guns in our faces, that killed that cousin of mine, and arrested those kids playing with that ball. The IDF were the kids with guns who waited for my formerly-imprisoned uncle to build his house just to bulldoze it, the people who would search us, look at our passports extra hard, and make us wait in long lines at checkpoints. They were the teenagers who fired rockets that flew over my house like shooting stars on their way to Gaza, they were the army that changed the fabric of Palestine forever.
As a preteen, the IDF was the monster under my bed. Every night I would lay paralyzed and unable to sleep. Convinced they were lurking in the dark corners of my home in Massachusetts, I tried not to breathe, move, or make noise. Tortured with terror, I imagined them there ready to kidnap, shoot, strip search, move me, and take my toys (or mom) away. I grew out of these fears with my yearly visits in later adolescence, when I realized that I had nothing to fear. As a white girl with European and American citizenship, these young 20 year olds behind a gun with superiority complexes wouldn’t harm me. Many are taught that Palestinians are a threat to their existence — I felt bad for them being sent to the front lines to check passports, shoot tear gas, decide whether or not I should wait three hours in a detention box, and defend their ‘democracy.’
I’m going to take you into my mind as I walked down Locust two weeks ago. I’m looking down at a video on my phone. It was posted by a student-run newspaper. It is filmed from the perspective of someone driving on the access road to my home, the one in the West Bank, where I spent a quarter of my life, and last spring break visiting my parents. Soldiers are blockading the road right under the billboard that signified the entrance to all that comprised my childhood: my grandma’s cookies, my fig trees, my sunset rock, my Jiddo’s grave, my grape vines, rosemary bushes, cousins, Amto Inshirah, tomatoes, Jamil, Said, bed, dolls, and toys. My esophagus is crystallizing and cracking like the asphalt under the weight of the truck they are using to place their gear down.
I’m on Locust, commuting from one space where my lived experience is negated, to another where I cannot exist in pain for thousands of ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty’ people killed in the land you and I have been raised to love and protect. I’m immobilized. I look down at the video again. It's on a loop. It hasn’t changed: They are blockading the street with concrete.
I look up and see an IDF emblem emblazoned on a sweater, worn by a passing student on Locust.
I’m hearing the thuds of the concrete on the ground through my headphones, and thinking of the wails, the blood, the homes, the checkpoints, the sneers, the mocking laughter, the arrested men being marched, the life my mother had dedicated to this cause, and the unfulfilled promise my grandfather made to himself as he watched the expulsion in 1948. I’m thinking of families wiped out with no recognition, children losing their parents and homes, blackouts, rubble, and the bodies, and the blood — all the blood.
I can’t breathe. There is no space for me to scream, wail, or mourn the loss of my people, and the land which we hold so dear to our hearts.
I want to cry with you, hold you, give you the love you need as you mourn the loss of those killed and kidnapped. I want to protect you, give you respect, love, and safety. I yearn to heal with you. But I am alone. And I feel that I have been put in a position where nothing can be or is being done about it.
SELMA FARSAKH is a College sophomore studying philosophy, politics, and economics and history from Cambridge, MA. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.