A Letter to Palestinian Mothers, to Humanity, and to Educators

Dear Palestinian Mama,

As you lay your hand on your stomach to feel the movement of your unborn child, you sit and you wonder about all the hidden truths curled up inside with your baby. Like all other mothers, your love for your child is already overwhelming. You will strive to provide your baby with the perfect name, the strongest education, pave the way for opportunities, and protect her from everything. But as your mind ruminates over these thoughts, you look around you; you are reminded of your reality. You are Palestinian.

As mothers in much of the world anticipate what color hair their child will have, whose nose, and if it is a girl or a boy, a Palestinian mama wonders if her child will be born alive, will have a home, will have a living father, will be born to the sound of war, not the notes of sweet lullabies accompanied by star-shaped lights in the nursery ceilings. She wonders if she will give birth in the comfort of a hospital or suffer the birthing pains at gunpoint at an Israeli checkpoint. Will she be denied the medical care all mothers need as they bring life into this world, denied because all of what permeates the air for this mother and her unborn child is death and destruction? She wonders if her despair may impact the development of the unborn child because of the intolerable mental and physical conditions brought about by injustice and war. A Palestinian mother knows that she can only bring her child into this world because she is a prisoner in her occupied homeland.

Ya immi (my mother), you raise your child delicately and nurture her with all the love in your being just like your mother had. Her olive-tinged skin, flawless. Her big, brown, almond-shaped eyes, inquisitive and expressive. Her dark, wavy hair, unruly and carefree like her personality. She is beginning to mimic the sounds of her first words; the Arabic gibberish is endearing. Her mispronounced words, humorous. But as you muse over this perfect being, you realize that it is only a matter of time before she is immersed in the realities of Palestine.

She does not understand injustice yet because she was born into a world inundated with injustice. She knows nothing different. She does not know that her water is tainted and so is much of the air she breathes. She does not know that her chances of making it to the age of five are less than those of most other children in the world. But you do.

As she caresses the small fingers of her beautiful princess, this Palestinian mother recalls the images of other mothers digging through rubble to pull their children out of the debris caused by the destruction of American-funded, Israeli bombs. She recalls the stunned faces of children not able to scream or cry as they realize that they lived but their loved ones are gone, leaving an unexplainable amalgamation of sensations: speechlessness, helplessness, debilitation, and guilt. She wonders if this will be the fate of her princess. She is stifled. She feels like she can’t breathe. She needs to be reminded. Breathe in. Breathe out. She wonders, how many children have to die? How many must live with the agonies and stark realities of occupation, of genocide, of the threat of erasure? What will it take for her child to bask in the sunshine and laugh carefree like other children in the world? What can she do to ensure that her child’s innocence is not stolen from her as easily as her family’s land? She knows that there are children without parents and parents without children as a result of this war. What can she do to avoid that fate for herself? for her daughter? She realizes that her promise to always protect her child from the vices of the world were lies. A Palestinian mama has no control over her fate or the fate of her children. Her daughter is a Palestinian.

While children in much of the world celebrate with laughter and fireworks, this Palestinian mother knows that her child will hear the ear-piercing screams of crowds running away from buildings about to be demolished. The army has given them a ten-minute warning that their home, their childhood memories, their safe spaces, are about to be destroyed. These sounds will become staples in the lives of her children as they were for her as a child. Loss and the very real fomentation of violence will be their only experience, their only memories. She knows the Palestinian people do not have the international financial support for weapons to defend themselves like their oppressors. She knows that Palestinians have no army. She knows that even if the war ends and they are alive, her children will live in the debris of destruction until the next time they are bombed and the rain of white phosphorus floods their skies and fills their lungs. She knows that moms will watch their children suffocate in those rains. As a Palestinian mom, she must carry the weight of the unknown when she sends her child to school. She knows her child will face the reality of death head-on when she learns that her peers, dead from the aggression, are not there. A Palestinian mama knows that no place is sacred or safe: schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, the beach, their homes….all potential targets as means to instill unwavering fear, untenable destruction, and diminish any quality of life for the Palestinian people. Their innocence is ripped from them, and their spirits are murdered before their bodies are. That is all Palestinian mamas know. That is all their children will know.

As mothers all over the world tuck their children safely into their beds, a Palestinian mama has to decide if she should let all of her children sleep in the same room or in different rooms. She needs to decide if a bomb hits her home as they sleep, does she want her children to all die together or some of her children to live while the rest die so that those children can continue to carry the family name and legacy. A Palestinian mama fears that every time her child goes to school, the beach, the supermarket, to play outside, it may be the last time she will see her. Under the guise of self-defense, Israel has not only stolen land, it has stolen everything beautiful about life, about humanity, about being a child, about being a mother, about living.

Your stories and your experiences are intertwined like the threads of a tatreez thobe (Palestinian hand-stitched traditional dresses) sitting loftily in the velvet fabric with all of its colors and textures — every stitch symbolizes resistance, every thread a symbol of life, every color is hope. Together, you are a masterpiece. The birds, the olive trees, the orange groves, and the soil carry your stories of resistance and persistence when humanity refuses to do so. Mama, you teach life!

As the rest of the world dehumanizes you as a human shield and a terrorist in order to justify the endless images of lifeless bodies mangled in the rubble of blown-up buildings, the charred bodies indecipherable from the metal of cars in what were once bustling streets, the lifeless bodies of children playing soccer on the beach just moments before airstrikes silenced their innocent laughter, ended their futures filled with hope, longing, and dreams to see the world, to explore the world, to take part in liberties the free world takes for granted every day; the Palestinian diaspora and our allies see you. We see you, mama.

We know you resist simply by existing, by continuing to breathe. We know that there is an intentional effort to erase your story and talk of you as if you are already history. We will continue to amplify your experiences and realities, engraving them into words documenting your journey. Mama, you teach life!

We will never forget,

The Children of Palestine

Dear Humanity,

Where are you? As a state is being fabricated from the ashes of the Palestinian people and they cry out for your help, their cries fall on deaf ears. How much longer will the world require Palestinians to negotiate with their oppressors for their own freedom, for their own self-determination, for their lives? As the deafening silence prevails, Palestinian mamas are forced to face the reality that they can never promise their children what mothers in other places of the world can promise. Those promises are dreams deferred for these caged birds. Where do they begin to pick up the pieces? How do they teach themselves to breathe again when they know it is not yet over? How do they ever hear the beats of music again? Tolerate laughter? Feel any type of joy? How many times must they endure extreme loss while the rest of the world has given up on them?

Despite all the barriers and efforts to subdue Palestinians with violence and dear tactics, still rise, they still love, they still resist. Like the caged bird, they continue to sing and promise their children that there will never be peace or silence until there is justice.
As the reality of Palestinians seeps into its eighth decade, they wonder what it will take for the world to see that the struggle for justice and liberation needs to be a global struggle. When it comes to Palestine, the silence of some and the financial and military support of others have deemed the international world complicit. When will the world humanize the face of Palestinians who have been reduced to labels and statistics? When will we realize that our silence or claims of not knowing are not neutrality; they are complicitness? When will we realize that our silence strengthens the oppressors and weakens the vulnerable, the oppressed?

In search of our allies,

Palestinians of Palestine and the diaspora

Dear Educator,

The disruption of inequity is in the hands of educators. When educators work to dismantle barriers erected by injustice deliberately and with intentionality, we are determining our future. Every decision we make today, every action we take or do not take, determines our future and the future of the human race. Education must impact policy and not the other way around. Informed, civically engaged citizens will demand that their local and national elected officials share their morals and values and that they are held accountable.

Today, I write the most difficult piece I have written yet. It is difficult because my emotions are overflowing with the images of destruction accompanied by a primarily single-story narrative in the United States that once again paints innocent Palestinian people as violent aggressors and Israeli aggressors as victims. It is difficult because as a Palestinian, I am overcome with a sense of helplessness and guilt at my inability to ease the pain and suffering of my people. As an American, my tax dollars support their occupation and ethnic cleansing. President after American president has vowed blind support to Israel. I am overcome with dismay at the silence in the world of education as we continue to teach and reinforce stereotypes about Arabs and their history to help normalize aggression and promote inaction. The world should be demanding that Israel ends the ethnic cleansing and genocide, that Israel stop violating international laws again and again, that the United States stops sending our tax dollars to kill more innocent people.

I hope this piece pierces the consciousness of those who read it and if nothing more, prompts you to share it with others to raise awareness. Marginalized groups must recognize the interconnectedness and intersections between their experiences and causes and unite to end the same systems that enable and feed injustices and oppression everywhere. When will we recognize that the divisions of people of color functioning in silos are the design of the oppressor; thus, they divide and conquer? We can never forget the words of Martin Luther King Jr more relevant than ever here, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” #FreePalestine #NoJusticeNoPeace

Praying for a more just world,

Your Students, Your Future

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Lorena German(and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).

Educator and scholar-activist of twenty years in the U.S. and abroad. Founder of Education Unfiltered Consulting. Board member of Our Voice Alliance.