The Stories We Tell
July 31 2023

This interview was first published in UPAConnect Spring 2023 - issue 36

In Spring 2023, the Institute for Palestine Studies hosted the How to write your Nakba story? workshop. It was supported by the United Palestinian Appeal who, in partnership with IPS, is publishing an interview series with the workshop participants. Marah Abdel Jaber is the first to be interviewed to understand the impact of her participation and the story she told. She wrote Through Song and Sacrifice, Silwad Remains. 

What are the standout moments from the process of examining your family's story? 

I’m third generation — it’s my grandparents, their children, and then the grandchildren, including me. I discovered through this process that my parents and the second generation don't know many of my grandparents' stories. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I believe it’s mostly because my grandparents suppressed them. They didn't feel that their stories from a little village were important in the greater scheme of what has happened to Palestine. There is absolutely an aspect of suppression because of pain and trauma, but I think a large part of it is also an underlying sense of shame and guilt and a fear of the impact on their children's lives. My grandparents have reached the point in their lives where they're starting to realize that nothing is holding them back from telling these stories now. At this age, they can return to these experiences and openly discuss them with our family because now it's become history. They’re a little bit more distant. So, unpacking their memories has become a family affair. It's beautiful, but it's also undeniably painful in some moments. 

What have been the most rewarding parts of this process? 

In the past, it used to be very difficult to get any emotion from my grandfather. I saw him throughout my entire life operating as a provider, but I always questioned his quiet stoicism. When I was interviewing him, I was able to access an emotional side which was hidden for so long. I discovered generational traumas which define my current experiences. My grandfather never got to complete his education because when the Nakba hit, schools across Palestine closed and he was forced to go to Jordan to work and support his family at 12 years old. I’ve always felt pressure to constantly work really hard for my education. Now, I’ve realized this is so important for my family because the opportunity was taken away. I’ve come to recognize the weight and impact of even the smallest things that older generations pass on to us. Our history defines our current condition. 

What big takeaways have you gotten from the workshop?

There's a lot, especially because I do work on Palestine. I don't think that knowledge on Palestine should be restricted to the academic space. Knowledge production is literally essential to gaining liberation on a global scale for Palestinians who have been displaced for decades. The academic space is so exclusive, and it's complicit with our occupier. So, the biggest takeaway that I've gotten from this is how we can reproduce this knowledge and make it accessible on a global scale, using creative methods. And I’ve learned about approaching these histories in a way that's ethical and recognizes the personal effect it has on people.

How do you practice self-care during this difficult work?

It's a very difficult experience when you're learning about yourself and studying your own history. It’s not just a detached historical moment that we are researching. We're living in an ongoing history. This is chronic trauma that's happening in Palestine. Sometimes, it helps to reconnect with the people you love. If I'm engaging in a lot of really difficult work about my history and Palestine, I call up my grandma. We don't speak about anything that's related to what I'm studying, we just kind of have a conversation. It reminds me that, despite endless painful experiences, she's okay. We have reached this moment, and we are fine. We're still existing, and we will persist.

What advice do you have for people who want to support Palestine?

The biggest part is personal education. Combat ongoing erasure by uplifting Palestinian narratives. Engage with your community, go read some books, and watch some documentaries, but don't overwhelm yourself. Especially for people who are living in the diaspora, you can feel helpless seeing what’s happening in Palestine when you can’t physically be there to do something. That is an intentional condition of our displacement. But there is action that you can take from where you are. If you're not comfortable stepping onto the streets, maybe you could donate. Or if you don't have the funds to donate, maybe you can go and educate other people about what's happening. There are hundreds of outlets, such as UPA and IPS that have such a significant impact on Palestine. You can support the people who are doing the work. Don’t feel like not being in the land restricts you from being able to have an impact because that’s not true.

About The Author: 
Marah Abdel Jaber is a Palestinian writer, researcher, and creative currently pursuing her master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on constructions of Palestinian identity within and beyond occupied land, historical preservation, Palestinian creative movements, and the imagined Palestinian space. Marah is devoted to accessible knowledge production, seeking innovative methods of globalizing education about Palestine which prioritize the Palestinian narrative.

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