Explaining Being Palestinian

How do I explain who we are?

We wake up every morning with a hole in our hearts, for a homeland dispossessed, a history stolen, and a future trampled.  We live knowing that something is missing, and fearing that it will never return.

I’m going to try to explain it you.  I hope you understand.

We turn on the news just to see what they’re saying about us.  We are never happy about it.  Our friends might yell at the TV while watching the NFL.  We yell while watching CNN.

It’s hard to explain, and even harder to understand.

When we have some time to ourselves, our grandmother’s stories ring in our ears.  We try to imagine them in happier times, living in Yafa, Haifa, and Jerusalem, meticulously tending to their houses, rolling grape leaves, and readying a pot of coffee.  But we cannot help then seeing them driven from those same homes that had been in their families for generations, becoming hopeless refugees in lands where they did not belong.  We cannot help seeing them going from working as teachers to working as maids, from living in comfort to living in poverty, from sounding proud to sounding broken.  And we cannot help but to imagine some other family, seizing that beautiful home, with its small garden, herbal scents, and vibrant colors, all while the pot of coffee was still warm.

I’m trying to explain it. But it’s difficult.

We have to listen to the American president say that Israel has every right to defend itself, noting that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”  Outside its borders?  The 1.7 million people of Gaza live completely at the mercy of Israel’s blockade.  Aid groups cannot access the people there.  In fact, Israel determines what humanitarian aid can and cannot enter.  That’s like President Obama hiring the KKK to run the Secret Service.  If someone doesn’t believe that you should even exist, he probably shouldn’t decide whether or not you get food, water, and medicine.

President Obama of course knows the truth, making his servitude to Israel that much more disgusting.  I don’t know how to explain how that feels.

We watch Israel call themselves victims and us the aggressors.  We live in a alternate world defined by double standards, illusions and simple ridiculousness, where our struggle against occupation and land confiscation is terrorism, where Israeli architecture is defined by arched windows and intricate colorful tiles, and where falafel, grape leaves, and hummus are staples of Israeli cuisine.

I’m trying to explain it, but I don’t know if I’m getting the point across.

When we meet each other for the first time, we get excited.  We exchange information and stories about our hometowns, our family names, and our journeys.  We talk about all the different places we have lived, and the one place where we wish we could have.  We share rage, sorrow, and despair.  And even though it’s hard to explain, we can’t wait to see each other again.

We see reports of our devastated, impoverished brethren being bombarded by a modern, superior military.  We watch in horror as young and old alike die for simply being present.  We see Israeli politicians hold demonstrations chanting “There are no innocents in Gaza!”

I don’t know if I can explain how it feels to know that the person holding the gun to your head sees you as a worthless animal.

I don’t know if I can explain how it feels to see Israel drop a bomb, massacring an entire family, all while saying it was targeting a terrorist that no one in the neighborhood has ever heard of.  Or that any one of us would have traded places with the four children who were there.

This is who we are.  I’ve tried to explain it.  It might sound tragic, but don’t feel bad for us.  We have a connection to each other you might not ever understand.  We smile and laugh more than you might think.  And somehow, we still fall asleep with a heart full of warmth, justice, and hope.

When we wake up, that hole in our hearts is back again.  But just like you, we live another day.

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. I heard a bit of disturbing news and I was wondering if you knew more about it than I do. A kardashian tweeted that her prayers went out for Israel and then also her prayers went out to Palestinians. She had such a backlash from her comment that she retracted it. Not that I put much stock into what any of the kardashians say, but to retract a prayer because people are angry and to be so angry about concern for human life. Maybe I don’t want to believe what you’re saying that palestians aren’t even regarded as human life. That makes me so sad. I’m hoping I heard the story wrong but I know that the sentiment is still real and I wish it weren’t! On another note, if she really were praying, is it possible to retract a prayer??

    • Kim Kardashian did what any normal person would do. She tweeted that her thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims of the conflict. That’s what she meant to say, rather. Instead she wrote that her prayers are with the people of Israel which of course made the supporters of the Palestinians angry. So then she said that her prayers are with the Palestinians and which of course made the supporters of Israel angry. In the end, she retracted her tweets (deleted ’em). So, “is it possible to retract a prayer??” Well, by the way you make it sound, it seems that a “prayer” is a tangible thing, like sending a postcard to your friend in China and then realizing that he lives in Japan. Sorry, you can’t retract that, it was already sent out.

      Prayers either do or don’t exist, they either are or are not tangible, and they either can or cannot be retracted…depending on your religious beliefs. Personally I don’t put too much merit in a God who has never proven his existence, and sees all kinds of gross atrocities in the world, but has never acted to prevent or stop them.

  2. As with every article you write, this was well said! Everything you stated is so true. Thank you for giving us something to share with others.

  3. Dear Amer,

    As a Palestinian myself and American born and raised in a major city, all I ever encountered was anti-Arab and Muslim propaganda spanning from the Iraq-Iran Contra, the Lebanese civil war, the Palestinian Intifada and 9/11 and now the Arab Spring.

    Although the Arab and Muslim Americans have become pillars of American society with prominent and inspiring roles there is still NO unity and recognition of each other of how we live and pray.

    The Palestinians have been under non-stop occupation and the Palestinians back home and abroad are better at gossip and chastising of how sleeping with someone before marriage is more of an issue than a tank that is parked outside of their grandparent’s home literally back home in Palestine.

    The Palestinians like yourself who are progressive have to start a revolution and make our people recognize the differences in all of us and focus on the future of our land by enriching our lives in becoming successful people in all walks of life before taking on Zionist Israel who have done their homework a century before taking over our land.

    WAKE UP!!!

  4. Dear Amer,
    It’s really interesting reading you.
    Noting I’m a Jew, from France, considering myself as a Zionist.
    I have to admit that your writtings are muchmore audible than the classic hating, repetitive, and political Arab rethoric.
    It’s important for me to listen to the other point of view, and being able to really undestand it, not to become a silly partisan.

    In the meantime, even if I share as much as I can, the pain of your people…You need in your turn to unerstand the dillema of Israel.

    How to handle with the trauma lived by a million israelis in the South?
    How can the people of Gaza itself live with a dictatorship living through the hate of the Jews… ?

    I think the Islamic civilisation will much be heard the day, they’ll be also self critical… Recognizing their own flaws…

  5. Well done article,it will be nice to circulate it to more friends,I want urgently to hear from you Amer your position about the last American voting against the Palestinian bid in the UN and the conical Hippocratic voting of the so called liberal politicians Obama-Clinton-Rice

  6. The only way the Palestinian people will continue to exist is through peace and a state of their own. Otherwise the Palestinian dispora will continue and the Palestinian identity will be reduced to the history books. I watched a good documentary on the thousands of Palestinian youth in south America that don’t speak Arabic and have no clue about their heritage. In the uk we have Palestinian cultural events and the majority of the children are White. That Is because the majority of the Palestinian immigrants intermarry.

    Like me they do not speak Arabic and will marry non Arabs. Our children will have no connection whatsoever to being Palestinian. Even my cousins children stateside who regularly visit the territories consider themselves American first.

    Not that any of this Is a problem as it Is right that Arabs integrate into the societies we belong to. But unlike any other people’s almost half the entire 11,million palestinians on the planet live outside the palestinian territories. The reality is as time passes, the number outside the territories will continue to dwindle as inter marriage and generations are lost. The bad thing Is more Palestinians will continue to leave due to the violence and in search of a better life,

    A Palestinian state and recognition of the Palestinians as a people is the only way they can cement their future. It is my dream one day to visit part of wear I came from. To see the lands my grandfather and great grandfather cultivated, and feel some connection to the land. But sadly the way things have gone down, I will always feel more British and love this country, and have my future here

  7. For the record it may appear like I’m being derogatory too the White children of Palestinians. To be clear, my mother is English and iam White too, but my dad is Palestinian. My girlfriend soon to be wife is also English. My children will be pretty much English, the only connection to being Palestinian will be their surname. I guess kind of like most Americans. When I look at American celebrities it always says stuff like “she Is of French/Italian heritage”. Such is the nature of emigration and Immigration.

    But the nature of the Palestinian situation means the population outside the palestinian territories constitutes such a large amount of the entire Palestinian populace that if the current trends continue the Palestinian identity will be lost. If there ever is a Palestinian state, the right of return similar to Israel has will ensure a secured palestinian population, and also heal slot of wounds for people who have never seen the lands that their grandparents were forced from

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