Memoirs of a Stolen Land, ‘Responsibility of Palestinians in the Diaspora’
In the ninth episode of Zahra Haider’s series, Memoirs of a Stolen Land, “Responsibility of Palestinians in the Diaspora,” Dr. Manal Fakhoury shared a story about an experience that helped shaped her views on the responsibilities of Palestinians living in the diaspora.
Fakhoury is a Palestinian-American activist, community leader, philanthropist, health care professional and mother based in Florida. Fakhoury immigrated from Palestine to the U.S. with her family at a young age, where she has become successful in each of her endeavors.
Fakhoury is a TEDxOcala organizer and curator. Last November, she organized a TEDx talk focusing on imagination, ideation and inspiration in Ocala, Florida. Fakhoury was awarded Ocala’s Number One Motivator two years in a row by Ocala Magazine. She has received several other awards, including, Pharmacist of the Year and Person of the Year.
Haider sat down with Fakhoury at last year’s American Muslims for Palestine’s annual convention. A partial transcript of their discussion can be read below:
Haider: How has your family’s experiences influenced you?
Fakhoury: Growing up, there was a time a time where I became very involved in my own schooling. Of course, my parents wanted me to focus on learning the language [and] learning the pledge of allegiance. Just doing well. Assimilating, if you want to call it that.
[My siblings and I] did very well in school. Education was ranked very high. [We] had very hard working parents, but I’ll even share with you; For myself, as an adult woman with my own children that were born [in the United States], I love that our children, on their own—I would not say that we as parents necessarily sat there and started to educate them about Palestine. We were not A-political, but we were not necessarily very actively political—But it was our children, through some other Palestinian friends, were learning and they became very motivated to learn more. For me, I loved that. That they cared enough—and it wasn’t something that they were modeling after us— [It] was really more about them learning on their own and caring.
Haider: How do you think this issue is relative to people outside of the cause?
Fakhoury: I’ve stated this many times. I feel that if we can get that part (Palestine) resolved, we’ll see many areas in the world improve. It’s the crux of so many things that happen, and that we use as an example of injustice. I honestly believe if we were to remove the labels, and if you were to watch a movie and see what was happening and not give any labels of group A or group B, no one would allow the injustice to continue that we see now.
Part of the problem now is it’s marketing, so much of it is being marketed to us by a very strong lobby, where there are a lot of resources being spent, so we’re told a false story. So many people, I believe in this country…In America, people are moral and if they understood the truth, they would make the right decision. But there is so much energy spent telling a false narrative and misinforming [given to] people or mislabeling the information, and that’s why we are where we still are today.
Haider: Can you speak more about this lobby that you’re talking about? What can someone who doesn’t know anything about this do? Where can they go and are there resources for them?
Fakhoury: There are many resources and I think that is the beauty of today. Its at our fingertips, whether you are the President of the United States, or just a teenager in a third world country, you have access to information.
Of course you want to be smart about what you’re reading, check your sources. It’s one of the first things I do when I pull up an article, regardless of the journal that it’s in, I like to know who the author is. I like to know the connection. If it’s really a puff piece from one side or if there is really someone who is credible and has some research behind them and their perspective on what they are reporting.
So there are definitely resources and I think if people care and the way people start to care is if they start to meet people and hear the stories, because the media doesn’t do us any favors in humanizing our cause or our people and for the most part they try to make you, yourself, if you’re not a strong person to feel like a victim and we need to get away from that feeling of being a victim and be very proud of who we are and try to explain the other side. I take the opportunity to do so whenever I can. Whether it’s through organizations I belong to or conversations that I have.
When we even look at the problems that we have, domestic problems, financial domestic problems, whether it’s the poor or the underserved, the underprivileged, why are we spending all this money abroad? Why are we investing so much in wars?
Haider: So you said a lot of it is about meeting people, and you work with United Voices for America. Tell me about the organization and what work you do and how it’s related to Palestine.
Fakhoury: United Voices for America is a nonprofit organization out of Tampa, FL and now they have a [Washington] D.C. office and it’s really about helping us demystify the whole political process, so that we are a pluralistic society and that we help people understand how politics work in this country and not to be afraid of it and to be involved and to learn to run for office, to campaign, to vote. So we do target and work with a lot of young people, helping them understand the process as well.
Haider: So a lot of times, in these interviews I try to get stories out of people. A lot of it is about anecdotes and narratives. So, just to really bring out—like you said—this narrative that’s so often marginalized and not brought up in the news and a lot of times you have to try really hard even to find the facts, but it’s hard to prioritize the actual narrative and the editorial side of things and so I think it’s really important to keep these narratives and keep the memories and make this archive. So are there any anecdotes or a story that was critical in your development for advocating for Palestine?
Fakhoury: Sure, one of the first stories that comes to mind—and keep in mind, in the last 6 years, my husband and I take our children [to Palestine] and we frequently travel there—a story that was shared with me by my aunt, who just passed away about a year ago and she said she remembers the day and where she was when [it was] announced in 1948 that the state of Israel was being created. And in her own words, she said she started to shake and she had just finished cooking this pot of grape leaves and she said that she started to shake so much that she basically dropped the whole pot to the floor and they remember having to leave…taking as many clothes as they could and actually fleeing their home because of the situation at the time. And if you and I were talking just a year ago, she could’ve been sitting here next to me and she experienced that, that was her story. That was her own personal experience.
Haider: So when you went back to Palestine, what was the experience like for you?
Fakhoury: So about five years ago, I went with all five of my children and my husband and I remember, we were in the last day of the trip. We were at a restaurant and as we were just getting ready to walk out of the restaurant, the owner noticed our family. And I was just wearing a scarf and you know it was just kinda pulled to the back, and he engaged in a conversation and he asked me if I was a druze, which is a faith and I didn’t know much about it but all of that led to a really powerful conversation and he said to me, “Do you know where you’re standing?” And he takes his hand and he taps the wall behind him and he says they’re trying to take our land away from us—and he was a Christian Palestinian—and he said, “We sit here with fire underneath our feet.” Then he said to me, “You should never come here to visit, you should come here to work.” And here I was proud, thinking that I’m doing this great gesture by coming here with my children, that I was this good Palestinian and really his words stayed with me.
Haider: So this delegation was from interfaith peace coalition in [Washington] D.C. Can you tell me about that? I myself struggle with interfaith work and normalizing, how does that work together and how do you do interfaith in a way that it’s productive?
Fakhoury: Interfaith Peace Builders, I don’t know how long they’ve been around but I would say at least 10 years, they average 2-3 delegations a year, and they’ll accept just about anyone. You do fill out an application, so they have an idea of what it is that you’re trying to get out of the delegation.
Their philosophy, their mission is that you don’t just be an occupation tourist. Come [to Palestine and] learn, then come back [to the U.S.] and do whatever you can. Whether it’s speaking, writing, engaging with others, doing projects, putting on a conference, to help change the current situation here in this country.
And part of their mission, their delegation, is they’ll take you to see both sides. They’ll have you speak with a settler, they’ll take you into what they call Israel proper, and they’ll take you to Khalil or Hebron where you can truly see the occupation, right in your face.
Haider: Thank you so much for everything you’ve been telling me. Is there anything else you’d like to share to go into this memoir?
Fakhoury: More than ever, I think you know in America, times continue to change, but we do have a responsibility, especially as Palestinians, if we want a better life for the Palestinians there as well as here.
Because you get critiqued here and I think sometimes you’re targeted, if people see you doing good work…they wanna cut you down when they see that you’re active and doing good work, you’re more of a threat to the other side, than someone that’s not doing anything, that’s not highly educated, that’s not active.
It’s the individuals that are doing the good work, that are educated, that they fear the most. But it’s those individuals’ voices that we need in that responsibility to continue to speak out. Because I believe, like I said, that people are good and if they understand the truth, then they will help you reach your justice.