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Homage to my homeland, Palestine

Al-Okaz, Saudi Arabia, May 24

The airplane made its final descent above the Palestinian coastline before reaching the runway. My heart beat fast. I looked outside the window and quietly cried. My first visit to my homeland, Palestine. Allow me to explain the background to this trip. I was born in Aleppo, to a Palestinian family that was expelled from its home in 1948. I could never return to visit the city of Lod, from which my parents came, since I was a Syrian passport holder. In an unfortunate turn of events, however, my family found itself displaced, yet again, from its home. The Syrian war pushed us to another country, whose passport now allowed me to enter my occupied homeland.  An absurd feeling: being a native to a country that I can only enter thanks to a foreign passport. I looked around me at those on the plane. There were Europeans, and Americans, and Russians, and some Africans. All of them were given permission to enter a country to which they have no real ties, while I, a native, was barred from ever visiting it. They could freely come and go, while I couldn’t even visit the very house in which my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived for over a century. The immigration officer examined my eyes, trying to see if they were hiding any secrets or stories left untold. I stared back at him and saw the Palestinian story against my eyes: the Nakba, the expulsion, the refugee camps. I entered the country. For a few weeks, I toured every part of this land. From the city of Jaffa to the Occupied Golan Heights. I met Palestinians in Haifa and Syrians in Majdal Shams, and even several Jews who were fighting for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem. Everything I encountered reaffirmed what I had learned about this place: that Israel is a racist colonial entity. Any marks of Palestinian identity have been removed or hidden by the Zionist authorities. Palestinian names have been replaced with Hebrew ones. Arab villages were razed to the ground. Arab neighborhoods have been walled off, limiting the freedom of movement of their residents, who are already suffering from systematic discrimination. Jewish towns and villages, meanwhile, are consistently encroaching on more and more Palestinian lands, with the support of the government. Jewish extremists are empowered by the authorities. All of this is unfolding due to the support of Western powers, which have no real connections to the land other than some religious myths propagated by the Zionist regime. This visit allowed me to re-experience my homeland: both as an outsider and an insider. I am leaving this land with mixed emotions: a sense of injustice, together with joy. Sadness together with a renewed appreciation for the struggle of my people. Today, more than ever before, I can proudly say: I am a Palestinian Syrian. I am a Syrian Palestinian. – Majed Kiyali