On Being Palestinian [BAPD]

In preparation for commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, I was confronted with an endless stream of possible topics to blog about. I finally decided to talk about moments that  helped define me as a person, and as a Palestinian. Then I paused for a second wondering: What does it really mean to be a Palestinian ?

Sure, the inhabitants of the land of Palestine and their descendants are by definition Palestinian. But being a Palestinian also entails an identity “package” of history, culture, common knowledge, and common experiences. This shared identity package is evolving with time, and is truly hard to explain. Yet, it is what really makes Palestinians Palestinians. Being Palestinian is not just about blood and ancestry, it is about you being part of the collective Palestinian experience regardless of where you are, be you in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Europe, America, or the moon.

So in this article, I would like to go through some snapshots of the experiences that all together form my Palestinian identity, and define me as an average Palestinian.

~~ My Grandparents ~~

My father and his family come from a village called Sobbarine (صبارين). Today, nothing remains of that village. Sobbarine used to be located on the hills near Haifa. My grandparents, and the rest of the village, used to farm their fertile land and mostly live off of what they produce. My grandfather was a very strong man; people used to talk about how he once beat a wolf with his bare hands. Around 1944, my grandparents got married, and by 1948 they had two sons and a daughter.

When the violence escalated in 1948, people in Sobbarine were terrified of the impending attack by Jewish gangs. They have heard of what happened to many other villages (such as the Massacre of Dier Yassin) and were scared for their lives.

Although some of the villagers have started fleeing, my grandfather being the tough man that he was, decided to stay with his house and land. Unlike him, my grandmother was scared for her life, and the lives of her three young children. After long discussions, my grandfather agreed to leave, and so they did.

A couple of days later, my grandmother decided to go back to her house to pick up some stuff, as there still were some people in the village. Her luck did not help her this time, and one of the Jewish gangs entered the village and started winding up young men and teenagers before she could flee.

Scared for her life, my grandmother ran and crouched inside a “taboon” (طابون) (a big clay outdoor oven traditional in Palestine) so as to hide herself from the gang. From her clay oven, my grandmother saw the gang members lining up the collected men on the edge of the hill, shooting them, then dumping their bodies into the “wad” (small valley between hills). At this point, my grandmother was certain her death is imminent.

The next day however, the gang left the village, and the few remaining terrified women left Sobbarine never to return to it again. My grandmother caught up with my grandfather who was heading inland away from the sea.

Scared to go to the populated areas, my grandparents along with other villagers camped for a few days in the woods near a village called “Um El-Fahim” (أم الفحم). Unfortunately the group did not have any food supplies with them, and edible material were very hard to come by. So the only way for those people to stay alive was to search for undigested grains in animal feces to eat. Fifty years later, my grandmother was recalling this story to me with a clear feeling of shame and indignity. She contrasted to me the dramatic life change that took place over the span of a few days. Going from living a dignified life as self-sufficient farmers, to searching for undigested grains in animal feces. Oh the inhumanity!

My grandparents settled in a city called Jenin, in what later came to be known as the West Bank. Having lost everything, they had to restart their lives from scratch.

~~ My Father ~~

Fast forward Nineteen years, my Dad was a young boy in sixth grade working in a farm in Jenin to help support his family. My dad was not as strong as my grandfather, but he was just as stubborn and twice as fearless. It was the 1967 war, and Israel was yet to capture the West Bank. On that fateful day, my father was in the field collecting tomatoes when he noticed fighter jets in the sky, and tanks rolling in on the ground. A major battle was about to take place near Jenin. Being the stubborn kid that he was, he decided to stay in the field and finish collecting those tomatoes even though all the other kids had ran away in fear.

Finally satisfied with his harvest, he went back home. But his family were nowhere to be found. They had escaped their home and took refuge in a nearby cave. My grandmother in that cave was worried sick about him, so she asked one of the older boys in that cave to go search for him one more time. Luckily, that boy found my dad and lead him to the cave. Ironically, my grandmother later recalled that she was happy that he had collected those tomatoes as their stay in that cave extended and people in the cave got to feed on them.

Fast forward another ten years. My father is now a young man in love. His fiancé (my Mom) unfortunately lives in Nablus, which is about one hour away from Jenin. I say unfortunately because at that time my father was under “city arrest”. He was not allowed to leave the city of Jenin. This was his punishment for being a “political activist”, for you see, even displaying the Palestinian flag was a punishable crime. Being the hopeless romantic that he was, he bought a gray trench coat, a tall black umbrella, and some reflective sun glasses to disguise himself and would regularly sneak from Jenin to Nablus to meet my mother and come back.

These items still exist in our household today. My dad has repeatedly tried to make me wear that coat despite my continuous complaints that I will look like an out of place 70’s character in it. I will keep these objects for their sentimental values, but I doubt I will ever wear any of them.

~~ Me ~~

After marrying my mother and finishing his doctoral studies, my dad relocated to the city of Ramallah in the West Bank to live and work. I grew up in Ramallah during the 1990’s. We lived in an apartment in a 3-story building, which used to be considered tall in Ramallah back in the very early 90’s. My earliest memories include the fresh fruits and vegetables market (the hissbeh), Israeli soldiers setting up surveillance points atop our building and the building next to us (as they usually did for tall buildings), our neighbor down the street being shot to death by IDF soldiers, and my dad getting shot in the back with a rubber bullet by the IDF –which although thankfully did not kill him, gave his back a “slipped disc”.

I might not have witnessed full-fledged Arab Israeli wars as my parents and grandparents have, but I grew up in the time of checkpoints, travel permits, and moving restrictions. You needed to obtain a special permit to go visit Jerusalem, and another (much harder) one if you wanted to visit “the inside” (Haifa, Yafa, Tel-Aviv, Nazereth ..etc). There were checkpoints at the entrances of Jerusalem and sporadically through out the West Bank, but people used to be able to get around them. However, sneaking past those checkpoints had severe consequences if caught. So I never snuck. I guess I am not as fearless as my father and grandfather were.

These movement restrictions were not just between West Bank cities, or the West Bank and Jerusalem, but they also included (and were magnified at) the West Bank’s only exit for the Palestinians, which was the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge between Jericho and Jordan across the Jordan river. Travel difficulties seemed to also follow you even outside Palestine. In airports your Palestinian Passport used to warrant you an extra search, or an extra round of questioning, or some mysterious delay during which nothing seemed to be happening.

But I didn’t know any better. I used to think that is normal. I used to think that in this day and age, it does take about a day to cross borders. My grandfather from my mother’s side was a taxi driver back in the 60’s and 70’s. He used to take people from Nablus and Jerusalem to Amman, Beruit, and Damascus. He used to say that it took him only an hour and a half to reach Amman from Nablus, and about 7 hours to reach Beruit, and 10 to reach Damascus. Geographically on the map, these numbers make sense. But to me they were astonishing. For one, I was born into a world were I could not travel to Syria or Lebanon simply because I was a Palestinian. Even then, how can you freely and easily cross borders in less than a day ?!

Today, Israel’s separation wall/barrier is placed inside the West Bank deeper than all the checkpoints used to be. Entrance to Jerusalem requires an extra special permit that is awarded to the extremely lucky. The movable checkpoints inside the West Bank turned into monstrous fixed checkpoints with what looks like human cages, and new “movable” checkpoints sprouted between the old checkpoints. Nowadays even traveling inside the West Bank by car requires a permit (which are even harder to get). Last holiday season, in order to go visit our relatives, we had to apply for two permits, and we still spent a total of 3 hours on checkpoints (even though our relatives live merely 1.5 hours away from our home in Ramallah).

These checkpoints, movement restrictions, and separation wall affect many Palestinians on a daily basis. They impede people on their way to work, to schools, to the universities. They restrict the movement of patients, and has cost thousands of Palestinians their lives because they couldn’t receive proper medication and treatment. They impede businesses in conducting their transactions. They prevent many farmers from transporting their produce to city markets. They are even forcing families to grow up in isolation as it becomes harder and harder for people to connect, and we are in this 21st century.

But this is normal, or at least that is what you get to think. Regardless of the obstacles, life has to go on. Before you know it, checkpoints just become a fact of life for you. You only appreciate how messed up things are when you go out and see how to rest of the world is functioning.

~~ Conclusion ~~

For us Palestinians, only two things have remained consistently true during the past 60 years; First, life for ordinary people only gets worse every year. Second, from the minute you are born in Palestine, you are immediately a suspect, and you are continuously treated so for as long as you live. No one in the world can condone mass punishment of civilians, but punishing suspects is not a big deal.

We must be suspects! Otherwise what explains 60 years of Israel’s direct violation of numerous UN resolutions without any consequences. We must be suspects, otherwise what explains our denial of basic human rights. For me and my family, the only crime that we are suspect of is simply existing!

These stories are not unusual for Palestinians. As a matter of fact, i come from a blissed family; My parents were able provide us with food and shelter, and none of my relatives was killed. Unfortunately however, the stories of average Palestinians are much grimmer still.

~~ What Happened to These People ~~

  • My grandfather died in 1994. Until his very last day, the memories of Sobbarine stayed vivid in his mind. After his death, his will had only one request: to be buried near the cemetery’s front door so that he’ll be the first leave and go back to Sobbarine.
  • My grandmother is still alive, but the last of her three children who were born in Sobbarine died this winter. She still remembers our village through their memories. Nowadays her only wish is a fistful of Sobbarine’s earth.
  • My father has dedicated his life to our upbringing and to assist in enhancing the lives of other Palestinians. Despite receiving many lucrative offers to leave the country, he insists on staying and working for his people till the end.
  • As for me, the future is still a blank page. I am finishing my education and preparing to follow on the footsteps of my dad dedicating my life to the well being of Palestine and the Palestinians.

Blog About Palestine Day

**Final Note: It was really hard to pick just one Palestinian topic to write about. There were so many things that i wanted to talk about. I picked my subject, then changed it, then changed it again until i decided on this. Even with this, i didn’t know, which experiences should i have talked about. The choice was not getting any easier. How could it ?! The daily experiences of any Palestinian is enough to write encyclopedias let alone articles.

In my article i tried to talk about how three generations of our family struggled in doing very basic things just because we are Palestinians. Yet still, i am pacing around my room thinking, were these snapshots enough ? I don’t know. What do you think ? I am really interested in your opinion.

Leave a comment ?


  1. First of all Good luck Za3tar in your exams.
    Are you still living in Ramallah? Well it is unfair for all Palestinian civilians to be treated as suspects or terrorists and to be forbidden to go or travel to anywhere 🙁
    Thanks for sharing us your nice story.

  2. I will read your post in full after work; however I just want to point out one thing. I was born in Palestine, but hold a US passport. My place of birth reads “West Bank.” This summer I had plans to travel to some Arab countries before Palestine. However, I was told by their embassies since my place of birth is “West Bank” – I will not be able to get a visa at the airport of port of entry; I have to get prior approval from the countries I am planning to travel to. I actually got into an argument with both embassies. They simply don’t make sense! Anyway, sometimes I feel that being of Palestinian origin counts against you – especially when such discrimination and hardship is coming from your ‘brethren’ and neighboring countries. It makes me not want to set foot in those countries. ever. and more importantly, if we ever see a free Palestine, Palestinians should really entertain the idea of not allowing any or at least giving hell to any person of Arab origin who tries to visit Palestine!

    Because with all honesty, the majority of the Arab masses are not worthy of setting foot in it.

  3. very interesting post … I really enjoyed reading … loved the tomato part the most 😀

    u know what ! I envy the people who lives in palestine for thier courage …. they r fearless not like us … we would be shaking if we just hear something out side and it could be fire works !!

    good job u did and I hope we write about palestine all the time …. this is the least thing we can do

  4. Mona: Thank you. My family still lives in Ramallah. However, i am currently finishing my education in the United States. So i guess the answer to your question is yes and no 🙂

    Iman: I know exactly what you mean. I have often felt that being born a Palestinian gets treated as if it is somehow a fault of your own.

    SimSim: Thank you. I know what you mean. Over there you just have to get used to all the violence and attacks. Otherwise, you will go insane. People there just become so used to these things that it mostly becomes just background noise.

    I have spent sometime outside Palestine now, and i started losing that sense of normality. When i went back last year, i was very jumpy at first, but then you get tuned in back again. You just have to.

  5. wow thanks so much for sharing your story- its very moving. i am glad you decided to write about this- indeed there is so much to cover when it comes to the stories of the Palestinians and their Nakba. snapshots will have to do…..we did not live the nakba- or the naksa for that matter- we are the generation that needs to be told these stories over and over again.

  6. The future is indeed a blank page .. lets write something bright in it!

    Za3tar, may god bless all your wonderful effort in making this event a reality, and a major Success

  7. Za3tar, Thanks for coming up with the idea of blog about Palestine day!
    I think personal stories and views of situations are the best to blog about…you included a good amount of history about Palestine and the wars. you gave us a glimpse of how everyone in the west bank and Ramallah goes about their days throughout the check points….Palestinians are not quitters!! they are just as stubborn as ever..thats why the Israelis are having a hard time controlling the people or the taking over the full land. thanks for the article…nice!

  8. What you have written was beautiful. I wouldn’t add or remove a thing. I think people out there need to realize that we are normal people who suffered far too much because of who we are. I think if more Palestinians just talk about their experiences and history and less about politics than people would understand our grieve more.

    Good job! I love your blog. Now my daily read! 🙂

    Also, are you on http://palestine.dailyvoices.com ? If not, I will add your link to there. 🙂

  9. Global Voices Online » Blog for Palestine Day - pingback on May 16, 2008 at 4:03 pm
  10. Your grandparents chose war. They suffered as a result.

    Your parents chose war. They suffered as a result.

    Your peers today choose war. You will always suffer as a result.

    Oh well. That’s your choice.

  11. Mafish Falasteen.. are you THAT ignorant about history and what happened? Or you decided to live a blind life and think we are the ones that choose war? What were we supposed to do? Die or fight back? What would you have done? Or you don’t care cause you sleep with a gun under pillow cause you live in fear!

  12. Great post ya Za3tar!
    Thank you very much for sharing such personal and touchy moments with us!

  13. Rebellious Arab Girl,

    I know what happened. The Arabs chose war instead of a state- many times.

    There’s no reason to fight back because you would have had a state in peace without any fighting at all.

    But you never wanted a state. You wanted my state.

    So you get nothing. Not here.

    I don’t live in fear, but the Arab terrorists and their supporters do. They always will as long as they choose terror.

    Because we will hunt them down. Every last one. And they will suffer. I promise. 🙂

  14. Mafish Falastin.. are you on crack or something? Seriously.. what drug do you take? Please pass some my way. I need a messed up unrealistic mentality too that has been brain washed.

    I can’t believe there are people in the world like you.

  15. You just can’t deal with the truth. Canada is your final destination; Biladi Canada.

    You chose war. You lost. It’s over now.

  16. LOOOL!! omg you are so stupid and ignorant.

    Shut up and go permeate in your people’s blogs instead of going on other people’s blogs and making a fool of your self.

  17. You’re the fool. You can’t deal with the truth.

    The truth is that your people chose war instead of a state- time after time.

  18. Mafish: I was following a general policy of mostly ignoring your ignorance. However, I’d like to deviate for a bit.

    What a dumb person you are. You keep on going back to the 1948 war, so i will take you up on that.

    You are saying that the Arabs would have had a state of peace. Have you not been taught about the King David Bombings and the Deir Yasssin Massacre ?! both of which were carried out by the Jewish terrorist group the Irgun, and both happened before the war had started. And it is not only us who have called the Irgun terrorists, but the rest of the world did.

    And now, what do you have ? you have a memorial celebrating the terrorist who carried out these operations. So, stop with the terrorism bullshit and check your country’s history to see who really started with the terrorist acts. Who started sending donkeys with bombs to markets to kill Arabs, who terrorized and killed many Arabs before the war started.

    You keep on going back to the point that the Arabs refused the 1947 partition plan. Well of course you idiot, they were living in peace with the existing Jewish population, and even some of the early immigrants. The British had promised the Arabs in general states of their own (independent of the Ottoman empire) back before World War 1 and the were yet to fulfill their promises. After the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Arabs had 100% of the land. Then finally, the 1947 partition plan comes up and gives 56% of the land to the Jewish which were only 33% of the population. Of course they refused it, it seemed unjust then, and it seems unjust now.

    Mr. Mafish, i suggest you stop arguing about the 1948 events. Because all evidence shows that the Irgun, Hagana, and the Stern gangs were the ones responsible for most of the terrorist acts back them.

    Also Mr. Mafish, let’s skip forward a bit, what happened after 1948. Let’s say between 1948 and 1967. If Israel’s intentions were as innocent as you said, then why didn’t they implement the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 194 ?! They could have shown their clear intentions by abiding by international law and allowing those refugees to return. But they didn’t.

    Skip forward, in 1967 after the six day war, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Yes that was the result of a war (that Israel started with their preemptive attack on Egypt in operation “Moked”). But what happened in the 20 years after that ?! Israel still did not implement the UN resolutions calling for its withdrawal from the occupied territories (until today), and they started building settlements on these occupied territories which are totally against international law.

    What the Palestinians are trying to negotiate for now is just the implementation of these international laws, and control over the West Bank and Gaza. And i do mean full control, not that bullshit you did in Gaza were you take away settlements, but blockade everything else. We just want our sovereignty.

    Now you are sitting nestled in Tel-Aviv or wherever you are, and just spewing hate speech all over. If you talk about terrorist acts, none of us here condones terrorism in any place on earth. But if you insist, go brush up on who started terrorism in this area. You will find your heroes in the Irgun, Hagana, and Stern to be among the pioneers. If you talk about killing and casualties, you must be truly out of your mind. Just check the record. Israeli is simply killing Palestinian civilians, women, and children almost on a daily basis. Just in the first few days of March of this year, Israel killed more than 100 Palestinians just in the span of a few days. The vast majority of those who were killed were civilians, and about 1/3 of them were women and children.

    What i, and many Palestinians, are asking for is to just be able to move around, to be able to visit family, work freely, conduct business normally, import, export, distribute goods and services. Just basic stuff. We just want to be a sovereign nation. For example, the Palestinian mobile communications company (Jawwal) has been struggling with the Israeli government for months because they refuse to allow them to import and install a new broadcasting tower to be able to handle the increased number of mobile users. Just basic stuff like that are crippling Palestinian businesses. All we are asking for is our sovereignty.

    So stop your ignorance about terrorism, because your Irgun, Hagana, and Stern were the pioneers of terrorism in this land. And stop your idiocy regarding “stealing land”, because up until this day you are stealing land and water in the West Bank in your settlements which even international law says are illegal.

    And most importantly, STOP YOUR HATE SPEECH. It is people like you who are ensuring we do not have a peaceful resolution. After all, you killed your leader who brokered a peace agreement with the Palestinians (Yitzhak Rabin), and we didn’t.

  19. Hahaha.. I love you Za3tar! Thanks for the info.. Hope the ignorant can read!

  20. That was brilliant. I was reading and wanting more details! Now I want to write (more like research) the experiences of my grandparents during the Nakbe.

  21. Rebellious Arab Girl: Thanks.

    Loolt: Thanks. I really encourage everybody to talk to their parents, grandparents, and relatives about their first hand experiences with the Nakba. This cruelty should be recorded so that their suffering would not be forgotten.

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