Comedian | Professor | Writer
(& Smartest) Arab
Today is Israeli Independence Day. We Palestinians call it “Nakba Day.” “Nakba” translates from Arabic into English as “catastrophe.” Independence. Catastrophe. You say Po-tay-to. I say Po-tah-to.
Now this could easily be a sad day for us. We Palestinians have every reason in the world to be depressed. Our land was stolen. The vast majority of our people live outside of their homeland. Entire UN
There’s more. On days like today, we are reminded that we don’t have any real holidays. We just have commemorations. May 15 (the theft of our land in 1948). June 5 (the theft of more of our land in 1967). March 30 (the theft of even more land in 1976). Do you see a theme? Just about every other person walking the face of the earth gets the joy of having an Independence Day. We just have a series of “we lost our land” days. I think it’s just us and Native Americans. It’s an exclusive club.
Now, we do have one Palestinian holiday that is actually joyful: Christmas. But the world is even trying to take that one away from us. Dear white people, Jesus was not from South Carolina. He didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes. He was from Palestine. He had dark hair and brown eyes. He didn’t look like you. He looked like the guy you don’t want to sit next to on the plane.
But, despite all this, today, I am not sad. See, after 67 years, something wondrous is happening. Palestinians are finally cool!
Last summer, during the bombardment of Gaza, celebrities like John Legend, Annie Lennox, Rob Schneider, John Cusack, Mark Ruffalo, and Javier Bardem all voiced their outrage. Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder, and Lauryn Hill have all canceled performances in Israel. Palestine is now on the radar of famous people. I’m okay with that, as long as the Kardashians don’t show up. Oh, crap.
Just this week, the Vatican recognized the “State of Palestine” in a treaty. The pope has finally acknowledged the ancestors of Jesus. It seems like a natural fit. I’m not sure why it took so long. Now, to the detractors out there who say that we Palestinians don’t actually have a state of our own for Francis to recognize, well… you’re right. But he’s the pope. He has a direct connection to someone up in the sky that the rest of us don’t. If he says we have a state, I might believe him.
When I was in college (which wasn’t that long ago, okay?), I was a loudmouthed, aggressive, protesting Palestinian. (Ok, that was redundant. I was a Palestinian.) And I led a student group or two that advocated for my people. We used to attend large events put on by pro-Israel organizations. They would bring in ambassadors, politicians, and generals to deliver policy speeches supporting their cause. I would take a few of my Palestinian friends to these events, and we would sit in the audience, waiting patiently until it was time for questions. We would then ask our questions, prompting hisses from the hostile audience. Sometimes we would even start chanting and protesting. Every now and then, some large guards would “escort” us out of these events. But it didn’t really bother us. I guess, in some weird way, we were used to getting kicked out by Israelis.
About a year ago, I attended a talk at the University of Michigan sponsored by the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine). This SJP, like many chapters throughout the nation, boasts many non-Palestinians in its membership, wearing keffiyehs and reciting UN resolutions. See, it’s finally hip to jump on the Palestinian wagon. Anyway, back to the event. The speaker was advocating for BDS (Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions), which has been gaining particular steam over the past few years (See, we’re cool now). After he concluded his remarks, the floor was open for questions. I noticed a group of unhappy white kids near the microphone. They started to launch a flurry of questions. “Only democracy in the Middle East” this, “A land without a people” that. I was annoyed for a second. Then I realized something. These kids were me, 15 years ago. They were now the counter-protestors!
I remember what it was like to be a counter-protestor. I had to become accustomed to feeling unwelcome. I risked being ostracized. Also, I had to come up with interesting questions to ask in these hostile environments. Now, there was a difference between me and these pro-Israeli kids. My interesting questions were based on truth, and theirs were based on nonsense. And having to craft something compelling out of utter bullshit must be much more tiring and time-consuming than anything I ever had to do.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I sympathize with them, and anyone else who supports Israel today. When you’re all alone and no one agrees with you, you feel powerless, sidelined, deserted. It’s not fun. It’s not hip. It’s not chic. I would encourage them all to join us, if, that is, they want to be cooooool.