I’ve always had a bit of an awkward relationship with Libya, so I don’t see why now would be any different. Not so much the cliche love/hate, though, as much as one of comfort/fear, really.
Every Palestinian’s personal discovery of their identity tends to come about in unique ways and significantly different ages. Our refugee experiences, both physical and inward – so we are all refugees in this sense of the word, cut across a gamut of the human experience, with each one sharing a piece of a puzzle but no two alike. Yes, it is true, we are born Palestinian; with every push our mothers asserted with pride that it is what and who we are and would know to be. However, there is a moment for each of us where we begin to understand what that will mean for our lives.
The stories and lists of moments that teach us are endless and unique.
For some of us, it truly is our first memory; for my mother, she was jolted in to her reality when she realized that the white sheet covering the cart (she realized later, of bodies) rolling by in the narrow Rafah alley was stained with red from something other than dye. For my cousins in Gaza today, it is a nagging feeling deep down of abnormal – that children are supposed to be excited by planes, not unable to control their bladder at age 5 whenever they hear one overhead. For others, learning about pride and honor from your parents and watching them humiliated every day at checkpoints, markets, work. Others are present and absent, passing homes and neighborhoods as a citizen of a land that doesn’t recognize your history, a citizen they would rather do without. In exile, immigrant stories abound the world over; borders, paperwork, asylum, work visas, year long residence permits revoked without notice, communities who espouse “your people and land” and spit in your face like you’re scum, all in the same breath.
The stories and lists of moments that teach us are endless and the same.
For me, I began learning what being Palestinian would mean, for my life, in Libya. It meant there were places that didn’t want me. And it meant that when those places said “get out,” finding somewhere to go – and then get out of – was the fight of a lifetime for my parents.
The way I carry that year with me has always been a bit of an enigma. I went years knowing that yes, it was an important moment, but not really thinking that it was still in me. My moment of in-between was one of millions in the puzzle, and comparatively, much more fortunate than many others. After all, it ended with a childhood in the United States and only one year away from my Father, six months from my Mother, and all the while, nurtured by loving Aunts and cousins to play with. But then, something reminded me that my gut doesn’t remember Libya the way my mind remembers stories of playtime.
In recent years, my parents have gone back multiple times to visit family, my mother’s sisters, and my second mothers. I stayed home, so she could go. Took care of the business. And I realized when it was time for them to go – that I was terrified.
Libya was one thing in my gut. It was a place you couldn’t get out of without a fight. No matter how I know that the circumstances have changed, the passports we hold, or the family we have living there happily, when my parents land in Libya – I hold my breath for the remainder of their trip. I told my Mom once and she was shocked it still had that effect on me, even when I’m not the one going. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to ease the guilt I could see in her eyes, but ultimately – I just wanted her not to go. I didn’t trust a ticket that said Benghazi.
Libya equaled comfort. and. Libya equaled fear.
I didn’t know what to do with that.
The people gave my heart peace, but the place gave it uncertainty.
Nine days ago, Libya rose up.
Nine days ago, Libyans decided the place would represent the spirit of the people who inhabit it.
I have watched the brutality of a mad man’s response with heartbreak, but I have watched the perseverance of the people with pride.
Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya (my very own locale of Palestinian discovery) are guiding all of us now in a new discovery.
These revolutions are not a discovery of national identity. No. They are a discovery of ownership. Ownership of our own lives, of our communities, but most importantly – ownership of our dignity and a freedom that no man can tell us is not our right. A right we do not need to be given, because we have seen that we can take it.
Today, the stories and lists of moments that teach us are transformed.