What’s in a name? What’s in a checkpoint?

By: Nadia Abuelezam

This week’s episode of Palestinians Podcast features Hasheemah Afaneh, an American born and Palestinian raised master’s student at Louisiana State University. Hasheemah’s episode highlights her “reverse diasporic” experience of growing up and attending college in Palestine and returning to the United States for graduate school during the challenging current social and political climate. Hasheemah also discusses how she has related to her name over time and how this has formed the way she interacts with those around her. 


Hasheemah is also a writer and manages a blog. While she has consistently written for a number of years, one set of blog posts particularly struck me entitled: “The Two Sides of the Qalandia Checkpoint.” In this multi-part blog series, Hasheemah describes her multi-faceted experiences with the Qalandia checkpoint. She describes her own goings and comings and also describes moments in her memories that relate to or involve the checkpoint. Her writing is vivid and nostalgic, despite describing an often traumatic experience. 

Hasheemah also has some podcasting experience. She recently helped produce and narrate an episode about Nablus and her experience walking through the city for the last time. The episode is stunning with reflections, music, and city sounds. I’d highly recommend a listen! 


Hasheemah reached out to me by email when she listened to an episode of the podcast and really enjoyed it. It was wonderful to hear from a listener and this has turned into a wonderful correspondence and collaboration. I’m grateful for all those who listen to the podcast and continue to support this endeavor! You can reach out and tell us what you think by emailing us at stories@palestinianspodcast.com! 

Thank you for your support!

Will you carry me?

Our Father’s Day episode (#18: Shouki, Arak with Baba) features and honors the legacy of Dr. Shouki Kassis, father of Laila Kassis (#4: Laila, Goat’s Milk Labane). In the episode we hear about Amo Shouki’s childhood memories of his father. We also hear from Laila, Asma, and Noora about their father and grandfather. In the episode, Laila shares an excerpt from a poem that she read at her father’s memorial five months ago. We have included the poem in full in this blog post; “To my end… and to it’s end” by Mahmoud Darwish. 


Amo Shouki (right of center in the dark sweater) cutting his father’s (bottom left) birthday cake. 

To my end… and to its end

Mahmoud Darwish

Did you tire from the walk
my son, did you tire?
Yes, my father
The night has become long across the path
And the heart on your night’s earth
You didn’t cease to move with light steps like a cat
Climb on my shoulder
We will cross shortly
The final forest of oak trees
This is the Northern Galilee
And Lebanon is beyond it
And the sky is all ours
From Damascus to Acre’s beautiful stone wall
Then what?
We will return home
Do you know the path my son?
Yes, my father:
North of the main street’s Carob trees
A small path further narrowed by cactus
in the beginning, then as it continues to the water well
it widens and widens, until it looks
onto the vineyard of uncle Jameel
the seller of tobacco and sweets
Then it loses itself on the floor,
Before righting itself and heading home,
In the image of a parrot
Do you know the house my son?
Like I know the path, I know it:
Jasmine covers the wrought iron gate
And footsteps of light paint the stone stairs
And sunflowers in the backyard garden
And a pleasant bumble bee circles my grandfather’s breakfast
On its bamboo plate
And in the yard of the house is a water well, and willows, and a horse
And over the fence sway our leaves…
My father, did you tire
Is that sweat I see in your eyes?
My son I’m tired… will you carry me?
Just like you used to carry me my father
And I will carry this longing
my beginning and its beginning
And I will cross this path to
my end…and to its end


World Keffiyeh Day: Solidarity as a Movement of the People for Human Rights

By: Jeanine Yacoub

“When he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men and so surpasses himself, and from this point of view human solidarity is metaphysical. But for the moment we are only talking of the kind of solidarity that is born in chains.”

~Albert Camus, The Rebel

May 11th is World Keffiyeh Day, a movement initiated by the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights organization originating out of Concordia University in 2016.  On World Keffiyeh day, people around the world show their support by wearing the keffiyeh - a scarf that symbolizes the culture, resistance, hope, and patriotism of the Palestinian people.  Pictures and posts are all over social media with the hashtag #keffiyehday.  


I recently attended an event hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of South Florida.  One of the speakers at the event was Laila Abdelaziz, a Campaigner for Fight for the Future and community organizer.  She talked about the significance of developing connections with and fighting alongside other marginalized communities, such as the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.

Laila discussed the systematic erasure of Palestine in the political sphere.  The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) is an initiative to end international support for Israel’s violation of human rights.  In the United States, some states have either passed or are trying to pass anti-BDS laws.  The Israeli Knesset passed a law that can deny entry to those that support BDS.  The Israeli government even tried to stop Omar Barghouti, founder of BDS, from traveling to the United States to accept the Gandhi Peace Award from Yale University.  This limits freedom of speech and any criticism of Zionism in an international setting.

In the current political climate in the United States it is imperative now, more than ever, to stand in solidarity with the movement of the people - a movement of all of the communities that bear the burden of marginalization and institutionalized discrimination.  In recent years we’ve seen more groups come together to stand in solidarity against the establishments that violate human rights.  

In 2014, during the siege in Gaza by the Israeli government, the people of Ferguson were protesting the unlawful shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man in St. Louis, Missouri.  Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank sent tweets giving advice to the protesters in Ferguson.  In 2016, the Sioux tribe stood against the construction of the Keystone North Dakota Access Pipeline.  Palestinians in Gaza wrote an open letter that expressed their empathy and solidarity with Standing Rock.  The Women’s March on Washington was organized by a group of women, including Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian woman, representing different marginalized communities demanding representation and equality.  These are a few examples of what solidarity means to the movement of the people and to Palestinians in particular.  

To be born Palestinian is to be born stateless and without rights in a nation-state world.  One example of this is Israel’s administrative detention law, which means that Palestinians can be arrested and held without charge.  Prisoners can be interrogated without a lawyer present for up to 60 days.  Currently, over 1,500 Palestinian prisoners are entering their fourth week in a mass hunger strike to demand basic rights in Israeli prisons.  The hunger strikers are only drinking salt mixed with water during their protest.  

Aarab Marwan Barghouti, son of the hunger strike leader Marwan Barghouti, created the #saltwaterchallenge.  It is a campaign on social media where participants declare their support with the Palestinian prisoners, mix salt in water and then drink the salt water before challenging the next person.  

People all over the world have participated in the challenge so far including students, activists, journalists, and celebrities. Aarab Barghouti challenged Mohammad Assaf, winner of the 2013 Arab Idol competition, and he passed it on to Lebanese singer, Melhem Zain who accepted the challenge.  The campaign has spread from there.  

So this year, solidarity with the Palestinian people on World Keffiyeh Day is not only for the Palestinians’ struggle for human rights in an Apartheid state, it is for Black liberation in America, the treatment of prisoners (here and abroad), the treatment of immigrants in ICE detention centers, women’s rights for inclusion and equality, the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, and for indigenous peoples in America fighting to keep their land.  We need to make these connections as a movement of the people.  Before we face our enemies, we need to make sure we have our friends by our sides.  Laila left everyone with a thought: “We, as Palestinians, can empathize with these communities, and these connections and these moments will move us to know that in the long struggle for freedom, our human rights are the only weapons we have, and the only weapons we’ll ever need.”

About the guest blogger: Jeanine is a high school Chemistry teacher at All Saints Academy in Winter Haven, FL.  She got her Masters in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of South Florida.  She loves writing, photography, and philosophy and she hopes to use these tools to shed light on the beautiful culture of Palestine. 

Performing (and Praying) for Palestine

By: Nadia Abuelezam

This week on the podcast we hear from a former Broadway actress - Gloria Zaghloul Olivier. Gloria has performed in plays like Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha, and The Desert Song. When you speak with Gloria, you realize almost immediately that she’s spent her life in theater. She is engaging and compelling about everything she discusses, from the mundane (like how she baked her scones) to the extraordinary (like her childhood visit to Palestine). She also knows how to work a room, receiving a rousing round of applause after telling her story entitled “Becoming Palestinian” at Palestinians, Live! in October of 2016 as part of the Boston Palestine Film Festival

When listening to #17: Gloria, Broadway and Bizr, you’ll realize almost instantly that Gloria’s story is not like many others we’ve told on the podcast. Her story is one of discovery and about settling into one’s identity. Despite the constant prodding of older actors during her days in theater, Gloria never found a need to focus on her Palestinian heritage during her youth. It was only after she’d started her family and her daughter became passionate about Palestine that she re-discovered this crucial part of her identity. 


A photo of Gloria (center left) in the 1973 production of Desert Song. 

Gloria’s story is also unique in that she discusses how Palestine has become a part of her spiritual ministry. After leaving acting, she decided to pursue theology and now leads a bible research class from her home with her husband. Advocating for the people in Palestine and for peace in the region has become a part of her calling. 

Gloria’s story and episode emphasizes that there is not a single mold that Palestinians fall into. Palestinians are diverse in history, makeup, and geographic placement. Gloria’s story puts into perspective that while the individual stories may be made up of different elements, the Palestinian narrative has many common elements, even in the diaspora.  

What about the women?

By: Nadia Abuelezam

Having just released a three-part series on three generations of men from the same family, many have asked me, what about the women? What about the female Azzam family members? 

Believe me, they have not been, nor can they be, forgotten or ignored.

The Azzam family’s women are actually at the core of many of the stories told in Episodes #14, #15, and #16. Here are just a couple examples (among many):

Sara Azzam: I had the honor of meeting Sara when interviewing Moneer for the podcast at their lovely home in the Boston suburbs. I was initially in awe of Sara’s stunning blonde hair and blue eyes, but then immediately struck by her knowledge of the Azzam family’s history, of Palestinian history in general, and her ability to connect the struggles of the Palestinian people to the struggles of families with American roots, like her own (you really should listen to the end of Episode #15 if you haven’t yet!). I also had the pleasure of walking with Sara and Moneer during last year’s 1for3 Walk for Water in Cambridge, MA. She donned a kuffiyeh around her neck and a great deal of enthusiasm despite the pouring rain we found ourselves walking in. As Hani Nicholas (Sara’s son) mentions in the latest episode (#16), his mom, despite not being born with Palestinian heritage, has taken on that identity with a fervor and may be the most Palestinian one in the family. And you can see the admiration and respect all members of the Azzam family have for their mother and leader. Hani’s story frequently made reference to her guidance in his life. When telling his story live on stage at Palestinians, Live! in October of 2016, Hani mentioned the last time he smiled from ear to ear was when he was able to celebrate his mother’s birthday.  

Alexandra Azzam: Alexandra, Sara and Moneer’s daughter and Hani’s younger sister, has been described to be as the “firecracker” of the bunch and a “formidable” member of the family. Hani Nicholas insisted when we sat down for the interview that it wasn’t him I should be talking to but rather his sister, who was much more eloquent on issues related to Palestine and identity. Hani describes his experience in his grandfather’s home with his sister by his side (see picture below), heightening the contrast between the current resident and the previous residents. While I have not had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra, I hope to meet her soon and interview her for the podcast! 

Azzams in front of Haifa home.jpg

Azzams in front of their family’s home on Mt. Carmel. Left to right: Alexandra, Dean (Moneer’s brother), Moneer, and Hani Nicholas. 

So, what about the women? The women are present, active, and necessary to the stories told by Hani Tawfiq, Moneer, and Hani Nicholas. Despite their voices not being heard in the episodes themselves, they are an essential part of the Azzam family story. They make us proud to call them Palestinian women. 

The Palestinian President of Alpha Delta Omega

By: Nadia Abuelezam

We hear from a storymaster in Episode #14: The Azzams, Home on Mt. Carmel, Hani T. Azzam. Amo Hani is an engineer, son, husband, father, and grandfather. We hear about all of these roles and more as he describes his childhood home in Haifa Palestine, the escape to Lebanon, and his immigration to the United States to study at the University of Bridgeport. 

The Azzams in Haifa 010.jpg

A photo of the Azzam family taken in Haifa with a British soldier named Busty (back center).

As a refugee and immigrant in the United States, Amo Hani experienced a great deal of discrimination during his first few years in the United States. In the episode, we hear how Amo Hani had difficulty finding a seat in the cafeteria and resorting to sitting outside on the stoop to drink his coffee. During our conversation, he shared many more stories and instances where he was directly attacked or even refused service because of his racial and ethnic identity. In one story Amo Hani was refused service at a bar in Hollywood, California. Not wanting to disrupt the situation, Amo Hani wanted to walk out and leave, but his fraternity brothers insisted that he be served and even started a bar fight to make sure that would happen. In the classroom, Amo Hani was the “token Palestinian,” having to answer and argue politics to professors and students alike.

One of the saving graces of Amo Hani’s time at the University of Bridgeport was the Irish fraternity that he joined: Alpha, Delta, Omega. Amo Hani pledged into and became president (yes - a Palestinian president of an Irish fraternity in the United States). He speaks about his fraternity brothers with a great deal of respect and also humor. Joining the fraternity seemed to be the turning point in Amo Hani’s experience in America, as it gave him the confidence and the support he needed to speak out and represent himself as a Palestinian. 


A yearbook snapshot of the members of the Alpha Delta Omega fraternity. Amo Hani is center front row. 

As the political conversation turns a critical eye to immigrants and refugees from Arab and Muslim countries, it is important to share our stories of struggle and discrimination in America. While the United States has provided many of us with a safe home that we love and cherish, as Palestinians we may still experience micro-aggressions and other instances of discrimination in our daily lives. Sometimes it is difficult to share these stories for fear of judgement, but these stories may help those new to the United States understand that they are not alone. These stories may also better frame the conversation around refugees and immigrants in the United States and help develop better support systems for those who are new to the country. While Amo Hani has certainly excelled and thrived here in the United States (sometimes with the support of his Irish fraternity brothers), his first few years provide a difficult testimony to what it could be like to be a new immigrant.