“I am from there, I am from here,
but I am neither there nor here.
I have two names which meet and part.
I have two languages, but I have long forgotten
which is the language of my dreams.”
― Mahmoud Darwish
No matter where we are in the world people will always ask this question, where are you from? What would your initial response be?
I try to avoid this question at all costs when I first meet someone. I never know what to say. In fact, my answer routinely changes depending on the circumstances, where I am at the time, and who is asking. As a Palestinian American, my identity is often confused as to which home reflects more. Ultimately though, I am from multiple places and I identify with all. The objective here is to allow you to think about what home means to you. Would you consider more than one place as the answer to where you are from? Think about the places you have lived and the importance of those places to you.
This Photo Story is geared towards students in Grade 7.
Picture #1 – From Tal et-Turmus to Fawwar
To begin, I want to introduce you to my grandfather, Ibrahim. If you asked him where he is from, he would proudly declare Tal et-Turmus, followed by “baled al-shajjar wal-ineb” [land of fruit trees and grape vines].
Tal et-Turmus was a small village of about 750 people in what is now southern Israel. When the Israeli Defense forces arrived in Tal et-Turmus in 1948, they drove out the Palestinians to Gaza. But my grandfather loves to tell the story (as seen in the picture) of how he, as a young 18 year old, escaped and fled in the other direction to Hebron. For 64 years now, he has lived in the southern hills of Hebron in the Fawwar refugee camp. Yet, he would never claim it as his home and has always yearned to return to his non-existent house hidden beneath the pomegranate and pear trees in Tal et-Turmus.
Where are your grandparents from? And where do they live now?
(Tal et-Turmus Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tall_al-Turmus)
(Fawwar refugee camp UNRWA: http://www.unrwa.org/etemplate.php?id=116)
Picture #2 – Palestinian Refugees
While someone like my grandfather can claim Tal et-Turmus as his homeland, I am always pleasantly surprised when I hear one of my cousins claiming it as their homeland. These refugee kids from Al-Azzeh camp claimed the village of Beit Jibrin as their home. In fact, I too claim my grandfather’s village when I am ever in one of the 19 refugee camps in the West Bank. As the son of the son of a refugee, I grew up in the camp as well, and was told that we would one day return to our home. Though I’ve never been to Tal et-Turmus, I feel a tremendously strong connection to the land. Have you ever felt a strong connection to a city, state, or country?
Picture #3 – Family Dinner Under The Grape Vines
How big is your family? Where do they come from? Palestinian families tend to be large. And I mean very large. Here, we are all feasting during Ramdan under the grape vines at my grandfather’s house. My grandfather Ibrahim was one of 13 and had 11 kids; my other grandfather Mohammed had 7. As you can expect, the trend somewhat continued through the generations, leaving me with over 80 cousins, and too many names to remember. All of my uncles and aunts (on both sides) were born in the camp. Yet, many of my uncles traveled and married abroad, resulting in a very diverse family made up of Russians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Israelis, Romanians, Serbs, and Americans. Though it may be hard to imagine, I would assume that these cousins struggle with identity much more than I do.
Picture #4 – The City Folk
Have you ever been embarrassed to say where you are from because of the stigma that comes with it? This is a reoccurring theme for many people born outside of the US. For example, we refugees have a complex relationship with the city folk of Palestine. Many of the people living in the city consider us a burden and an obstacle to peace. Therefore, when our way of dressing (as seen in the picture) or heavy tongue shows us apart (dialect differences) haggling over prices, the inevitable question of where are you from is posed. The answer among refugees varies: some will say they are from so-and-so camp and others will falsely claim another city. What is interesting is that the refugees no longer claim a village from the past.
Picture #5 – Jerusalem As An Alternative
Though I have lived in Illinois for 3 years, New Bern (NC) for 4 years, and Chapel Hill for 3 years, I sometimes will tell Americans that I am from Jerusalem. In high school, many students didn’t know what or where Palestine was, and would almost always confuse it for Pakistan. Therefore, I stopped saying Palestine and claimed Jerusalem instead, as it is better known. Legally, East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank (which is part of Palestine). Having been born in Jerusalem, I didn’t feel it a complete lie. Usually however, being born on the East side of Jerusalem can mean a completely different life from being born on the West side. Were you born in a different city than the one you currently live in or claim as your hometown?
Picture #6 – The Wall as an Obstacle
The wall being built by Israel to separate the West Bank from Israel has caused a lot of harm to Palestinians. In many cases, the wall has separated farmers from their land or has been built to divide neighboring villages. In such circumstances, the villages encompassed can choose to be from another nation now, and can (under some conditions) adopt a new citizenship. However, many refuse to recognize that they are now living under a different authority. In other cases, it has separated schools and universities from students. On a daily basis, students must go through checkpoints in order to get to school.
(map of Wall’s route: http://www.passia.org/palestine_facts/MAPS/newpdf/WestBankWall.jpg)
Picture#7 – Palestinian Passport
When an airport security officer asks you “where are you from?” he/she usually means, “what passport do you hold?” Travelling within the United States, one would usually say the state that he/she is coming from. However, international travel depends heavily on ones citizenship, rather than where one feels he/she is from. Many people may be holders of one passport but identify more with another country.
Where you are from can sometimes change depending on the circumstances. However, it is important to note that one can have multiple homes and can identify with multiple languages and/or places. Now, I ask you the question again, where are you from?
Photo #1 – My own
Photo #2 – My own
Photo #3 – My own
Photo #6 – My own
Photo #7 – My own