From A Palestinian Student in America
Palestinian: ‘I shall sing and continue what I’ve started’
Indystar, October 17, 2015
My Facebook feed is filled with terrifying videos. Fadi, a 19-year old Palestinian youth, is chased by a lynch mob of Israeli settlers in Jerusalem screaming for his death and is shot, execution-style by Israeli forces. Ahmad, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy is shot by Israeli police in an illegal Israeli settlement near Jerusalem. He lies bleeding on the ground, screaming in pain while onlookers shout insults at him — one tells the policeman to “give him one in the head.” A young Palestinian woman, a citizen of Israel, is lying flat on her stomach as an Israeli man twists her arm behind her back and onlookers shout obscenities at her. Medical care is deliberately delayed in most cases. There are too many to describe.
Watching the videos and reading the news chills me and reduces me to helplessness and despair. I could so easily be in one of those videos. I’m 19, like Fadi, and a Palestinian. But this time I watch from afar, from my room in Bloomington, Ind., where I am studying jazz music.
And so I sing.
Singing, however, feels like escaping my duty to stand with my people at this moment when Israeli leaders are calling for potential vigilantes, including settlers illegally occupying our land, to arm themselves. So I fall into a long silence that I cannot seem to break, and I must end it before it ends me.
A flashback from 2002 breaks my sense of powerlessness. I was 5, in my family’s apartment in occupied Ramallah, and there were many Israeli soldiers at our doorstep shouting at my father, pointing their guns at him. He shouted back, “You will not take our home while we’re alive.” It was an invasion during the second intifada. They came to occupy our apartment and tried to expel us. “We are unarmed, except with our rights and our dignity,” my father told them. I did not understand what he meant then.
My knees started shaking involuntarily, and I thought I was ill. Mama explained to me that it was out of fear, suggesting that I walk up to the big soldier that my dad was confronting and look him in the eyes. I hesitated at first thinking mama must have gone crazy: “That soldier’s weapon is literally bigger than me!” I exclaimed.
I hesitated but eventually inched closer to the big soldier while my knees were dancing to the beat of my racing heart. I raised my head and stared right into his eyes. He saw me and tried to avert his eyes, but I kept my stare. He looked down. Whether he was embarrassed or ashamed, I don’t know. I triumphantly said, “Yes!” My knees stopped dancing. Dignified defiance works like a charm with dancing knees, I learned that day.
That fleeting moment of empowerment passed too fast. We Palestinians retain our dignity and defiance in battling a much stronger military power taking our land by force, but that dignity is not enough to protect the homeowner whose home is demolished. It does not protect the Palestinian family in Gaza blown up in the middle of the night, and it does not protect the child who leaves for school in the morning and is targeted by fanatic Israeli settlers far from the news cameras.
I am left with the obvious question: What am I doing here studying jazz while Jerusalem, my city of birth, is aflame with resistance to Israel’s brutal occupation? What good is music in the face of all this televised oppression and the endless humiliation that my people are subjected to? I don’t want to “jazz,” I just want to go to Jerusalem, where I belong.
There was a time when I wanted to go to Jerusalem to sing. That was no easy task.
“Get … out of here! You cannot enter Jerusalem,” said the young, arrogant Israeli soldier at the Kalandia checkpoint, separating Ramallah from occupied Jerusalem, after seeing a copy of my birth certificate. I was 13 and could not have a proper, Israeli-approved ID. I shouted at her, “I was born in Jerusalem for God’s sake! How can you turn me back?” She insisted on seeing my original birth certificate.
I was trying to attend a music lesson at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. As any indignant teenager would do, I was just not going to take no for an answer. The soldier started becoming aggressive. I called my father on his cellphone and told him the story while shouting back at the soldier. My father begged me to stop shouting and to walk fast toward the refugee camp of Kalandia before I got hurt. “They don’t care if you’re a child, believe me,” his voice cracked.
I asked a Palestinian woman how to get from the checkpoint to Kalandia, and then walked away rapidly. I hid in a shop and waited for my father to pick me up. It felt like hours, but it was actually less than 20 minutes. I got into the car and all the defiantly held-back tears gushed out.
“Shall I turn back to Ramallah?” he asked. “You don’t seem to be in the best condition to take a music lesson right now.” Without thinking, I said, “That’s what they want! They want me to give up, go back home and become a victim. I shall go to Jerusalem in spite of them. I shall sing and continue what I’ve started. This is the form I have chosen for my resistance to their oppression. They will not break me!”
Music is my form of cultural resistance. Silence is just not an option. Our Israeli oppressors would like nothing more than to see us all silent, accepting them as our masters with their racist legal system, locking us away while looking the other way as soldiers and settlers pillage, attack and kill us with impunity.
This must be why I am here, then. To learn how to become even louder, not to mention more in tune, in defying their attempts to dehumanize us. I know I must sing, just as I am certain Palestinians will one day be free.
Nai Barghouti, Bloomington
Please see what luck you have with the link. When I tried it, I found not Nai Barghouti’s piece but a blacked out page followed by pieces about how many Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. Not everyone has had this experience with the link, so who knows what, exactly, to make of it?