The double-consciousness of a privileged Palestinian

The double consciousness of a privileged Palestinian
5 min read
16 May, 2023

While reflecting on the Nakba, 'the catastrophe', that marks the commencement of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on their land in 1948, it is difficult to write on the subject and wholly acknowledge how widely devastating it was and continues to be.

From the mass murder and flattening of entire villages, forced internal and external displacement, illegal detention, arbitrary imprisonment, rape, and a plethora of other war crimes committed against the Palestinians, the non-tangible violence is not often discussed.

It is not often discussed because it does pale in comparison to the outward and physical violence that the majority of Palestinians are subject to. 

 "Belonging is a social right as much as it is a political right, that 75 years later, we as Palestinians are all still waiting to claim"

The late Palestinian-American academic Dr Edward Said’s memoir, Out of Place, reflects on the experience of being permanence on being on the outside as a Palestinian and the internal dilemmas and possible fragmentation that follows suit.

In doing so, he highlights non-physical violence that continues to affect people in understudied ways.

Through his description of his experience in different communities, some of which claimed him, he highlights the identity salience and development that resulted but more so a feeling of not really, entirely, belonging to any community. 

The Palestinian people, both as a diaspora group, consisting of refugees and nationalized people, within and outside of refugee camps (each offering a differing quality of life and experience) and inside and outside of the Palestinian territories all suffer from a fragmented collective identity.

The conditions in the West Bank are unlike those of the Gaza Strip, or the Shatila refugee camp, for example. This is both by the intent of the Israeli occupation, which continues to draw both borders and raise walls, and jail bars, between Palestinians, and the result of the Nakba and Naksa and other instances of forced expulsion and disproportionate violence.

As a result, a clear attempt to fragment a collective identity, through a fragmentation of the collective experience. 

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Both the anachronism and the liminal nature of being a Palestinian, however, have grown to become part of the collective experience; one that seems to be unifying despite all efforts to the contrary.

As such being ‘out of place’ is growing into a collective experience that affects individuals on legal, social, and intrapersonal levels, amongst others.

Legally, some, if not all Palestinians, have inaccurate documentation, using temporary travel documents or being nationalized outside of Palestine.

Socially, introducing yourself becomes a complex conversation that needs diagrams for clarity, and, psychologically prompts a feeling of genuine homelessness. This is all furthered by the fact that wherever a Palestinian may settle outside of Palestine, surely, has a formal political stance on Palestine informing the attitude of the general culture. 

"'Where are you from?' is a good way to highlight this psychological plague"

In my own experience, through settling in different countries, I found the need to pay close attention to the way I presented myself and it developed into a permanent sense of necessary insincerity based on the understanding that, despite my privilege and ‘belonging,’ I do not actually belong anywhere. 

The United Arab Emirates’ early years built the foundation of their ‘expatriate’ society on a bed of a-politicism amongst its residents. As a young girl, I was always advised to steer clear of contentious (really any) political debates through an overarching, silent, oppressive public decree that threatened punishment for it.

Questioning governance, religion, capitalism and social class, was practically unheard of despite increasing inequality between different both local and expatriate communities.

I remember history class being a vague mismatch of US and Eurocentric events and regional history was not discussed, at all. Without realising, I internalized apolitical pacificity and I developed self-censorship at a very early age, it was a prerequisite to ‘co-existence,’ as it were.  

Through self-education, prompted by the second intifada, I began to understand how problematic denying my own history really was. This form of imposter syndrome grows in two main veins; the first as a permanent another outside of Palestine and amongst other Palestinians as well. 

'Where are you from?' is a good way to highlight this psychological plague.

In Lebanon, I answer the question saying Lebanese, and every single time, because of my dialect in Arabic, they ask back, “But where are you really from?” Even as they are holding my Lebanese ID. Sometimes, I insist, other times, I explain and political debate on the civil war then tends to ensue. 

In Jordan, I am not a citizen, despite my mother being one, as women are not permitted to pass on their nationalities to their children if they’ve married a foreigner. There are a number of sources that cite that while there is a weak demographic argument presented, the consensus is this is due to the fact that, for a time, the government was not keen on nationalising Palestinians. Despite living in the country at different times and having a large family of Jordanian citizens, I am unable to stay for more than three consecutive months. 

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In my most recent experience living in France, I make a point to say that I am Palestinian. Every time, without fail, the non-Arab response is, “It’s pretty bad, what’s going on over there! You must be glad to be here.” This offends both myself and my US passport, deeply.  Is one expected to educate every stranger they meet?

While this social and psychological discomfort is not comparable to the overt violence still committed by the occupation today, it is still certainly an effect of violent expulsion.

Furthermore, it is an increasingly universal feeling, particularly amongst Palestinians outside of Palestine, that highlights the relevance of the ‘right to return’ even to those who have been claimed by other states. Belonging is a social right as much as it is a political right, that 75 years later, we are all still waiting to claim.

Nadine Sayegh is a multidisciplinary writer and researcher covering the Arab world. For over ten years, she has covered a variety of both social and geopolitical issues including gender in the region, human security, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.