13 November 2010

"You can't join the group because you're not Palestinian"

“You can’t join the group because you’re not Palestinian.” It was said as a joke, and she of course didn’t really mean that I couldn’t join the group. But it was a shock to me nevertheless. It’s been a while since I felt an outsider, not belonging to either culture. I remember myself as a child – always somewhere in the corner, never belonging. I was the “foreigner.” I tried hard to fit in, but never quite succeeded. Something was always somewhat off; things never fit exactly into their neat slots. This feeling accompanied me throughout my adolescent years in high school. As an adult, I came to terms with my bi-cultural background and found my identity. Yes, I come from two cultures. But today I feel that my identity is much more closely connected to my Palestinian side than my Slovak. It might be because I left Slovakia at the tender age of eight. It might be because I know almost nothing of Slovakia’s history or literature. It might be because I was searching for roots for so long and when I didn’t find any, I sprouted some here on the slope of the Haifa Carmel Mountain. I don’t know the exact reasons why, nor do I feel any need for them. But I know that I am a Palestinian. Is there a need to explain why? No, I don’t think so either.

Whenever I am asked to present myself, somebody always reminds me in one form or another that I am “half-and-half.” I wonder why they feel this need? What, am I less of a Palestinian because I have foreign blood in me? I don’t want to be looked at as a foreigner anymore. I had been a foreigner – an outsider – most of my childhood years. No more! I am not “half-and-half.” I am a whole. And it is up to me how I present myself to the world. If I feel I am wholly Palestinian, then I am wholly Palestinian, and nobody has the right to take this identity away from me.

So when she said the words – even though jokingly – I felt again my identity is being questioned. But it wasn’t only questioning my identity, but my very belonging to this group of feminist activists, with whom I struggle daily for justice. Suddenly, my very right to stand by her side and to struggle along with her was undermined. Because I am not a Palestinian. Her words threw me again into a turmoil of representation and how I am perceived by my colleagues. Am I still perceived as an outsider? Do I not have the same claims to make my voice heard as they do? Only because my blood contains foreign blood-cells? I stand up and I refuse this label. I am not an outsider. I am not a foreigner. I am Palestinian.
Afterthought: No, being Palestinian of course isn’t my sole identity. I have a plethora of other identities which together compose my whole person. I’ve written about this in the past, for example in the post I am.