- Salma Shaheen
I am sick of your politics
I wrote this piece during my senior year one year ago at Yale, on stolen land. The piece is still relevant to my experience now as a masters student at Oxford, in my colonizer’s land; my British colonizer that preceded the seventy-four years of Israeli occupation of my land. Though my politics have slightly changed, the feelings remain the same.
It’s that scary time of the year in which I have to decide a path for my life after Yale. It's job and graduate school application season. My fellow senior friends often ask me to review their resumes and cover letters and sometimes to practice interviews too. I usually help with clarifying the ideas or cutting the word count, rather than making the language more eloquent. After all, my experience with the English language is only six years old and I still replace my P’s with B’s in sentences.
I remember being shocked when my friends emailed me only one version of their CV and one version of their essay. My applications are divided into tens of folders depending on how “cool” the program and company are with “Palestine.” I have a messy computer desktop.
My messy desktop to match their messy politics.
I have multiple versions of the same CV with very subtle changes. They might seem insignificant, but they are far from it and only a Palestinian would understand why.
Part of my job application process is reading about the company’s history and donors more than the position description.
If it is a company located outside the US or Europe, I keep the word “Palestine” on my resume and essay. If it is a “progressive” company in the US or Europe, I change “Palestine” to “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” In some instances with US companies, I completely change “Occupied Palestinian Territories” to “West Bank.”
I like research and academia. Perhaps because of how much room it gives me to escape the politics of the corporate world. I feel a bit more challenged, understood, and cared for. I prefer quantitative research and academic writing. This is why I found my passion for economics research. Still, I failed to escape the consequences of being Palestinian even in economic research.
In class assignments and research papers, I change “Israeli Occupation” to “Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
I often feel offended by academics and Yalies who refer to the occupation as a “conflict.”
I often wonder why I can't call it the way it is.
The way I lived it.
The way I felt it, away from your “politics.” The way you are taught it.
Even when applying to graduate school, your “politics” don’t leave me alone.
Complications start and never end with applying for funding.
Before I apply to fellowships, I research their connections with the Israeli occupation. I usually find a strong connection. I usually apply anyway.
To prepare, I call two of my American friends to teach me some “diplomacy” skills.
I often ask what that word means.
I often do not find an answer.
The gap between my practice interviews and those of my non-Palestinian peers is large.
When I meet with fellowship advisors at Yale, they advise me to practice easy questions.
Why major in economics? Tell us more about your research. What do you enjoy doing outside class? And of course, why this fellowship?
This advice usually ends up being irrelevant.
I pay no attention to the answers to these questions.
I pray to be asked these questions.
I wish I had the privilege of worrying about these normal questions like some of my peers.
Instead, I stress day and night practicing questions I know that will be asked, questions I do not want to answer, questions that I cannot answer, questions that “their” politics require.
Since my freshman year, I have had around 60 interviews of all kinds: behavioral, technical, academic, political, political, political, and political.
I hate politics.
I wish people would stop asking me about politics.
In social settings, I am often called “controversial.”
They don’t know that I wish that the word “controversy” hadn't been slapped onto me the moment I left the King Hussein Israeli-Jordanian border to leave Palestine and study abroad. I wish I had a choice.
I must admit, I am scared of all political science classes and terrified of the Global Affairs ones.
Despite being called “aggressively political” I prefer to leave “politics” to those who “desire” it. Those who grew up in safe neighborhoods, empty of checkpoints, ugly soldiers, painful scars, and traumatizing memories. Those for whom the airport security line does not invoke a sense of dread. Those who grew up far away from the politics of our reality but are “passionate” about “development,” “conflict resolution” and “international relations.” Those who can choose to step into politics on their terms. Many of those who I sit next to in lectures and walk past in the Silliman hallways.
The same people who travel to my country’s neighborhoods, neighborhoods that I hope I will be allowed entry into one day – maybe with a different citizenship, if an EU country permits me.
Neighborhoods that 3.7 million Palestinians are prevented from encountering, touching, and smelling.
I wonder how my fellow Yalies feel when they apply to one of the 47 sponsored trips at Yale, funded by millions of dollars (of blood, of politics) from pro-Israeli alums to visit Palestine. I wonder how they feel when they can go to places I can't.
I wonder what it feels like to move freely around the world and pick and choose your politics.
I am always an outsider
From a politicized world
Will you see me as Salma
Will you see me as my Palestine
Will your arrogance, your politics
Stop restricting my Palestinian-ness
Last year I learned quickly that if you’re Palestinian, before you even wrote an application it’s a controversy. Before the first word was read by the committee. Before they saw your face or the color of your hair, heard your voice in an interview, or engaged in a conversation that surprised them.
When we practiced for interviews I dreamed that one day someone would surprise me and ask about home, but in the way that I experienced it. What is Salma’s Palestine? How do you hear it? How do you see it? How does it taste at the dinner table with your family in Hebron? How does it shine through the window in the morning?
And I pitied them because they wouldn’t know these stories.
In the months of preparation for fellowship interviews, it seemed like we had to crawl into the minds of those in the committees, panels, and admissions offices. And you knew quickly how often the interview was not only about you, but about them. How would a Palestinian perspective help their image? Would this fulfill their urge to save those that they didn’t understand in a far away place? How can you appear confident without seeming like a threat?
You are political, they say.
You are controversial.
In dining halls, campus events.
You are a terrorist, they said.
On cross campus where others, free from the burden of defending their existence, sit in the sun with friends on a picnic blanket.
Why can’t I just be Salma?
A 21 year old kid
Lover of music
Palestinian – but not by your definition
Your definition was written by those who don’t know my spirit. Your definition is cold and dry and violent. Your definition is afraid to tell the truth. Your definition is borne from diplomacy.
When I say I am sick of your politics that label me Palestinian before calling me Salma, it is because what you call Palestine is not who Palestine is. So when I wear her name proudly, sing her songs, write her stories, teach her history, carry her shape around my neck, hold her colors in the flag around my shoulders or on my wall, make and share her food, it is because I have to. I must in order to work against the constant efforts to erase my existence, voice, narrative, and struggle. To define this for me. To completely deny existence. I have to constantly claim that (yes as crazy as it sounds) I am a human, I am here, and I exist.
And she is Palestine
Misheard and silenced
Mistreated and misunderstood
Everyday in ghorba
She teaches me how to love and care
She grows in me
When away, I miss her home
Her big caring heart
Her old streets mixed with the smell of zaa’tar and the vegetables a young woman is selling to a tourist who just landed.
She seems foreign to you
She is foreign to you
And in all moments, she is home to me
I miss her mornings
The sound of athan dancing on the rhythms of her churches and small birds coloring her sky above a dark neighborhood that never seem to be understood
The sound of their green dark boots, the smell of the tear gas like a plastic bag burning in her holes, they were never good to her
They were never good to you, home
I miss her children, their laughs, their sense of humor covering the bad jokes of old friends that left her hanging
I miss her, even when is she is in pain
Today, I know she is still in pain
Will they listen to her? I know you are in pain, home
I know you are in pain, home
I never seem to understand, falling in love with her was not my plan
I still cannot disassociate, her smell is a perfume stuck in my head covered with a kufeyye in a dark place, minus seven celsius and thousands of miles away
Her colors are still songs stuck in my head and patterns that become reality
Euphoric, Synaptik in my headphones
Do they try to catch her signs
Do they try listen, love, and understand
Will they see who paid for it all?
By then, they will see her blue sky taking over their red planes
And the smell of her anemones will kick out the smell of their stays
Do they know that she knows who sold the smell of her zaatar
the color of your thob
And the beauty of her soil
Unlike you, she has witnessed who paid it all
In all spaces, communities, and exiles
In silence and loudness
In class and outside
In pain and rejoice
In fear and comfort
I carry with me her values of resilience and dedication
To her, to my beautiful Palestine
I am thankful
For showing me that community is a value and not a physical space
For showing me how to care deeply
How to love passionately
For showing me that we continue to live and prosper not despite where we come from but because of where we come from
As they, you, attempt to erase our existence, we will exist everywhere and anywhere
As they, you, attempt to suppress us, the more we rise
As they, you, attempt to silence us, the louder we will be
Today, she is pain
Still, my Palestine shows me
Although she bleeds
And she cares for her kids