The last time I prayed in Jerusalem was four years ago. I pressed my forehead onto the warm stone of the al-Aqsa Mosque and whispered, “Glory be to God, the most High.” Before I left, I made another prayer that the next time I was here, my grandparents would be by my side.
In 1948, my maternal grandparents were forcibly displaced from Palestine during the war. My grandmother walked on foot from Jaffa, now Tel Aviv, to Cairo. My paternal grandparents fled their village on a sticky July evening after Zionist paramilitary members murdered my great uncle on his wedding night. All four of my grandparents lived a life of dispossession, in refugee camps and constant exile.
When I returned from my trip to Palestine in 2017, granted to me by virtue of my American citizenship, I had to recount every detail to my grandparents, who listened intently with tears in their eyes.
Visiting Palestine as a Palestinian American was a transformative experience. It was not only emotional to visit the cities that my grandparents were born in and to pray in its holiest sites — it was also enraging to witness firsthand the level of oppression and injustice perpetrated against my people.
A few nights ago, I stayed glued to my phone screen watching Palestinian worshipers in al-Aqsa be assaulted by Israeli soldiers while praying on one of the holiest nights of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. I didn’t sleep a single second that night — I was paralyzed, constantly refreshing my Twitter feed and trying to keep count of injuries and arrests.
Watching this violence unfold via Instagram Stories and tweets has been a disillusioning experience for me, and for many other Palestinians in the diaspora. It became part of my family’s Ramadan tradition to break our fasts by using Instagram to follow the stories of Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd, siblings from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem. The brother and sister are facing forced eviction from the home their family has lived in for generations at the hands of fanatic settlers protected by the Israeli military.
I heeded the call of the El-Kurd siblings, which was to speak out whenever and wherever I could about the plight of Sheikh Jarrah on social media. From my family’s home in seacoast New Hampshire — while attempting to complete my final papers as a graduate student and my work as a researcher — I tweeted, reposted, shared and wrote nonstop. Earlier this month, when the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah went viral, I realized in horror that many of the Instagram Stories I had posted had disappeared. My friends experienced this too. Social media platforms suddenly began removing content related to Palestine, later claiming that removals were due to a “technical issue.”
It felt like a slap in the face to know that the very platforms that I and others were utilizing to amplify the voices of our people and tell our stories were ultimately censoring us, no matter what their claimed intentions were. We all doubled down.
As I was dealing with the heartbreak that comes with watching children in Gaza be murdered by Israeli airstrikes, I also began enduring a torrent of online harassment; troll accounts called me a terrorist, claimed I was antisemitic, threatened me with violence, promised to get me fired from my job and expelled from my graduate program. And while this was nauseating, it was not anything new for me: Being a Palestinian woman online who has advocated for Palestinian freedom and rights before this most recent outbreak of violence has always made me a target.
Another part of me feels immense survivor’s guilt for watching the horror unfolding in Palestine from the comfort of my home, behind a screen. Were it not for utter chance, I could have very easily been born in a refugee camp and experiencing the violence plaguing Palestinians now.
But overwhelmingly, I feel pride and hope. I am proud of my people, who protested while fasting by day against Israel terrorizing Sheikh Jarrah residents, and broke their fasts at night while singing in front of the same settlers and soldiers — sending them a clear message that they would never leave their homes and land.
I am also hopeful. I am hopeful because for the first time in my adult life, I am watching Americans, from neighbors to celebrities, wake up. They’re reposting Palestinian content. They’re reaching out to me, asking what they can do to support Palestinians during this time. They’re in solidarity with a people who have been so dehumanized by American mainstream media that up until recently, it was generally acceptable to call children killed in Gaza “collateral damage” and “human shields.”
I am hopeful because while the images of suffering online are plentiful, so too are the images of thousands of Palestinians across historic Palestine, in Haifa, Nazareth and Jaffa, protesting and refusing to be silenced.
I am hopeful because I truly believe that within my lifetime, I will take my grandparents to al-Aqsa Mosque to pray with me.
Nooran Alhamdan is a master’s student at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University and a graduate research fellow at the Middle East Institute.