Palestine in my imagination

I was born in UAE in 1995 and the 12 summers I spent there passed darn fast. As a child, I was eager to visit Palestine, where my mother is from. I wanted to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, eat grapes in Al-Khalil, enjoy knafeh (a sugary bright orange dessert) in Nablus, and visit my grandparents’ birthplace in Al-Jura, a neighborhood of the destroyed Palestinian city of Majdal Asqalan, now Ashkelon.

Before sleeping, my mom used to tell us bedtime stories about school trips she went on when she was a high schooler back home in Palestine in the early 1980s. She talked about her repeated visits to the most important destinations. We have a few old family photo albums filled with visuals to match these pleasant memories. Flipping through, my siblings and I would pause for each photo and ask mom to tell us who, where, and when. She told us about how her heart skipped a beat every time the tour guide in the bus said “we’ve reached Jerusalem.”

The Old City and its high gates, Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient houses, the local cuisine, the generous people, the crowded streets, the antique markets, and the smell of the hot ka’ak are all still vivid in the visuals I created from my imagination based on my mother’s stories.

The breathtaking beauty of Jerusalem my mom was describing with keen eyes filled me with longing. Homeland, in my imagination as a child and my parents’ stories, was free, safe, and beautiful.

In grade five, in the UAE, Batool, my friend originally from Jenin informed me with pride that her grandpas and grandmas would visit. Batool’s dad and mom were busy preparing and decorating their home. With hugs and tears of happiness, they welcomed them; it was such an emotional reunion.

To expose me to Palestine further, my mom took me to visit them. Batool’s grandma, a decent old woman, wearing a shawl and handmade Palestinian thobe made of white silk and embroidered with red roses, welcomed us.

Jenin, Batool’s grandmother explained, is the plural which means gardens. It was named so because of its vast fields and pretty landscaped gardens, and what makes it more beautiful is the fertile plain of Ibn Amer Valley. She added that Jenin stood among the ruins of successive civilizations, including the ancient Roman buildings and the Fatima Khatun Mosque, which is a witness of the Ottoman era in the city.

As I was all ears for every single word she mentioned, I wanted to go to my homeland more than ever before. She tenderly held my hand and expressed her pleasure if we, one day, visit them in Jenin and share a makloubeh dish or even have tea with mint on her balcony.

After I turned twelve, a new episode of my life started. We moved to Gaza. Dreams, woefully, were crushed from the very first moment I realized the dystopia of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation. Gaza looked nothing like the Palestine of my bedtime stories. I don’t hear joyful crowds eagerly buzzing in a palatial Old City. I hear helicopters hovering in the sky with their horrible sound, which almost has my head exploding. I’m still not used to the wrenching booms of airstrikes from time to time. The magnitude of their blasts was not something that we heard very often in the UAE, unless during occasions such as a New Year’s Eve celebration.

Over time, I started to realize the story through following breaking news on TV. A new lexicon entered my mental dictionary: occupation, invasion, bombardments, assassinations, siege, closure, detention, and settlement. “My homeland is no longer free, safe, and beautiful,” I thought.

Besides that, I’m living in an open-air prison and deprived of seeing Jerusalem, Al-Khalil (Hebron), Jenin, Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqilya, Yaffa, Acre, and many cities, towns, and villages, even though we are just a few miles away. This has brought profound sadness to my heart.

Today I am 26 years old and more grown than my mother was for most of those scenes from Palestine that I once pictured in my head. I think of all of this as I sit outside after living in Gaza for more than a decade. My focus breaks as the sun embraces the sea. Night falls over the water that hems Gaza in from the west. To the north, the furthest I can see is a set of smokestacks from an Israeli factory in the distance. Otherwise, there are no signs of the outside world. Around me, the sound of the little kids playing fades. I take the last sip of my coffee, pay the bill, and go home.

So where are the Palestinian voices in mainstream media?

Mondoweiss covers the full picture of the struggle for justice in Palestine, a stark contrast to the propaganda that passes for news in mainstream and legacy media.

This week, we’re thrilled to announce our first fulltime Gaza Correspondent, redoubling our commitment to end the media blockade that keeps most Americans from even imagining life behind the blockade.

Join us in celebrating and strengthening this new coverage. Will you be one of 100 new monthly donors we need by Sunday? Thanks to generous donors, your entire first year of donations will be matched.

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