How I express my diasporic Palestinian grief through art

As the war on Gaza began being described as a "genocide," the years of pain that I buried finally burst and led to the creation of this art.

I woke up on Oct. 7 to a Facebook timeline full of friends posting about how the world is just so cruel. Confused, I scrolled a bit further, and read what Western newspapers were saying: Israel and Hamas were targeting each other again.

The heaviness that lives in my chest laughed. Of course, here we go again. I’m a diasporic Palestinian American, so I’m used to these news cycles. Horrors and atrocities enacted on my people by Israel for generations, and we Palestinians struggle to get one article about it in the back pages of major, or even small town newspapers. Israel bulldozes our houses, detains children without trial. Kills nonviolent Gazan protesters and declares six human rights groups supporting Palestinians to be terrorist organizations. Forces Gazans to live in a region that the U.N. said would be unlivable in 2020 without escape.

But the minute Hamas does anything, Western news blares again about conflict, complexity, how “both sides” are equally bad. Turn on almost any news channel and they’ll say that’s why Israel has a right to its security, it’s all Hamas’ fault. Israel has a right to defend themselves, so let’s once again use U.S. tax dollars that could be funding health care and housing to kill more Gazan children.

However, something different clicked through the digital screens before me. The word “genocide” was popping up everywhere, from advocacy emails to Instagram infographics. Social media graphics educating on the “Nakba” were filling my feeds. I was amazed, remembering how even a few years ago throwing out the word “occupation” was controversial. With that, the heaviness in my chest suddenly did something it had never done before: it burst. Years of pain I’ve had to bury, swallow like knives came pouring out of me. The silence stitched into every Palestinian tongue broke loose, and we all screamed.

And for me, for the first time, I truly felt like the world was watching. For the first time, I fully realized it was my right and duty to express the grief and rage living inside of me.

From that, came this art.

1. To be Palestinian (Oct. 12)

A heaviness built in my gut as I drew this piece. I feel torn — I want to touch on universal Palestinian experiences, but I know I only taste a shade of the larger knot of pain. I know that Palestine is not defined by grief and trauma, and carries with it a rich, delicious (seriously, Palestinian fruit is top fucking notch) and vibrant culture I have the privilege of being a part of, even if from a diasporic distance.

I also know our lives are defined by persistent othering. Dehumanization. I’ve lost track of the times I have had to explain what’s really happening in Palestine, dealing with irreverent questions, being told as I beg advocacy spaces to listen to Palestinians that our needs call for an impossible “moral purity.”

This is a norm for U.S. Palestinians even in progressive spaces. Today I watched as the U.S. agreed yet again to send military aid to Israel at the same time Israel said they’re cutting off electricity in Gaza. One Gazan doctor said soon the hospital will be a mass grave as they run out of fuel.

I watch with a nonstop knot in my chest as progressive politicians try to equate Hamas (which yes, is fucked for targeting civilians, but I shouldn’t even have to add that addendum) with a nuclear state with a multibillion-dollar military budget that’s been killing my people for 75 years. That has been abducting children, raiding villages, all while the media was silent.

I watch as celebrities usually vocal on social issues stay silent. As I read the horrible news every day and know that no one in my circles, or most circles, knows what’s going on.

It’s not just the horrors Israel perpetuates that forces us to swallow stones. It’s the silence, the normalization, the knowing of just how much of the world sees us as a nuisance, does not care if we live or die.

So I desperately do what I can. I make art piece after art piece after art piece hoping more people feel the pain that always lives in my gut, that lives in every Palestinian gut. That the norm changes, that Palestinians will get some God damn apologies. Reparations. Freedom. That I can use the word “genocide” without stirring controversy. That I’m just heard.

2. Palestine is bleeding (Oct. 8)

The Arabic word you see on the left says “Gaza.” I wanted to write “we love you Gaza” but my Arabic isn’t that great sadly.

Of the two regions legally declared “Palestine” right now, the West Bank is considered the part of Palestine that has it “easiest,” especially major cities. What is one thing you’ll see all over West Bank houses, especially major cities? Massive black water tanks.

Why the massive black water tanks? Israel only gives Palestinians water, at best, three days of the week, at worst twice a month. Most Palestinians can’t even wash their hair or flush when they pee. Because yes, Israel controls Palestine’s water flow, as well as their trade and airwaves. Palestinians still are only allowed access to 3G at best. Want to send your Palestinian friend a package? Forget it. Oh, and Palestinians, especially Palestinian refugees, can be shot and killed by the Israeli military for walking on the wrong sidewalk or driving on the wrong road. Or for no reason at all.

And Israel won’t even give 66 percent of the West Bank access to water. They’re forced to poop in trash cans and go to local towns for bottled water. I know, because when I visited this part of Palestine (called “Area C”) I had to do both.

And no, the water tanks are not due to water shortages. Israeli settlements, which sit right next to Palestinian towns, regularly have pools in the backyard.

And Gaza has it worse. People in Gaza can’t leave, even for medical emergencies. They’re denied access to electricity. There is no clean drinking water. It was declared unlivable in 2020 and is unlivable because of Israel’s blockade. This sudden uptick in violence and horrendous bombings by Israel is a small grain of sand in a sea of violence against Palestinians by Israel. Yet the effects are treacherous.

That’s why we call it apartheid, colonization, genocide.

3. We just want to be free (Oct. 10)

This piece speaks from my perspective as a Palestinian of the diaspora. I cannot fully speak to the horrors beyond human language taking part in the Gaza Strip. I only watch it from afar, do all I can to support my people, but feel mostly powerless. I speak as someone where getting to visit my own homeland is becoming harder as each year goes by, even with recent political actions by the U.S. government for Palestinian-Americans that are supposed to ease our transit.

I want to go home. I want to not sit with knots in my stomach praying my relatives are safe. I want to be able to call for the freedom of my people without getting the automatic racist response of, “but what about Hamas? Does Israel not have a right to its security?” To be allowed to speak about the horrors of what Palestinians are going through without fear it will hurt my career and future.

I want Israel to stop bulldozing Palestinian homes. I want all Palestinians to have full access to water and electricity, to not have to drive on separate highways and walk on separate sidewalks from Israelis. For Israel’s detention of Palestinian children to end. I want people in Area C to be able to build beautiful homes, to not have to live in caves because Israel won’t let them build anything. I want the people of Gaza to be able to go to bed at night with their only concern being whether or not it will rain tomorrow. I want Israel to stop killing our culture. I want everyone in the West Bank to be able to go to the beach.

I want apartheid to end. I want this genocide to end. I don’t want my tax dollars funding this anymore. I want to scream my truth loud and clear without harassment. To not have to swallow myself over and over and over and over again. I want, simply put, for Palestine to be free.

The people of Palestine are steadfast, and wake up every day refusing to leave their home, their identity. But they shouldn’t have to. They should be able to live their lives with ease, joy, peace.

4. Grief beyond language (Oct. 14)

I have grieved the loss of many loved ones in my lifetime. But the grief over watching the people in Gaza, my people, my ancestry, die in droves under Israel’s horror, is beyond anything I can explain.

I’ve spent half this past week starting at the wall feeling helpless. Genocide feels like too kind, too formal, too soft of a word.

We let Gaza down. We saw them suffer for decades and did nothing. Gaza, you deserved love and a fight for your freedom. The world should’ve stopped just to save you. I’m sorry will never be enough. You were failed. Let us now carry you in our hearts. We will not allow the world to forget your fight for freedom.

5. What is left (Oct. 16)

The grief of a genocide happening to your people while being told it’s your fault and watching the world support it wreaks havoc on the soul in ways I could not comprehend before. My body refuses to eat. This is a pain no one should know or carry.

6. Children should never be ancestors (Nov. 6)

Almost 4,000 children in Gaza dead, killed by Israel, this number not including children who died from lack of access to medical care, dehydration and hunger from Israel cutting off electricity, water and food.

I can’t even comprehend that number. I can’t comprehend one.

We just passed Samhain, a holiday meant to celebrate our relationship to the dead, since the veil between the living and the dead is thin. When I hear the word “ancestor,” I think of the elderly who lived long, hearty lives, people who have had enough life experiences to give guidance to the living.

Children should never be ancestors. Children never had the chance to grow, develop into full beings who know themselves, their quirks, their flaws and strengths. To even learn how to walk, talk, in the cases of many who Israel has killed.

To accept what Israel is doing in Gaza as necessary for their security is to intentionally dehumanize us. To look at us Palestinians as a people and say “yeah, they’re allowed to die.” Do not fall for the genocidal myth. What Israel is doing is unacceptable, unconscionable. Targeting hospitals, schools, mosques and densely populated refugee camps is an atrocity beyond human language.

Call for a ceasefire. Call your government officials every day and demand a ceasefire. Especially if you’re in the U.S. Call for a ceasefire, call for an end to all military support to Israel, call for an end to Israel’s occupation and apartheid. Call for a free Palestine.

7. The world will remember (Oct. 18)

Now is not the time for complicity. The world is watching. Free Palestine. End all U.S. military support to Israel. Demand an end to Israeli apartheid. Call for a ceasefire. Hold Israel accountable, name what they are doing as ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Call your government officials. Post on social media. Educate friends on disinformation. Donate to Palestinian mutual aid funds. Go to a protest. Do not shut down. We need action if we are to survive as a people.

This story was produced by IPRA Peace Search

Founded in 1964 to advance research on the conditions of peace and the causes of war and violence — with five regional associations covering every corner of the planet — the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) is the world’s most established multi-disciplinary professional organization in the field of peace, human rights and conflict studies.

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