As an author and someone who works in publishing, I have always believed that stories have the power to liberate the world. As a Palestinian American, I know they also have the power to destroy it.
When my parents moved to the United States in the 1970s, they were appalled by misrepresentation of our culture and the stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims. This was long before hummus was a staple in American meals and belly dance was a trendy exercise. The only images of Arabs my parents saw were as villains in the Indiana Jones movies or in violent, reductive news headlines. They decided to bring authentic representation from the Global South to American readers and started a small independent publishing house in Brooklyn.
Growing up surrounded by literature, my father always told us that “books are the gateway to a people’s soul” and that, as Palestinians, it is important that we educate people about the history, art, literature and beauty that our culture brings to the world. He explained that this was part of our resistance to the brutal occupation happening in our homeland, funded in part by American tax dollars.
Storytelling is an ancient tradition in Palestinian culture. My sisters and I grew up hearing stories of our ancestral homeland from all of our family members. Some were told to my mother by my father’s mother — precious tokens, passed on the way some families share recipes. Others were told to us at bedtime, interspersed with fairy tales. Then there were the stories told through tears and gasps as my loved ones relived their darkest days. Carrying and sharing these stories is my greatest honor and greatest burden.
Since early October, I have watched in horror as violence unfolded in Gaza. My family was ethnically cleansed from our homeland in 1948, and I have listened to the stories told about my people by the media and politicians for my entire life. These storytellers conjure images of a bloodthirsty barbaric people powered by hate, without heart or humanity. Or, simply, a people who never existed at all. After all, as Winston Churchill — someone instrumental in the fate of the Palestinian people — told us, “History is written by the victors.”
These insidious tales weaponize our language, turning our prayers, Allahu akbar, into calls for violence, and our struggle, jihad, into a threat to humanity. Our cries for freedom and liberty, from the river to the sea, are twisted to suit an engineered narrative. Americans are told these stories as justification — that Palestinian death is an unfortunate, inevitable cost of safety.
The propaganda and misinformation making headlines today mimic stories told about oppressed peoples the world over. In America, false narratives are used to justify state-sanctioned violence against Black people and unjust laws against LGBTQ+ people. They were told about Jews in Europe and Japanese Americans during World War II. We continue to celebrate these falsehoods on holidays such as Thanksgiving on settler-colonized land.
The erroneous narratives about Palestinians are causing real harm to civilians who are being killed every day by U.S.-made weapons and to Arab and Muslim Americans who are being discriminated against and assaulted at an alarming rate. Many Jewish and Palestinian Americans are also being smeared and attacked as antisemitism is conflated with anti-Zionism.
It takes an elaborate story to persuade the world to look away from the massacre in Gaza happening before our eyes. Instead, make the choice to see our humanity and hear our stories.
Hannah Moushabeck, the author of “Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine,” is a second-generation Palestinian American editor and book marketer and is a co-owner of Interlink Publishing.