From the university classrooms to the random coffee – shop conversations I always sense the sound of surprise as I try to explain why I, a daughter of a ‘Polish soil’, with no obvious connection ‘the Palestinian’ decided to research the Palestinian diaspora in Europe. And every time, to my own horror, I find myself incapable of telling (selling?) a sort of ‘personal story’ that would be enough of a statement to justify my research interests. What I can offer instead is to share my journey of curiosity and growing surprise and, at times, anger, which brought me to the position of wanting to give voice to the story of Palestinian exiles. I hope, this brief recollection of my journey will also provide the introduction to some of the main themes and problems which will be emerging as the discussion themes in the context of my research.
But then, who am I to dare tell other people’s stories? How can I escape from a comfortable position of a friendly anthropologist that comes and just go? Can I?
In 2007 I visited Israel/Palestine. Coming from Poland when the memory about the ghettos and forced segregation is so vivid in and lived almost daily, at least in the circles I am part of, it was very disturbing to see the „separation line” between the West Bank and Israel and just accept it. Being attached to the Jewish history and memory about the Jewish past it was really difficult to come to terms with what was happening at the checkpoints. Remembering streets of Jewish Kazimierz district in Krakow, being brought up on the stories from the Warsaw ghetto, it was really difficult to cope with the Israeli occupation, the settlements, the „Palestinian – free” highways and the ways in which the remaining Palestinians were forced to live as the second class citizens in their own homeland. „Security reasons’ seemed to be the answer that was supposed to silence all the difficult questions. Months later I realised that the village where we stayed at my friends’ house at the Mediterranean sea north of Tel- Aviv used to be a Palestinian village. My Israeli friends were rather surprised to learn that we went to Ramallah few days earlier. Later they admitted that they used to have „Arab” friends in the past – not any longer. Months later I realized I was able to see Negef, Jaffa, Safed, Golan and all beautiful hills that were now a forbidden land to majority of Palestinian, including my Palestinian friends.
I want to tell stories of Palestinian exiles as I feel I somehow owe it to them. I think it comes from the sense of bitter awareness as a Pole and as a European about our own history and the need to „talk back” to my own history. It comes from the shame about how „Muslims’ today become Jews in the European discourse and how we perhaps do not learn enough from our own past. It comes as a sense of guilt that perhaps I did not do enough to save our Jews so perhaps we should know better this time to save Palestinians. It comes from the nostalgia about my country multicultural past that is for long gone and in the hope that in Europe we will remember where does our richness come from and that it does not come from building the fortress. Palestinians matter not because they are a sad epilogue to the Jewish recent history. They matter, because they are people, one of us, living next door and still longing for home.