Right around this time of Ramadan in 2011, I had gone to a nearby local Arabic market to pick up fresh dates. The owner of the market, a Palestinian who was fluent in English, Spanish and Arabic, greeted me in a manner that is so familiar to me and my Cuban roots; a grandfather-like laugh that was full of things to share with this apparently young and naive stranger at his market: “You could be my granddaughter”.
While I shopped, he started to tell me stories of a month called Ramadhan. He had no idea I was Muslim, and I didn’t find a need to tell him. I just listened to him like I was used to listening to my grandparents’ stories—full of vivid imagery and memories. He told me how he came during the inception of the occupation and had settled in Miami where he married a Cuban woman and had children. He learned to speak Spanish fluently over the years, and I was further surprised by his usage of Cuban expressions and mannerisms too. He offered me a taste of the dates before I bought them, but I told him I was fasting too. He said I was the first Cuban Muslim he had ever met and ran back to get me a giant container of homemade rice and lamb. He also told me that he cooked for the local mosque every night during Ramadan and bragged that his dishes were everybody’s favorite. I wanted to pay him, but he refused and told me it was his responsibility to feed a fasting sister.
This morning, I wonder about Palestinians like him who have been fortunate enough to escape the terrible bloodshed that has occurred the past few weeks. Those who have settled in lands like the United States and replanted their roots to ensure that their children would live humble, yet safe, lives. The displaced millions. Like the Cubans in Miami, would they continue to hold on to hope and stories of days long gone? Will they show their children pictures of monuments and markets, and tell them stories of safer streets, more wholesome fruit and beautiful beaches like my parents did with me growing up? As a Cuban-American who grew up in the heart of a Cuban community in Miami, I grew up overhearing nostalgic men retelling stories of Cuba at café joints, like Versailles and La Carreta; voices talking about a day when the oppressive Castro regime would disappear; some even wishing el hijo de puta to be dead and forgotten.
Every now and then, you’ll overhear a Cuban wondering aloud of the malparido is dead or alive, but we all know that it wouldn’t make a difference because that land cannot heal overnight. As a child of Cuban immigrants, I sympathize with the Palestinian people, but I carry only a second-handed account of having a homeland raped by oppressive ideologies.
But the fight of the Cuban people and Palestinians are not the same. The Cuban people have not been systematically invalidated as human beings like the Palestinians have; we have not been wrongly branded as enemies to values like “democracy” and “freedom”. Our collective ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation and religion have not been used as tools to guarantee the rejoicing of our collective displacement and slaughter. What happens to the stories and histories of a people whose very identity and existence denies them the right to gain sympathy for their struggle and have the entire world watch while their civilians and homeland is beaten to a pulp?
It has always been in my nature and academic training to see two sides to every story; to dissect narratives for multiple perspectives and meanings, and unearth complications for the sake of avoiding reduction and simplifications. The problem is that the occupation is one of the few narratives without two sides because one side has been systematically silenced; the criticism of the actions performed by the Israeli state onto the Palestinians is nearly impossible without some sort of backlash. Today, I turned on computer to catch up with some news and there was a picture of a Palestinian father holding his daughter–same age as my own– who had part of her head blown off; the little girl’s brains dripped from her skull and I could almost hear his father’s cry. I wondered how many times that image had been seen and not felt; or worse, dismissed as just a casualty of war. This is not a war. When a man goes out to kill deer, he refers to this dynamic as a sport, a hunt or a game. Never does he refer to the imbalance of power between his armed self and his prey as a “war”. Why do we do so with the clear imbalance of arms, resources and death toll between the Palestinians and Israeli Defense Force?
A few days ago, I was asked by a relative why the Palestinian struggle was any more important than the recent deaths of the Ukranian people. The comment came after a discussion of why I had decided to start sharing alternative news about Gaza on my social media page. The response to that is that one life is no more important than another life; and there is a saying in Islam that the weight of one life is equal to that of the entire mankind. All life is sacred, and as such, a Palestinian’s victim’s life is not more important than an Israeli victim’s life. Life is life, and it must be preserved and treated in a dignified way until we return to our Creator. However, it is critical that we stop creating more distractions from what is currently happening in Gaza. The Israeli attacks began at the beginning of July, the beginning of the holy month of Ramadhan, with the claim that Hamas had kidnapped and murdered 3 Israeli boys (a claim that has now been corrected by the Israeli government itself); the attacks on the Palestinians continued while the world was distracted by the World Cup, by the 3 plane crashes and the atrocities occurring in Ukraine. For those who continue to passionately advocate for the Palestinians (even if it’s just by trying to raise awareness), it is critical that others’ efforts to make the issue a casual one (“oh, this has been happening forever between the Arabs and Jews” or “I am tired of seeing bloodshed,” or “What’s wrong with Israel’s right to defend itself?” These moments must continue to be interrupted with awareness and education. Allowing others to turn away, is to play a role in passively watching a country and ethnic group wiped off the map. Literally. Victims will always exist on both sides, but a neutral and polite position is no longer logical nor okay.