It's June 8th. Five years ago today, I finally left Kuala Lumpur airport after being stranded there for a month following my expulsion from my former country, the UAE.
The UAE was my home from 1977 (the year of my birth) to 2014, when a "higher order" was issued to expel me. As a stateless Palestinian, I had nowhere to be expelled to, so I was put in jail instead. I was later expelled to Malaysia, where, yes, I lived in the airport for a month.
I've come a long way since 2014. But not my family. My father, once a brilliant cardiologist, lost his mind in the midst of the events and what followed them. We thought he had a neurological disorder, but brain scans repeatedly came back normal. It's psychological.
My father (and mother, and sister) were made to leave the UAE in 2015 - a bit over 40 years after he first arrived there as a 27 year old doctor back in 1975. Our quiet, tightly knit family was shattered. His trauma compounded upon earlier trauma and he never recovered.
My father was born in 1948 in Jaffa. The family became Nakba refugees when he was about four months old. His childhood years were spent as a refugee child in Egypt. He never spoke to us much about his childhood, but later therapy (after he had passed 70) revealed a lot of trauma.
His situation improved later thanks to his academic brilliance. He would go on to study medicine. Then in 1974 he'd land a job as a doctor in the UAE. The country was only 3 years old then, still underdeveloped with very basic services and infrastructure.
Forty years later and his son is in prison. The future is uncertain, he has nowhere to go. All of his contacts and connections can't help. Nobody wants to touch this; it's "higher orders" after all. He's later forced out of his job and then made to leave the country altogether.
He starts to fall apart. His symptoms worsened. It started with forgetfulness, confusion, and disorientation. Later, it was all that plus explosive anger. Sometimes he got violent. He can't hold a conversation, so talk therapy doesn't work. He's imprisoned in his own mind.
When you ask him today, "What year is it?" - he says it's 2014. Time stopped for him in 2014. I came a long way since 2014. But for my father, time stopped in 2014.
You'd think the death of a parent is difficult, but for your father to be around but not really around, to be a prisoner of his own mind, that's just something else. And to know that it was you - or something that happened to you - that kicked off the events that led to this.
I speak a lot on my timeline about how your activism should be driven by love and not revenge. I speak about how revenge is toxic, and is a terrible long-term motivator.
Not many people appreciate just how difficult it is, after paying a heavily personal price, to insist on being fueled by love and not revenge. To be pulled to the future by a beautiful vision, rather than pushed forth by your pain and your demons.
Either your activism is fueled by love, or you won't get very far or achieve very much as an activist.
Our job isn't (only) to piss off dictators and make them nervous (sometimes, nervous enough to want to kill you). Our job is to be a wellspring of support, solidarity, and love for every human being who dreams of freedom.
Hope, I must repeat, is way more profound than optimism. Hope doesn't depend on things working out, or on some desired outcome. Hope is the sense that some things are truly worth our life's work, regardless how things turn out. And, in that sense, I'm brimming with hope.
دواؤك فيك وما تشعرُ
وداؤك منك ولا تبصرُ
وتحسب أنك جرمٌ صغيرٌ
وفيك انطوى العالم الأكبرُ
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