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  • Writer's pictureBreanna Crossman

Learning to Live, Learning to Love by Alexandra Rae

Last week, I got so sick I thought I was going to die. My body was not my body – it was a house in the shape of a girl, haunted by pain and dizziness and all the other ailments this ruthless virus likes to set loose in the places it inhabits. In my darkened dorm room, where the only light came in the shape of stars and moons from the string of LEDs above my bed, I remained in a horizontal state of being for three days, only getting up to find more water to drink and change the garbage can next to my bed. I watched the world continue to spin without me through my phone screen. A recipe for vegan lasagna almost made me vomit (again). Comedians on Youtube became my favorite people. Cat videos still made me laugh. And then I found a video of a boy talking in his bedroom. In the background, I could see his walls were adorned with the same moons and stars that hung above me. Small world, I thought. I smiled at this stranger, believing this sight of something familiar connected us in some way. Then the video cut to black. The boy and the bedroom and our stars were replaced with scenes of a building collapsing to the ground. The boy walked through the rubble of his home as people behind him ran through what once was a street. Men crawled on their hands and knees to search through the wreckage, and even though I didn’t speak their language, I knew from the pain in their words that they were searching for bodies to recover. The boy was from Gaza. The video he took in his bedroom was before October 7, 2023. He no longer had a place to call home.



Collage by Alexandra Rae

 

I looked up at the moon we once shared. There was a difference between feeling like you were dying and knowing you were at risk of truly dying. In the land of privilege that is America, I never experienced the latter. I turned my phone off and cried. 


As a writer, I’m supposed to be somewhat of a sorcerer with words (or at least I would like to one day become one). But words fail me now. I don’t think there are any words left in this English language I speak to describe what is happening in Palestine. Even now I think of the poem “We Teach Life, Sir” by Rafeef Ziadah, who used her words as an affirmation for Palestinian people. Even as they are the ones losing life, the people of Palestine are teaching all of us how to live with their sheer bravery and kindness in the face of evil. I’ve lost count of how many videos I’ve seen of Palestinian children smiling and playing with each other in front of demolished buildings. In my twenty–one years of being alive, I have never been this brave. 


 Before October of 2023, the only information I knew about Israel and Palestine came from my highschool – which wasn’t necessarily biased towards one side or the other, but much of the history behind this land was glossed over. I refuse to be yet another American speaking about something I am not fully educated on; even with everything I have learned since the end of last year, I am still a privileged outsider watching the dystopian horrors of Palestine unfold through my phone screen. I am also not pretending to know or understand the complexities between Palestine and Israel. This piece is not meant to explain this either. I am writing this to share someone else’s story about Palestine. I am not writing this to be neutral or complicit. 


I wanted to use the power of words to spread the truth about what is happening, but I wanted it to come from someone who really knew it – who didn’t have to watch Youtube videos and discover journalists in the Gaza Strip to uncover it like me. So I spoke with one of my highschool classmates for this article and asked them a series of questions about their life as a Palestinian-American and what they wanted the world to know about Palestine. Her name is Maysan Majid, and she is one of the most intelligent, kindest, patient people I have ever known. If everyone had even ¼ of her brilliance, the world would be a much better place. One of the first questions I asked pertained to a quote she liked to live by, and her answer was, “Love for others what you’d love for yourself, help others like you’d help yourself.” I think that sums up everything you need to know about the kind of person she is. The following are the rest of the questions I asked with her answers: 


  1. Talk a little bit about your Palestinian descent/background. Do you have family that lives in Palestine? Have you ever been to Palestine, or, before October 7th, did you ever dream about going to Palestine? Do you still? 


“I have beloved family and friends in Palestine, all of whom I miss very much. I have visited Palestine on numerous occasions throughout my childhood. Those trips to Palestine will forever remain, with no doubt, among the most beautiful days of my life. On the occasions my family and I visited Palestine, each time we went there we wanted to stay longer. It’s a gift to visit the holy land, and I wish the same opportunity for everybody. It is soberly painful to know that many Palestinians within the diaspora have never been able to actually visit or even enter Palestine. Among the many reasons that may be…they can be denied entry, or the homes of their grandparents and other family members were overtaken. I have Palestinian friends who've never been able to visit. My heart and mind can not comprehend how many Palestinians around the world have just never been able to actually step foot in Palestine. I mourn for them, as they miss out on visiting the land they are from. Meanwhile, any non-Palestinian who classifies as Jewish and wishes to live there, for example someone from the U.S. or Europe is able to go to the occupied territories, becomes a citizen of the state of Israel, and some even take over a Palestinian’s home. Meanwhile the literal natives that may want to visit or return to the land are denied the right of return. It’s absurd. 


I would love to return to Palestine. It crosses my mind everyday. I miss the vibrant markets, the morning and evening walks, hikes on the mountains, the lively streets of Jerusalem, the abundance of nectarous fruit trees growing in everyone's yards. I miss the healthy rays of sunshine, and the people’s generosity, hospitality, humor, and wisdom. I miss the heavenly views and the divine food. I miss our yard where mint, sage, pomegranates, plums, green apples, grapes, and figs grew. All were planted by the talented green-thumb of a gardener my grandfather was. The connection Palestinians have to their land is like no other. This gardening talent they all have and the way they cultivate and have an eye for every detail is amazing. I miss the holy land. I wish to invite you, and everyone around the world, to a glimpse of the beauty that Palestine is.”


2. Were there things your family told you about Palestine/being Palestinian in America that other people may not realize? What do you want the world to know about Palestine that we may not know?


“Growing up being Palestinian-American is having to learn early on that the country you live in funds the genocide of your people and the injust occupation. I remember seeing videos of Ahed Tamimi, videos about both Intifadas, hearing the childhood stories of grandparents, and even great-grandparents, and so much more. My parents always taught me to stay true to my identity. 

When learning about the history of Palestine throughout the years, I’ve come to a point where I am able to take a step back and look through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with what has taken place, and what is currently taking place. I believe that through this perspective people may not realize the deep rooted propaganda being used to smear anyone as “anti-semitic” if speaking on the truth of Palestine. There is also a big difference between Zionists and Jews. Not all Jews support the Zionist regime and have even stood up for Palestine… in protests across the globe. People don’t realize that calling a Palestinian “anti-semitic” is not even grammarly or linguistically correct. The term “semitic” isn’t reserved only for Jews, but it is a reference for those from the Middle East – Arabs. The language Arabic is quite literally known as a “central semitic” language. This entire idea that anyone who speaks out about the atrocities happening is somehow “anti-semitic” is so far from the truth; doesn’t even correlate; is part of the Zionists’ propaganda tactics; and is a major misrepresentation of the Palestinians and those supporting them. Palestinians are literally semites. 


Furthermore, the Zionists use it as a way to have something to fall back on because they know they can’t run from the truth and defending lies can only be upheld for so long. Looking into history, Palestinians literally welcomed holocaust survivors with open arms; Meanwhile, Europe and no other country wanted to take them. Palestine did. In addition to that, the propaganda is a fear monger tactic used on anyone who stands up against the genocide. It’s crazy how deep their propaganda runs, almost a use of reverse psychology on those trying to speak up for humanity. It’s very weird to think that speaking up for humanity has somehow become controversial. When in reality it’s everyone's duty. It’s also crazy to think about how the claims of what Hamas did have readily been refuted multiple times by now. There is…evidence now showing the IDF themselves targeting their own, and then they try to twist the stories, or, ironically, the IDF posts about their own crimes. It’s sickening. Why continue bombing Gaza, when the hostages are still there, and deny an agreement for a ceasefire and releasing the rest of them? Why mercilessly bomb multiple refugee camps, hospitals, mosques, churches, schools, and quite literally disintegrate entire residential buildings and neighborhoods? Why attack the innocent? 


It’s deliberate. It was planned from the start. From the early foundations and founders of Zionism, to the Tiberias massacre, to the Lifta massacre, to the Tantura massacre, the Sabra and Shatilla massacre, to the 1948 Nakba, to the mass propaganda tactics, from the bombings on Gaza throughout the years up until now causing death and destructions on a scale I have never thought I would witness in my entire life. The list goes on and on – there is history behind this. This is what people who don’t look into things, won’t know. They won’t ever understand, until they understand and grasp history and the stories that the oppressors don’t want people to know. It’s their heedless way of driving out and killing thousands of Palestinians out of Gaza, for them to build a so-called “beach city.” They themselves have said it, they want to build resorts after ruthlessly murdering thousands in Gaza. It is pure evil. On top of the bones and in the presence of the souls of the natives. This is modern day colonization/genocide and there is no question or doubt about it. I have seen videos that the IDF soldiers, better known as IOF (israeli occupation forces), uploaded by the IOF themselves, of them dancing, frolicking at the beach in Gaza after dismantling and killing off an entire Palestinian neighborhood, flipping off the camera and shouting it’s “ours now”, purposely shooting and aiming at animals and livestock, ruthlessly shooting and murdering Palestinians that were holding white flags in representation of peace, and stealing and rummaging through the belongings in homes once owned by innocent Palestinians.


Americans need to start knowing where their tax dollars are going. Israel is funded heavily by our tax dollars. So much so, that they literally have free healthcare and schooling. By our tax dollars! We as American citizens don’t even have that. How is this rational? How can every hard working American’s money be funding a genocide and murderous weapons? It’s all insanity. Everything about it. It’s so twisted, sickening, and evil. Every innocent life lost in Gaza, was once a child, father, mother, or grandparent with hopes, goals, & aspirations. Each of them were loved and special to somebody. 


Thousands of lives lost and thousands now displaced in Rafah. Where bombing has already begun. It’s their last place of refuge, along the border of Egypt. Some might say, “why doesn’t Egypt just let them in?” Well, this is exactly what Israel would want, for every last one of them to leave and to never return again. The Palestinians know this, and it’s why so many of them would rather die in their native land than be driven out by the Zionist regime. 


These are the stories and the historical elements that aren’t taught in school. I remember sitting in class and thinking to myself, this is absolutely not the full story. I do remember learning about Yasser Arafat and his rise to political position, but I don’t remember the class learning about, for example, the sheer amount of massacres of the Palestinian people that have taken place throughout history. I do remember a rather neutral stance in the way the information was presented, but I just wish more historical context about the truth was brought up.”


3. When you think of Palestine, what three words come to your mind?


“Bravery, rich, and love. Bravery, in the people’s resistance to the occupational forces trying to strip them from their homes, families, and rights. They are an ever empowering symbol of bravery for everyone around the world. Rich, in their culture, customs, food, knowledge, history, and faith so strong that it made the world stand up. Love, in their hospitality, grace, care for their land & animals, family, friendships, and unity.” 


4. From your perspective, do you see a change in the public’s perception of Palestine? 


“Looking into the positive first –  since October of 2023, I have witnessed a definite change for the better. People are becoming so much more aware and educated on the truth. I have seen the largest protests and collective unity for Gaza and Palestine as a whole on a global scale. For example, I feel like even here in the states, so many Americans didn’t realize what their tax dollars were feeding. However, thousands now know exactly where it’s all going and what it’s funding. They now know it’s funding an immoral occupation, and causing the deaths of thousands of innocent lives. I see more people now being able to debunk the propaganda on mainstream media. Millions of people around the world from all walks of life are now standing up for Palestine. There were marches with nearly half a million people in both London and Washington D.C. In New Zealand, Australia, Germany, France, multiple states in the U.S., Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Chile, Ireland, Iceland, and countless of other countries/regions all over the world have had marches to protest against the genocide.”


5.What is it you hope for for the future of Gaza, Palestine, and Palestinians across the world?


“Firstly, for a ceasefire and for all the aid trucks that have been trapped and denied entry to finally access everyone in Rafah and those displaced in Gaza. It was horrific enough seeing the heavy scale of loss, death, and wreckage taking place, but now on top of all that a famine is causing a painful hunger for every living being in Gaza. I saw a video of children, adults, and a donkey, all skin and bones, digging through rummage to find a lick of food. It broke my heart in pieces. I saw a young girl sitting with a dog laying next to her on the street. I saw videos and pictures of people preparing to eat…animal feed and grass to just get by. I saw videos of animals eating the corpses of dead bodies and a horse. I saw a video of a man who went on a search to get bread for his family, even with the scarcity of food so high. He was able to retrieve the bread, however, on his way back to his family they were killed by an Israeli airstrike. The pain and agony from his cries and shouts…it was excruciating to watch. This video and story is a mention of one in hundreds that I’ve watched and seen. I can't believe that it’s been months of this. I want all of this to stop. They don’t deserve this, no living being on this planet should have to endure this. 


I hope for freedom, peace, and justice. I also wish for every single soul lost, to rest eternally in paradise. In addition, I hope that the innocent lives lost aren’t just looked upon as mere statistics. All of them were once living and flourishing and had their own dreams and meant everything to someone. With the incalculable and intense scale of destruction, I’d like to also humanize Palestine. I hope for people to know of Palestine not only through the injustices, but also knowing about the beauty of the land and its people.”


Because of people like Maysan, the world now knows more about what makes Palestine beautiful. This interview took place in the middle of February 2024. It is mine and millions of others’ wish – or perhaps a better word would be demand – that a ceasefire is called and the people of Palestine can be truly free. This is not something that can happen overnight. But I think now more than ever we can all work to prove that the power of the people IS more powerful than the people in power. May we all work together for collective liberation and make this world one where everyone has the right to live, peacefully. I would like to thank Maysan for allowing me to share her story. To the boy with the stars and all people currently documenting the genocide in Palestine, I see you; I hear you; I will not turn away from you.

 From the river, to the sea. 



Alexandra Rae (she/her) is prose writer & editor based in the U.S. She deeply admires the works of genre-bending artists like Lauren Slater and Nick Flynn and seeks to push the boundaries of narrative within her own work. Alexandra also loves women-centered stories that destroy stereotypes and conventional portrayals of female characters. She edits for Outlander Zine and posts her poetry & prose on instagram (@theresonationofalexandra). 









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