My father was one of 10 siblings from a rural village in the West Bank. As a 6-year-old, he hid with his family in a cave during the Six-Day War, the start of 16 years spent under military occupation. Once, when my father was passing through a checkpoint as an undergraduate, a soldier noticed an astrophysics textbook under his arm. He told my father that Arabs were too stupid for the subject, but that only hardened his resolve to keep learning. By the time he met my English mother, he was in America studying for a Ph.D.
I grew up between two worlds, spending most of my life in England, and most of my summers immersed in Palestinian culture with my family in California.
In my father’s home, we ate maqluba, a cinnamon-infused upside-down chicken, vegetable, and rice dish. We drank Arabic coffee—thick and black and mixed with cardamom. We talked in a jumbled hybrid of Arabic and English, starting a sentence in one language and finishing in the other. I read Mahmoud Darwish and Edward Said. We got our news from Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. My best instrument was the electric guitar, but I could also play the darbouka, a goblet drum, as well as the oud, a kind of lute. I mixed Arabic sounds with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.
I’ve always felt like a part of the Palestinian community. But as I heard the responses of so many Palestinians to Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel last month, I felt alone.
In New York, a protester at a pro-Palestinian rally held up a swastika. In Sydney, a pro-Palestinian group screamed, “Gas the Jews.” Others justified murder as an act of “resistance” and “decolonization.” Thousands gathered on streets and campuses calling for the state of Israel to be dismantled. I saw this kind of rhetoric across my Facebook and Instagram feeds, even from my friends and family.
Where were the Palestinian voices condemning Hamas, expressing solidarity with the victims, and demanding the release of the Israelis who were kidnapped?
I understand our grievances with Israel. In 1948, during a war between Zionist and Arab armies, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes and became refugees in what our community calls the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe.” Their descendants have never been permanently settled.
Ever since, conflict with Israel never really ceased. Palestinians feel it every day. They see their olive groves burned by settlers. They lose their children, brothers, sisters, and parents to violence. They watch Israeli warplanes fly above them, a constant reminder of how fragile their home is. And now, amid the steady beat of air strikes, they mourn their dead.
Living under military occupation is an ugly thing. I got a small taste of it on my trips to the West Bank. Every encounter with an armed soldier or armed settler makes you feel like your life is in danger. It’s natural to resent and delegitimize the other side.
Like many Palestinians, I was brought up by my father to think that Zionism is nothing more than settler colonialism, and that Israel is a racist apartheid regime imposed on Palestinians. I was brought up to believe that our hope as Palestinians was not only to end the military occupation in the West Bank, but to end the existence of Israel altogether. Although my father taught me to be respectful of and kind toward Jews and Israelis as individuals, he also taught me that our political ambition as Palestinians was not civil rights, peace, or compromise. It was taking back the land.
But as I grew up and read more widely, I began to admire peaceful humanists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. They showed me that compassion and humanity can lead to freedom.
All my life, I’ve watched violence fail the Palestinian cause. Rocket attacks and terrorism never seemed to expand our territory or improve our political or economic situation. Violence just encouraged Israel to build more walls between us and them.
I didn’t learn until later how much Jews had suffered—persecutions and pogroms that culminated in the Holocaust and their mass expulsion from the Islamic world. I learned that Zionism had developed as a defense mechanism, a way to grant Jews a homeland where they could protect themselves from people who wanted to kill them—indeed, to protect themselves from the kind of attack we just witnessed. Humanism helped me recognize that both the Palestinian and Zionist causes had some legitimacy. Humanism led me to believe that we should seek compromise.
In the days following the attack, I felt hopeless. Hamas’s brutality was not just an assault on Israel; it was an assault on the very notion of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. But when I posted on social media about my feelings of isolation and my desire for peace, I received enormous support from both Palestinians and Jews. I got messages from Israelis whose friends and family had been kidnapped and murdered by Hamas. They told me that my words gave them hope that compromise is still possible.
I learned that in spite of the horrors of recent weeks—or perhaps because of them—many Jews and Palestinians want peace more than ever. But Palestinians need more than peace. They need leaders who will serve their interests instead of persecuting those—including the LGBTQ and non-Muslim communities—who exist on the margins of society. They need jobs and economic investment, not fortified tunnels and unwinnable wars. They need free speech and the right to criticize their government. They need the freedom to determine their future.
I know solving this conflict won’t be easy. Many more people—mostly Palestinians—will die, and each death will make peace harder to achieve. Hope can’t end a war.
But hope still matters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s father, a historian, once compared Israelis and Palestinians to two goats on a bridge. The goats, he thought, would ram their heads together until one of them fell into the water below. After this war is over, I dream that Israelis and Palestinians will have the opportunity to choose a better path.