Personal Reflections on Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora
Being Palestinian is a compilation of short essays written by people from within the Palestinian diaspora. It contains personal stories of Palestinians from all walks of life talking about their experiences as Palestinians living abroad, their sense of belonging to a country that is not recognised and to a culture that is constantly dismissed or under threat.
The book begins with a forward written by Yasir Suleiman. In it he reflected upon his and his family’s struggles to hold onto an identity that they fear may be taken away from them as generations pass. He explains the concept of “Palestinian-ness” in a way that brings much nostalgia to Palestinians in the diaspora, but enough for non-Palestinians to also relate.
Along with including Palestinians who left Palestine during the Nakba or after, or are constant visitors of Palestine, the book also includes Palestinians who were born and raised outside of Palestine but feel a connection to their homeland is somewhat related to never seeing it. That preserving their identity without a physical connection to Palestine is in fact what they believe makes them Palestinian.
Some describe how disconnected they feel from their Palestinian roots as they highlight the hypocrisy within Palestinian activism and prefer to relate their Palestinian-ness to the Arabic language, or to food.
Language, food, culture, politics and even religion are discussed with each contributor telling their own story, making it a unique read. As someone in the diaspora itself, for me, reading it was a heart-warming reminder that there is no direct manual on reserving the Palestinian culture and that being yourself is enough when you want to preserve your roots. There will always be commonalities for Palestinians, but no Palestinian should feel under pressure to adhere to anything that is seen to be “Palestinian” to reinforce their identity.
The structures of the essays were all different. It is clear that Suleiman gave the contributors enough intellectual freedom to make the essay theirs, without them digressing from the core of the subject of the book. At no point did the contributors go on a tangent in their essays and each and every account was clear enough to be informative but personal enough to be relatable. Not only did they draw from emotional experiences of being Palestinian, but also practical experiences, as to how they are perceived due to their identity.
Its fluid structure means it can be picked up at any point. Though the essays follow a similar theme, they do not depend on each other to complete the book and thus would be brilliant for readers who are looking for light reading material on Palestine.
Overall, Being Palestinian was a remarkable read. It was written by Palestinians for both Palestinians and non-Palestinians to document the experience of being a Palestinian outside of Palestine. Both informative and emotional, this book addresses the essence of the Palestinian-ness and captures it in an exceptional light.