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Ayda Awwad

My name is Ayda Awwad, I am 20 years old, I live in Toronto, Canada, and I am Palestinian. My grandparents were exiled from their homes, in Tulkarem and Jerusalem, by the Israeli occupation forces and sought refuge in neighboring Arab countries. I am left with no close family members in Palestine, my connection to my land consisting of the cultural knowledge and the unrelenting desire to return that was passed on to me. This is the story of many members of the Palestinian diaspora who lack the right to return to their ancestral land – land that we hear stories about, land that many of us have existing deeds to, land that we have a spiritual relation to – because of the policy of the colonial apartheid state of Israel. The increase of aggression to the point of genocide in Gaza, as well as the escalations in the West Bank, where I have distant relatives, is not personally as pronounced as the fear of safety for family at the hands of colonial violence. The grief, loss, and terror of those who directly suffer the Israeli onslaught and their families are not experiences I can speak to. What I can speak to is the trauma of witnessing the targeted purging of my nation – people who look like me and could have been me if the route my grandparents took found them to take refuge in Gaza, like many Palestinians from across the occupied land did. I can speak to the realities of Palestinians living in the imperial core, like Canada, where the state is invested in the genocide of Palestinians. I can speak to the unique struggle organizers in solidarity with Palestine face in light of state-sanctioned repression in Canada. I can speak to the consequences of mental health that come along with merely existing as an individual that is part of a collective being punished for their existence. 


Like tales of houses they grew up in, streets they walked along, and faces they have not since seen, heartbreak has been passed down through my family. The experience of displacement, discrimination in foreign countries, and having to rebuild your life when you have lost everything is an immense toll that necessarily forces people to find ways to cope with the stress and loss they endure. Coupled with the stigma around the discussion of issues of mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), unresolved and unacknowledged trauma can manifest in dysfunction in familial relationships. This trauma, and the behaviors people adopt to manage it, becomes inherited across generations unless actively contended with. However, the labor, expertise, other resources, and even time needed to do so are not readily accessible to our community, and particularly in places like Gaza where such facilities are targeted by the Israeli attackers. I have witnessed the complexities of intergenerational trauma within my own family. Patterns and cycles became evident with my introspection and intentionality. Learning where I belong in that dynamic and the sociopolitical conditions under which they originate has been crucial to my understanding of the actions of myself and those around me. 


In an unprecedented fashion, the world is witnessing the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza live. Journalists and citizen journalists documenting the gruesome facts of genocide – including graphic depictions of Palestinian victims and martyrs – share their pain for the world to see with one ask: do not stop talking about Palestine. For us citizens of the world who wish to do their part to answer this call, we consume and share this content, amplifying Palestinian voices. We should not neglect the damage bearing witness to these images of human suffering and loss does to our own psyche. I have personally found the experience of relentlessly consuming this videos and images – depicting the injury and death of my people, a people I feel linked and accountable to – viscerally chilling. This does not serve as a justification to cease interaction with this content. To those who wish to see this violence stop, a major frontier of this battle is through the media. We can make an effort to control the narrative and educate the masses on Israel’s campaign of terror and its human cost through invoking this content. However, it is important to check in with oneself and recognize the effect of witnessing this genocide, no matter how far you may be from it. 


Additionally on media, we have seen an increase in the framing of Palestinians in a manner reminiscent of the post-9/11, “war on terror” imagery of people from the Middle East. Palestinians are demonized under the guise of being terrorists or supporting terrorism. We are told that we are undeserving of humanitarian aid, a cease-fire, or any form of support because of our misogynistic, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted societal views (an attitude that posits that Palestinians are not entitled to human rights based on an extreme and inaccurate generalization). This dangerous rhetoric perpetuated by major news agencies serves to manufacture the public’s consent for the extermination of Gazan Palestinians. Seeing this pervasive portrayal through news channels is dehumanizing. It has made myself and those in my community feel unsafe and unwanted. Living in this state of fear and exclusion is tiresome and demoralizing.


However, it has also led to a rise in anti-Palestinian racism and homophobia against Palestinians, Middle Easterners, and Muslims in the West, extending to harassment, hate crimes, assaults, and even murders. I have personally suffered targeted harassment for being identifiably Palestinian, specifically when wearing my keffiyeh, on my university’s campus. This is an experience I share with many fellow students and community members. Hate and violence on the basis of ethnicity and religion are supposedly antithetical to Canadian values of multiculturalism, but the government and its institutions’ inaction to protect targeted communities have proven the shallowness and narrowed range of applicability of those principles. Governmental complicity in this hate and violence both here in Canada as well as the genocide in Gaza have contributed to a feeling of abandonment by the state for Palestinians and our allies as well. Feeling like your government is not willing to protect you and your interests produces an additional dimension of dismay. Altogether, the discrimination Palestinians and others face, which is fueled by the media’s representation of us, has brought about intense mental distress amongst those affected.


Amongst those who feel heightened disillusionment are those who organize campaigns, demonstrations, or other shows of support in solidarity with Palestine. In my context, this is particularly in consideration of the arrest of peaceful protestors, the use of excessive force by the Toronto Police Service (TPS), disciplinary action from workplaces and in academia, and misrepresentation in the media. These tactics of intimidation, humiliation, and instilling of fear towards organizers perpetratedby the Canadian state are observable in the Israeli occupation’s treatment of Palestinians in order to quell resistance activity and crush morale. Like Palestinians in the homeland, organizers here understand that these are attempts at suppressing our hope andinstead choose to put sumud – steadfastness in the face of repression and in the name of resistance – into practice. In addition, organizers practice an intentional and politicized value of collective care, understanding that for a movement to be sustainable, its agents must have support from their community, in their basic needs and in feeling heard. 


Cultural and religious values, like sumud, are central to the and persistence of the Palestinians and their struggle. Spirituality, prayer, and belief in a greater force than humanity serves those who have lost hope in humanity. Islamic notions of martyrdom and sacrifice inform Palestinians’, who are largely but not entirely Muslim, resilience despite immense losses and disenfranchisement. The term shaheed, meaning martyr, is a title bestowed upon all of those who die as a result of Israeli colonial violence. We believe that all our martyrs will be admitted to Paradise, and that no death is in vain. We believe that, ultimately, Palestine will be free from occupation. Prayer as a means of connecting and pleading to God in times of hardship, for those in Palestine and Muslims across the world seeing their counterparts suffering, is seen as a crucial task with the goal of ending their suffering. Collective prayer also offers a sense of unity and companionship for those in anguish. Spirituality is at the heart of Palestinian society and resistance and is a beacon of hope for those who have been abandoned by the earthly world. 


The trauma and psychological harm that Palestinians in Gaza have endured and will continue to accumulate under Israeli siege and war is not yet known in its current magnitude. The number of children, men, women, and elderly who have been subjected to growing up or living under the constant descent of airstrikes, forced displacement after forced displacement, in access to adequate healthcare and nutrition, and more will bear the mental scars of their turmoil. There must be sufficient access to mental health resources immediately and continuously to those who are affected. However, those, too, are excluded from the blockade Israel has instituted onto Gaza. And despite this – despite any attempts to erase us, our history, and our future – Palestinians will survive.