As a kid, I was oblivious to the issues in Palestine. I had never heard of Israel, and at that time I didn’t even know what the word “conflict” meant.
Sure, Nada, my Muslim friend, had family in Palestine – a place far away, I was told – but other than that, I was clueless.
Fast-forward to preteen me.
I’m sitting on the National Mall and trying to hide my moist eyes after watching a video with injured children being projected on a large screen. My dad had brought me to a Palestine rally in D.C., and my naiveté did not prepare me one bit.
I didn’t open my mouth to yell any phrases I didn’t understand, or understand any of the politics involved, I just wanted to cry for the dying children.
I didn’t know what was going on, but obviously we were rallying for these kids who were my age but living in what seemed like a completely different world.
A couple years later, I met Fatima. We quickly became attached at the hip; we did EVERYTHING together, so much so that people thought we were sisters – and we told them we were. Though she was Palestinian-Caucasian and I was Pakistani-Caucasian, we felt like family. We were family.
In the summers, Fatima went to visit her family abroad. I imagined her going to Palestine… but she instead traveled to Lebanon a lot. My confusion led me to ask why, and when I did, I quickly found out that Palestine wasn’t where the families of the many Palestinians I knew lived.
They were refugees living in neighboring countries.
That was when I learned that Palestine wasn’t a country.
Between December 2008 and 2009, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.
At that time, I didn’t see both sides. I saw a harsh one-sided war. It seemed to my twelfth-grade self that Israelis were chilling, while Palestinians couldn’t catch a break.
I became an activist, wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh around my peacoat collar to school each day to show my support for the Palestinian people who were being massacred.
It should then have been no surprise when my AP Spanish teacher saw my keffiyeh and decided to host a debate in our class. Amidst my 20 classmates arguing that Israel had a right to self-defense (something I agree with), I was the only person that knew the details of the constant violence and the brute force used towards the Palestinian territories.
The family and friends of my Palestinian family wasn’t safe.
And it broke my heart.
When the violence began in Gaza this past Ramadan, I immediately began donning the keffiyeh again. I’m standing up to what I believe is an injustice, and I will not censor myself despite the criticism Palestinian supporters receive, the suggestive questions about opinions on Hamas, or the accusations people make about supporters being anti-Semitic.
The keffiyeh is a just mere symbol of my alliance, of my standing.
I stand with my friends, my family.
I stand with Gaza.