The words below were spoken at the Rhode Island Poor People’s campaign event: Linking Racism and Poverty on the state house lawn May 21, 2018.
The way I see it, everyone and everything is connected.
That is why it comes as no surprise to me that Lemon trees, which can grow in nearly any soil used to grow on my grandmother’s family orchard in Yaffa Palestine. Nearly 70 years after the Nakba, or catastrophe- that forced my people to flee their land, Palestinian refugees and their descendants have spread their roots in nearly all corners of the globe and like the lemon tree, have remained resilient and persisted in their fight for freedom and their right to return.
As a Palestinian, I was taught at an early age about colonization and state oppression not through the news or textbooks but through my families personal history.
My grandparents fled Yaffa, a thriving port city on the coastal strip of the miedditerrean during the Nakba during the spring of 1948. My maternal grandmother was 18 and remembers it well. I grew up hearing her vivid description of the events leading to our families departure. The leaflets dropped from planes warning inhabitants of the coming violence, the thunderous bombings sending families scampering to safety, the gruesome and bloody street scenes in the immediate aftermath, and of course the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of newly created Palestinian refugees.
My grandmother’s family was one of the lucky ones. Even though their homes and orchards were stolen, they were able to safely travel to Syria, but many families were not that fortunate. Thousands were made to endure the razing of their villages, their farmlands and their livelihoods. Survivors were forced into rickety refugee camps both within the newly created nation of Israel and in neighboring middle eastern countries. Decedents of this violence still fight on today in Gaza, steadfastly insisting on their humanity.
My grandparents ended up settling in Kuwait, where they never let go of the stubborn hope of one day returning home to Palestine.
Once we immigrated to the United States, I was influenced by my families connection to other people who experienced state sponsored oppression. For example, when I was only 9 years old, she made me to watch the TV series inspired by Alex Haley’s Roots about the capture and enslavement of African’s at a young age to emphasize the Black struggle. Also, my grandmother, often pointed out stereotypical representations of native Americas to me on TV saying “of course they are fighting back, this is all their land.”
Like the fibrous roots that sprout and spread from the lemon tree, our histories, struggle, and fight for freedom is connected and relies on each connective tissue for support. Across generations Palestinians continue to resist and imagine and we will not wait for permission to narrate our own stories in our own words, we resist by existing in full bloom.
We must continue to work for the freedom of all people. No matter how bleak, no matter how thorny, because another’s deferred justice becomes our deferred joy. As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”