Mervat Rishmawi - Human Rights Consultant: Research, Training and Policy Analysis

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Palestinian ... but where from?
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Palestinian … but where from?

Palestinian … but where from?

Quite often when I meet people for the first time they ask me where I am from?  I say Palestine! But where from, they ask, as they insist to know more details?

I find this very difficult to answer: I and all my 4 siblings were born in Gaza … lived there for a few years, but then we moved to Ramallah when my father’s work at the UNRWA[1] training centre moved from Gaza to the West Bank. We lived in the West Bank for much of our lives. Now I live in Britain, and 3 of my other siblings also live outside Palestine. My mother and one of my siblings still live in Ramallah.

You see my mother comes from Jaffa, and she fled her city in the 1948 war and became a refugee with her family in Gaza. Many of her cousins and distant cousins are in Gaza, but others are dispersed in Arab countries, or even all over the world. She was telling me recently during our usual skype calls that she discovered a cousin of hers in Brazil, thanks to Facebook…

My father originally comes from Beit Sahour … near Bethlehem. But he moved out of Beit Sahour to accompany his father who was a high-ranking Christian Orthodox priest appointed in several cities in Palestine, and even in Alexandria – Egypt … But hang on, are there Christians in Palestine, I am often asked? Of course there are … you seem to forget that Jesus was born and lived all his life in Palestine. So when you think about it, Palestinians are the first Christians! My father is from the city where the shepherds were sleeping with their flock … and then from there they went to visit the new born Jesus in Bethlehem up the hill according to the story in the Bible!

When you hear me speak Arabic, you can trace both Gazan and West Bank accents …

But you do not look Palestinian, I am told often! What does a typical Palestinian woman look like, I wonder? When you walk around the streets of Palestine, people look exactly like me! It is your preconception that you think women in Palestine are all covered with veils, or wear heavy make-up, or wear high heels, which are the descriptions that I am often given. I am non of those, but Palestine is full of people who look exactly like me! I am a typical Palestinian woman!

I am not from West Bank or from the Gaza Strip... I am not from a town or a city... I am not a refugee or a non-refugee... I am not from the Diaspora or from inside Palestine ... I am all of that!

So when I am asked again where I am from, you will find me say again: Palestine … that is who I am, simply Palestinian and my story is a typical Palestinian story …

[1] UNRWA: United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

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