Brave Palestinian women, brave Palestinian men, and brave children, standing up to soldiers with guns. Baring their chests and fighting an entire army with only their conviction.
We constantly reiterate these proclamations without addressing the underlying context or deconstructing their implied meaning. We’ve come to associate an entire population with attributes that are more fitting to invincible super heroes.
Glorification as a form of coping, in order to eternalize one’s memory, is one matter, whereas glorifying others in order to justify our failures is another. Constructing a false portrait to redefine the aesthetics of a macabre environment is both dangerous and destructive.
In Palestine, we have seen glorification become systematically utilized by both the international community and Palestinians themselves as to obviate ourselves from catastrophes that seem to be falling left, right, and straight down the middle.
Martyrdom is not normal.
We see martyrs, children as young as 7, being portrayed as resistance fighters after being slaughtered by Israeli forces. Although we would like to convince ourselves that they have died for “the cause”, they have in fact died because of the cause. The first observable fact after the martyrdom of a Palestinian is their presentation in posters that are embellished with faction slogans, sometimes arms, in attempt to lionize these hijacked lives.
What we fail to realize however is that we are de facto stripping them of their humanity and their right to simply be that – individuals that have fallen victim to an unjust apartheid system. Death is inevitable, funerals are for the living, and we attempt to search for ways to cope, to find the most sublime mannerism to eulogize these lives lest we forget these stories that were stripped of the opportunity to complete their story. A story that never had the chance to begin.
The world and we must fathom the fact that our deaths are not stories for their latest novel, they do not exist to be romanticized and fetishized. There is no poetry in death, in murder, in hijacked souls. To appropriate our death is to further inferiorize us, to exalt a perpetrator, and to paint a gallery with our blood.
In Palestine, some people attempt to redeem themselves through these very maneuvers. This is evident in funerals when we chant for mothers to ululate that their sons and daughters are martyrs, like some sort of badge of honor. Whether they have fallen in combat, or were snipered as they returned home from school. Whether they are 50 years old, or 7 years young. Ululate sweet mother, ululate.
We chant about vengeance, whilst providing hollow promises of never forgetting and continuing the struggle. We promise and promise de novo. We forget, and repeat. One martyr after the next, as we ask their loved ones to ululate before they return to an empty bedroom and a bed in which the outline of the body that once was is no longer visible.
A façade, disillusionment of the soul, misallocation of names and syllables we forget, only to be replaced by others. I have been to so many funerals that I cannot recall the names of half of the martyrs. I can, however, explain in perfect detail the anguish in their mother’s eyes, or how pale their bodies looked as they lay still and breathless. I can explain to you in perfect detail how every syllable was pronounced as their friends told me stories of their times together, but their name I cannot recall anymore. It is embarrassing and shameful to even admit this, but I cannot recollect their names. Our aim should not be to eulogize these deaths with hollow chants and vigils that allow us to sleep at night, but to ensure that it does not occur over and over again.
There has been an indoctrinated belief that to die a martyr is an honor. Although there is honor in fighting for a dignified life, the achievement should not be to die, but to live. To live a dignified life or fight for it.
There is, however, a discrepancy between fighting out of genuine conviction, after reaching a personal understanding of the possibly grave consequences, and fighting simply out of indoctrination, after being bombarded with the constant portrayal of glorified deaths.
Bewilderment and awe have been a constant theme among active circles in which Palestinians in the front lines are rendered warriors and conquerors. We attribute super hero traits to individuals that have no choice but to fight or to die in silence. Rather than depicting them as heroes in our campaigns, it is more influential to not be complicit in such oppressive regimes, to work towards ending silence and collaboration. To present them not as what the occupation has turned them, but as who they are in defiance of the occupation.
No matter how strong one appears, many go home at night and collect the pieces of broken sorrows they cannot articulate anymore. Those that have become a part of us, like tumors we collect and carry in a suitcase that lacks wheels, and we drag it everywhere we go. The amount of trauma and anguish that is stuffed under the moments of bravery becomes heavy. Granting, that we still rise up and attempt to move forward, these underlying pains must be addressed and not disregarded.
Across the globe our children are being given honorary certificates and plaques for their “heroism” rather than shielding them and attending to their suffering and the strain this reality has taken on them. To remind them what it means to be a child. That it is not their duty to carry the cause on their backs, and if they are forced to fight due to the morbid existence of an unjust colonialism, that we will care and support them, we will not paint them and force them to paint themselves.
Therefore, when you are speaking of the heroism of Palestinians, remember that there is more to it. Do not allow pain to fester, and injustice to own, by justifying this anguish and presenting an aggrandized image of fighters. It must be remembered that the obsession with struggle has arisen from the context of being forced to fight, not of pure choice. When one is asphyxiated, they will search for air in every direction. Rather than cheering them on as they attempt to search for oxygen, break a window.
The aforementioned behavior is exemplified with Palestinian prisoners. Those that are incarcerated, are being aggressively celebrated in the most atrocious of ways. Some are held in solitary only to suffer a trauma that they may never recover from, while others sit in between walls contemplating plots that one cannot bear to think of. Opposed to working towards bringing them out and preventing further incarceration, we create stories speaking of their resilience. Although they are to be commended for dealing with such morbid situations, coping does not have to always be graceful, and if they inevitably fall, for they are human, we are astonished because we have lauded them for so long.
Our stories are not to be romanticized. Our struggle is still alive and it is bloody and ugly. It should be depicted just as that. Revolution is not the boasted image as perceived in movie excerpts, and it does not end with the rolling credits. It is a constant battle, with oneself and with the surrounding injustice. The fetish of presenting those resisting with capes and slogans of heroism strips us all from the right to be individuals and humans.
At the end of the day, we pray for a mundane day, and such a day has become a privilege we cannot find amid rubble and broken stories.