Interview with a First-generation American Muslim

The following is based on an interview with a 30-year-old Muslim woman on May 22, 2012 near Chicago. 
Part I
All my father does is sit in his chair and watch politics. Talk politics. Think politics. The Palestinian conflict is deep-seated in his every moment.My father was born in a village outside Ramallah, my mother in Ramallah. Both towns are in the former Palestine, what is now Israel. When my father was 3, his family’s land was taken. Israeli soldiers came to the neighborhood. Both my parents have stories of hiding from the soldiers, of being scared. One soldier in my father’s home tore apart a chair that had been in the family for generations.Britain and the U.S. sanctioned it. They gave the OK to Jewish leaders in the Zionist movement to take Palestine. They decided on Palestine partly because they thought it would be an easier sell to the rest of the world since the Jews lived there thousands of years ago. But—so what?

Jews started “settling”—buying land and creating communities. Most Palestinians left on their own because there was war—planes drop bombs in your neighborhood. Soldiers bulldoze your home. What do you do? You leave.

There were massacres. In 1982, the Israelis murdered two entire villages, including children. Then they built homes on top of the old villages, added Olympic-size swimming pools.

Their basic philosophy was, the young will forget and the old will die.

They gave a handful of Palestinians citizenship—many of them were poor. That small group had many children and the Israelis had fewer children. So it became a problem. What the Israelis thought would take a couple of generations to get rid of is still a problem. The Israelis say, “They’re Arabs. Why don’t they just go to another Arab country?” Palestinians are stubborn.

In the 80s, Palestine had a chance for a 50/50 agreement. It’s partly their fault this is still going on because they didn’t agree to it. But if someone takes your home and says, “OK, we’ll be nice. You can have the upstairs,” would you take it?

They allowed the Palestinians to live in the West Bank. But that area is a slum. There’s no running water. The Israelis cut off water and food to the area for months at a time. And then they give it back to show the world how caring they are. They make life as difficult as possible so the remaining Palestinians will leave. That’s why there are the checkpoints, too. If you are Palestinian and you live in Jordan, right next door to Israel, are you going to go to if it takes six hours to get through the checkpoints?

My dad’s father is buried in Palestine in Israeli-owned territory. My dad is allowed to visit the grave because he is a U.S. citizen, but still he is questioned every time. If he wasn’t a U.S. citizen, he couldn’t go there, to his father’s grave.

Israelis say it’s for safety because of suicide bombers. But it’s a chicken and egg story. You terrorize children, they grow up to be crazy adults. If a child sees his parents murdered, he becomes the next Osama bin Laden. For the world to write them off simply as terrorists without considering the root of the problem is ridiculous, in my opinion. We are living behind an ideology, myself included. I like to go to the bar and drink a beer and not think about this, too.

So, my father sits and watches as his heritage is erased. That is why he is adamant about me marrying an Arab, a Muslim. And I haven’t told him yet that the man I plan to marry is white.

9 thoughts on “Interview with a First-generation American Muslim

  1. This is a very good interview. Thank you for sharing this. I think it is hard for born-and-raised Americans to understand just how traumatizing this kind of thing is for people and for whole generations. Those old enough to remember 9/11, remember it with such powerful feelings, but that was just one attack, on one city, that most of us did not experience first hand. Multiple that by thousands of attacks and whole families, villages…


  2. I wonder how many Turkish and Greek Cypriots feel this way about their former homes, from which they were forced in 1974 during the division and population swap of the island. Does this pain ever heal?


    1. All good questions to ask and get answers to, especially when one lives in isolation from anything like that. I have been brought to the edge of tears (from shame, I suppose) when talking to an elderly ESL Afghani student about the changes his country had seen in his lifetime. Thanks for posting this, Jess!


  3. My heart goes out to the young woman who told this story and her family. I spent time in Israel 20 years ago and saw much of what she mentioned and it pained me to see it then. I have no answers, just prayers that somehow people will come together without fear to work for a solution.


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