“To create a single story, show a people as one
thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”
– Chimamanda Adichie, Nigerian author
As Palestinians, our stories are told for us. If we’re lucky, the narrator might be Palestinian. However, this is usually not the case. Those with power, political and economic power, become the storytellers of our land and of our people. They construct all the bits needed to create their story; the characters and the setting are (ironically) clearly defined, the plot is cropped and rearranged, and the genre is carefully selected.
Despite shackling efforts, our land also tells stories; Palestinian land is also a victim of the single story. If anyone were to examine a Palestinian map from 1946 till today, that person would be reading the autobiography of its rape. Then again, it depends whose side of the map you are reading. These stories, these single stories about Palestine and Palestinians are meant to create stereotypes and dehumanize us. In these single stories, we can no longer be seen as human equals. After one is exposed to these single stories long enough, one dimension arises, cloaking the complex nature of an entire nationality. And that’s all we become.
Yet, Palestinians are made of many stories and each Palestinian is a storyteller. As a student studying at Birzeit University, I can tell you many stories. I can tell you the story of signing up for a summer programming course in my first year of college, then later discovering that the professor meant to teach the course was arrested by Israeli soldiers. It has been two years and he has not been released since. Posters of the professor crowd almost every wall in the IT faculty with letters from faithful students describing their hurt. Whenever I visit the IT faculty, I can feel the weight of emptiness that swallows the corridors. The letters and posters made by students make it impossible to feel otherwise.
I can tell you the story of Saji Darwish, a fellow university student and how he was murdered by Israeli soldiers in the village of Bet’ein while strolling down his hometown roads. I can tell you how the University was a graveyard that day. No classes were held; the students that arrived felt the thick, suffocating air that wrapped us whole as we waited for his funeral. There was an unforgiving quiet that day. A silence that the University had never known. Even the usual morning birds had taken part in this silence. It was as if they were praying with us. Posters of his face haunt the University walls, classrooms, and even desks.
I can tell you the story of Leena Khattab who is also a fellow university student that had been arrested while she was protesting and was sentenced for six months. Six months passed and she was released. On the day of her release at the Jabara checkpoint, her family and friends had been anxiously waiting for her to fly out of the caged gates, racing to her freedom. However, not all stories are as liberating as Leena’s.
It was the first of August when I passed through the University’s entrance and saw a yellow poster with writing in the color of blood, hanging from a stand. Next to the writing was a face of a young man dressed in a sky-pink button up. A crescent -shaped smile hung on his face. He seemed younger than me by a year or so. The first thought that came to mind was “How many more faces will greet me good morning as I pass through these gates?” How many more faces will stare back at me as I rush to my classes? The young man’s name is Layth Al-Khaldi, a seventeen year old boy who was murdered by Israeli soldiers in the midst of a protest for the burning of the infant Ali Dawabsheh the day before. Ali Dawabsheh and his family are another tragic story.
“A lump of coal” was how a medic described the remains of 18 month old Ali, a victim of fire bomb thrown into his house by Israeli settlers in the tiny village of Duma, Nablus. I can only imagine the insatiable flames that draped Ali in its arms, rocking him to death as his bottle laid next to him, still warm with milk. The arms of the flames stretched out of his room, dancing on its fingers into the house, claiming territory with every touch. Fire, unlike its lighters, does not discriminate; Ali’s mother, father, and brother were also cradled in its arms. Nature cannot be made into a single story even if those with fire tell us otherwise.
These are only a handful of stories I can tell you from my daily visits to college as I walk past haunted walls with pasted posters or as I commute from village to village with the radio narrating these stories that remind every Palestinian of the importance of storytelling. Specifically, our storytelling. We are people scattered and slaughtered. We are people with dreams living in a nightmare in a land that has tasted too much blood.
These are the stories of Palestinians and Palestine in recent months and they all share one common thread; to be Palestinian is to be a victim of occupation, to be victim of a single story. To be Palestinian is to be a storyteller but someone else does the storytelling.