I need to tell you all something. I’m honestly getting really tired of trying to appeal that Palestinians don’t deserve the treatment they get.
“The Hookah Girl” was made to appeal to such people and it colored my comics career in ways I won’t get into here, other than I’ll say it’s a double-edged sword.
People who are pro-Black lives, pro-LGBTQAI lives, pro-AAPI, pro-immigration, pro-freedom of speech and religion, pro-Jewish lives, pro-reparations, anti-blanket bans on cultures: I need you to speak up about Palestine right now.
I’ve been told many times over the years that people appreciate that I talk about Palestine, that I wrote “The Hookah Girl,” that they learned something from me. I need that positive energy to be reflected onto the Palestinian people to educate others on how they have been, and are currently being done, a heinous wrong.
It, frankly, breaks my heart to see how little people care about this. I’ll quickly contextualize: Before the establishment of Israel, historic Palestine was home to an Arab majority (mostly Muslim and Christian, and some Jewish—there are Jewish Arabs) and Jewish minority. Generally, people got along and were enmeshed. The claim is that in the 1850s, Jewish entities had purchased houses from Arab owners; by the 1950s, Israel was established and the West Bank (including that part of Jerusalem) was under Jordanian control. The Palestinians currently living there are families of those who were expelled from their original homes because of the Nakba and placed in those homes by Jordan. The families paid rent while living there. Meanwhile, Israel established a law in which Israelis can contest ownership of property and land against Palestinians (no such law exists for the opposite). Through this law, Israeli organizations have been pushing for decades for the evictions of these families—which finally came to a head.
I’m simplifying a bit because I only have so much time to explain and you, only so much energy to read. The thing is that: It’s not surprising in any way that property changed hands from Arab to Jewish in the 1800s, there were no issues between them at the time. The houses were under Jordanian jurisdiction at the time and the families own deeds. Not to mention that the families wouldn’t have left their original homes if it weren’t for the Nakba to begin with.
I HIGHLY recommend you read more on the topic. Please let me know if you want recs, but here’s a good primer-on-Palestine site: https://decolonizepalestine.com/introduction-to-palestine/
I’ve also had the question of why I, personally, care so much about this. I’ll break it down:
- I saw the effects firsthand of being stateless through my family, who lost their home in the late 1960s. My grandparents, especially, took it hard.
- I saw the effects of the racist fallout because of this statelessness. I look white and didn’t experience it as much; I have other family who do not pass.
- I was ashamed of my Arabness when I was younger, because the media told me Arabs were bad weird terrorist criminals. In some cases, I didn’t even realize some movie portrayal was meant to be Arab until much later because it was such a caricature, and then I was mortified. No one should have to navigate this absolute nonsense.
- Navigating the “gray-area-but-not-really-a-gray-area” that is Palestine. I’m very convinced it’s the general Western media’s doing along with good ol’ Orientalism, with other fun factors in play. The US seems unable to comprehend that A. Arabs come in different shades, B. Israel doesn’t care what shade we are, we got expelled anyway, but C. that doesn’t mean racism in the culture doesn’t exist.
- Both the cultural and financial fallout of being stateless, which is very, very real. When a state entity confiscates your property, businesses, livelihood, and attempts to remove any connection you have to your home country so that you’ll “go somewhere else,” that’s what’ll happen. “Legacy money” is not a thing.
Just yesterday was Israel’s Jerusalem Day, when they celebrate what the IDF just tweeted was a “liberation” of Jerusalem was the catalyst that led to the IDF to steal my family’s home and businesses. I’ve told this story a couple of times at events and whatnot; I’ve had people come up to me and say that it can’t be true, the world wouldn’t let it happen. It’s literally happening right now. It happened in 1948.
I’m not one of those people who claims this “isn’t complicated,” because it is. Which is why I highly encourage you all to read up on it. But what isn’t complicated is seeing that this is a constant circle of people being terrorized out of their own homes. This particular instance is the equivalent to pushing Indigenous people onto reservations, having them live there for half a century, and then forcing them off that too, all the while claiming *they* did something wrong.
So, look, I’m exhausted, Palestinians are exhausted. Please speak up. If you have questions, I can answer them. But, honestly, we need to no longer be alone in this.
Marguerite Dabaie, author of the graphic novel The Hookah Girl and Other True Stories (Rosarium 2018) draws autobio, socio-political, and historical-fictional comics with a decorative flair. She has also contributed to a number of anthologies and is currently working on a graphic novel about the 7th-century Silk Road. Marguerite is a freelance illustrator and has worked with such publications as the Nib, the Believer, Abrams, and Viking Penguin, among others. She is also an editor for the A.M. Qattan Foundation and the Journal of Palestine Studies, and an editor, writer, and cultural consultant for the tabletop RPG Blackbirds.