I Forgot, Like You, To Die: 12 Palestinian Writers Respond to the Ongoing Nakba
"Gaza makes an audacious claim on life; its people continue to resist."
Yesterday, the global Palestinian community marked the 70th anniversary of the Nakba [ed. note: this feature was published in 2018 but remains sadly and perennially timely], the catastrophic destruction of the Palestinian homeland and dispossession of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages. Hundreds of villages were depopulated and razed to the ground, hundreds of thousands of people torn from their country. They were told by subsequent Israeli administrations—and most of their Western allies, chief among them the US government—there is no place for you. But anniversaries are a strange phenomenon when the past is a living, breathing, and unending current event. One has only to contrast the besieged Palestinians of Gaza—the site of months-long mass protests against erasure—with the dystopian paeans to “peace” and “freedom” at the opening ceremony for the new American embassy on stolen Palestinian land in Jerusalem to realize how easily words can be gutted of their meaning.
For many Palestinians, the permission to narrate one’s own stories in their own words has been at the root of struggle and survival, as important as delineating a physical space for existence. Palestine’s destruction figures prominently in the tense fugue of our imaginations. Across generations, Palestinians have witnessed what a foreign invader does to rip apart a nation, both in the physical and emotional realms. The coastal strip that has housed hundreds of thousands of refugees alongside its native families—refugees displaced from Yafa, Haifa, Lyd, Ramleh and so many centers of pre-1948 Palestinian life—is both microcosm and high-relief. Gaza’s camps are overcrowded, dilapidated and underserved, starved and weaponized. The clock ticks towards the inevitable—a place rendered uninhabitable for lack of potable water; for a profusion of untreated sewage; for land and sea crossings closed by iron fists; for a generation traumatized by, and untreated for, the visible and invisible wounds of three punishing wars in ten years. Yet, Gaza makes an audacious claim on life; its people continue to resist.
“Resist, my people, resist them,” begins the poem by Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, for which she was arrested by Israeli police, placed under house arrest away from her family for three years, and recently convicted of “incitement to terrorism.”
Poetry has the ability to contextualize, sometimes through commanding and defiant lines, the human toll of disaster and repression. With those powerful evocations, Tatour brought the force of the Israeli state against a single individual; a distilled history of seven decades in which Palestinian resistance and sumud exist on a continuum that refuses complacency and consolation. “It is as if the activity of repeating prevents us, and others, from skipping us or overlooking us entirely,” wrote Edward Said in After the Last Sky.
The stranglehold of political division and extremist rhetoric tries to narrate only one path out of this despair, but Malak Matar, a young Picasso, exhibits her luminous paintings in London even before she can leave to study art; Muhammad Assaf, a young songbird, crosses checkpoints and scales walls with his honeyed voice. Gaza, like Palestine, is as young as it is ancient. Its wounded and injured, like its dead, are absurdly young. From the stolen orchards of Yafa to the barricaded alleyways of Jerusalem to the occupied West Bank cities, villages, and refugee camps between them, Gaza—like Palestine—impossibly lives.
If, under some of the most extreme conditions of state violence possible, the people of Palestine continue to resist and imagine, we too must call upon our collective imaginations to see beyond the prisons, the walls, and the checkpoints. If the people of Palestine have insisted on living with humanity and dignity, then we—especially as Palestinians living in exile—have a responsibility to honor the humanity of colonized people resisting wherever they are situated in this world.
–Deema Shehabi, Zaina Alsous, and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
· Poetry ·
“We Already Know This,” Tariq Luthun
“My Grandmother the Leo Tells Me About Her Nine Lives,” Jessica Abughattas
“Migrant Earth,” Deema Shehabi
“it will be pink,” Summer Farah
“In Case of Emergency,” Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
“Gospel: Diaspora,” Hala Alyan
“Leave,” Zaina Alsous
“ars poetica with parallel dimensions,” George Abraham
· Prose ·
“Palestinian Resistance: An Icon for Those Who Long to Live Free,” Susan Abulhawa · “Against Erasure,” Noor Hindi
· Visual Art ·
Leila Abdelrazaq and Marguerite Dabaie
Below are just a few of the organizations in Palestine offering tangible support to Palestinians in vital need. Consider engaging with any one of these organizations to learn more and get involved. For a more exhaustive list, please visit Maps for Teeth.
Addameer: ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association is a Palestinian non-governmental, civil institution that works to support Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisons. Established in 1992 by a group of activists interested in human rights, the center offers free legal aid to political prisoners, advocates their rights at the national and international level, and works to end torture and other violations of prisoners’ rights through monitoring, legal procedures, and solidarity campaigns.
Al Mezan: Mezan Center for Human Rights is an independent, non-partisan, non-governmental human rights organization based in the Gaza Strip. Since its establishment in 1999, Al Mezan has been dedicated to protecting and advancing the respect of human rights — especially economic, social and cultural rights — supporting victims of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and enhancing democracy, community and citizen participation in the Gaza Strip.
al-Qaws: alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, a civil society organization founded in grassroots activism, is at the forefront of vibrant Palestinian cultural and social change, building LGBTQ communities and promoting new ideas about the role of gender and sexual diversity in political activism, civil society institutions, media, and everyday life.
This feature is intended to be read in conversation with the Boston Review’s “Dispatches from Land of Erasure” and Maps for Teeth’s “Nabka: 70 Years of Palestinian Resistance to Occupation.”