When I was a child, the biggest Arab tragedy was that of Occupied Palestine.
The tragedy was the source of both great sadness and imagination to Arabs the world over. In the melting-pot that is Saudi Arabia, being Palestinian meant that I got a role in the majority of our end-of-year school plays (which were often about Palestine), and that I passed Arabic class solely for my diplomatic usage of Palestine as an essay-topic in all my assignments. Charitable telethons collected money to send to the West Bank, and we were taught patriotic songs about how we WILL get our land back. The entirety of the Arab world came together and agreed to boycott Israel and all companies that operated in Israel, including Coca Cola.
Palestine, the tragedy of the Arab world, united us all in sadness and resolve.
Then everything exploded.
Iraq, the queen of civilization. A country that has over 10,000 years of culture, and where Arabs flocked to learn the fine arts and study engineering.
Libya, booming Libya. The place of crazy Gadaffi was crazy, but with oil and money, things were certainly looking up.
Egypt, full of strife. Injustice, death, theft and corruption.
Syria, break my heart. The heart of identity to those of us from the Levant.
Bahrain, the little tiny country. How can a place so small have so many problems?
Lebanon, self-inflicted insanity. I remember the joy of the Lebanese Civil War ending, and I was just 6 years old.
Yemen, which keeps going back in time. You would think that things are supposed to get BETTER, not worse.
And of course, there is still Palestine. Was the situation in Gaza as bad as it is today, when Palestine was the sole tragedy of the Arab world?
Amidst so many tragedies, I find myself unable to believe that at some point, Palestine was the major tragedy of being Arab.
My heart aches for all the Arab children of today. My heart aches for our little children, who have their own catastrophes. The Iraqi children, the Syrian children, the Libyan children, the Sudanese children, the Yemeni children, the Gazan children. My heart aches for the rest of the Arab world’s children too, even if they lead beautiful sheltered lives in Saudi Arabia, like I did. Growing up with one tragedy was heartbreaking, what is it like to grow up with so many?
What’s it like to not remember a time before the Gulf War? A time before the fall of Baghdad? A time when the craziest form of extremism was Saudi Arabia? What’s it like for children who don’t remember a time when Syrian drama was the star of Arab TV? When it was easy to drive to Beirut. And when Gazans in diaspora went back to Gaza for the summer, and had fights on who would eat the hottest chili. When there was hope for Yemen, and when everyone wished they could find a job in Libya.
I can’t imagine what it’s like.
And I will leave you with a song by Palestinan artist Amal Murqus. It refers to the Palestinian tragedy, at a time when Palestine was the major tragedy of being Arab.
At a time when there was still hope for a better tomorrow.
ا أحد يعلم – No one knows
لا أحد يعلم من الآتي في الدور غداً – No one knows who’s turn it is next tomorrow
سماء المخيم عابسة أحلامه مكتوبة – The sky of the refugee camp is gloomy
على كل جدار – And its dreams are written on every wall
اطفال المدينة يلهون بلعبة الموت قرب الشعار – The city’s children are having fun with death games near the slogans
لا أحد يعلم – No one knows
أبطال حكايات النهار نعرفهم في نشرة المساء – We know about “The champions of today’s stories” in the evening news
أناس عاديون يسرقون العناوين للحظة – Regular people stealing the headlines for a second
ويرحلون بعيداً ويرحلون بعيداً – Then they go so far away
في زحمة الأسماء والأحداث والأخبار – In the congestion of names and events and news
لا أحد يعلم – No one knows