It's been a very challenging 2 weeks for me. In case you don't know me all that well, my name is Stephanie Laoun. I grew up on the traditional territory of the Kanien'kehà:kaam First Nations people in so-called Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I am the youngest daughter of two lovely Egyptian parents, who claim heritages to Lebanon, Greece, and Palestine.
The sovereignty of Palestine, or lack thereof, is a subject that is far too close to my heart. It is a subject that I have learned about from a very young age. I think I was 10 or 11 when I first learned that Palestinian people were being robbed of their land, rights and humanity.
I remember in school, we had a French encyclopedia that had all of the world's flags painted on the first few pages. My edition was older than my classmates: I was using my older sister's encyclopedia. When I opened it, I pointed out to my classmates the Egyptian flag, the Lebanese flag, the Greek flag and the Palestinian flag. When my classmate opened her encyclopedia (which was the latest issue, only 5 years later than mine), we couldn't find a Palestinian flag. How strange, we thought.
I brought it up to my teacher after school, and she couldn't really give me an answer and thought maybe my parents could explain it to me instead. But we didn't speak too much about it at home.
My parents immigrated to Quebec when they were teenagers in the late sixties/early seventies. To anybody who may not know, Quebec was at that time (and still is to this day!) a Canadian province that harbors a lot of systemic racism. At the time when my parents immigrated, the political climate of the province was leaning towards a French separatist movement. It was a particularly hostile place for anybody who wasn't a French native speaker. And while both of my parents grew up speaking French in school in Egypt, they also had accents, as well as visibly arab traits and names.
I cannot begin to imagine what it might have been like for my parents at the time to begin their new lives in a totally new climate, one that sought to constantly Other them. Although we've always been very proud at home about our culture and heritage, I believe my parents underwent a journey of social complacency and assimilation shortly after arriving in Quebec. Like many immigrants who face various blatant and micro-aggressive examples of racism, my parents stayed relatively quiet about contentious political issues at home. I do not blame them for that. They did what they felt they needed to do in order to survive and I cannot fault anybody for that. They did their best (and succeeded) to make my sister and I, first generation Canadians, feel like we were truly safe at home in Quebec.
All this to say, we didn't speak much of my father's Palestinian heritage at home. Only that his mother, a devoted Christian woman with a Hebraic last name, was from Palestine. My grandmother, or Teta as we called her, was the kindest soul I ever met. She was a woman who had suffered a great deal of ailments in her life, and never complained about it. She constantly expressed gratitude for the life she had. The shelter over her head. The food on her table. The nurses that took care of her during her many hospital visits. We never let anything go to waste in her house! To discard food was haram (a holy waste, if you will.) She never stopped expressing just how much appreciation she had for her abundant life in Canada (though in actual socioeconomic terms, was a quite modest, middle-class living).
As I age, I see more and more of my grandmother in me. I see her face look back at me when I look in the mirror. I see her eyes in my eyes. Her cheeks. Her smile. The complexion of her skin. I can see her genetic makeup quite literally on my face. In my heart. And deep in my soul.
It is for this reason that my heart weighs so heavily when I bear witness to the destruction and ongoing violence happening in Palestine.
Over the years, I have had many talks with friends about the situation in Palestine. Some arab, some not. Some Jewish, some not. I have often been met with animosity, accusations of anti-Semitism, and a slur of insults telling me that I know nothing and that I should keep quiet. But I refuse.
I refuse to see part of my cultural heritage being erased right before my eyes. And I refuse to stay quiet about it. Not then, not now, not ever!
If my Teta were here today, she would be sitting right beside me, weeping and praying for her Palestinian brothers and sisters who suffer so greatly under the far-right militant Israeli occupation.
But I also know that my Teta would be praying for more than just her people. She would also extend her endless empathy to the people committing and justifying this inhumane violence. I know that she would be genuinely concerned for the lack of humanity in the world, and would be incessantly hoping and praying for people to regain their sense of morality and live more compassionately amongst others.
When the pain of what I am witnessing becomes too much, I think of my Teta, and I channel her in hoping for a global return of human values. I channel her patience and empathy and kindness as I engage in conversations with my friends on the topic.
I am filled with hope, particularly on this Monday evening today. I had a week of conversations with close Jewish friends and acquaintances of mine. Some of which are Israeli, some of which served in the IDF. Those conversations all led to positive connections where we could, together, condemn the violent and inhumane actions of the far-right nationalist Israeli government. Where we could all come together as humans, and take note of the injustices unfolding right before our eyes. We all stood committed to the liberation of all Palestinians. And in those moments, I could finally breathe again and gain a small glimmer of hope.
Those conversations all proved to be incredible sources of healing and validation for me. After all, it wasn't that long ago that when I spoke against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, I was met with either hateful rhetoric, or worse, apathy. Today, I am seeing people take note of what's happening.
I am seeing my Jewish friends denouncing the apartheid measures that the Israeli government is carrying out in the name of nationalist values. I am seeing them take a strong public stance against what is happening, and vowing to speak to their families to try and change the narrative that has dominated and oppressed Palestinian people for far too long.
To all of you reading this, I ask that you please continue to speak up when you witness injustice:
You do not need to know everything to know that something is not right.
You do not need to have a Palestinian Teta like mine or have Jewish ancestry to take note of what is happening and speak out against it.
It is our collective duty as human beings to extend our compassion for all on this earth, especially those who are marginalized, oppressed or voiceless.
I ask that you do so with care and empathy. And with the awareness that to be fundamentally compassionate in this day and age is to be fundamentally political. Those two things go hand in hand: to be a human with compassionate and caring qualities is political AF.
Afterall, we are all interconnected. Our humanity depends on the humanity of others.
None of us are free, until all of us are free.
With love to you all,