A letter and tribute to a former friend who taught me everything I know about Palestine, injustice, and the fight against it.

Dear Ramzi,

I am home now, but I had started writing this letter to you in Bethlehem, Palestine. I don’t know if I want to send this to you…I’m nervous to. I heard you’ve been doing well — I understand you have a girlfriend now and are working on an app? Aren’t there enough apps already? Good God, enough is enough.

I don’t want to send this to you, or rather I am hesitant to, as I don’t want to reignite any unpleasant feelings that — you mentioned in the final weeks of our friendship — you wanted to reconcile for the time being. I hope you are living with a bit more peace within your mind now.

I think of you a lot. Some days I feel anger towards you. During those days I go on an internal tirade about how very difficult you made our friendship at times. I think about Halloween, and you storming off the subway (as I like to imagine you did to more perfectly fit this “angry” narrative of mine). During these days, I feel okay that you are out of my life and that I rid myself of the mental frustration I felt talking to you at times. Increasingly more times than less, towards the end of our friendship.

Then there are days like this. Days where I soberly understand that I kicked out the one person from my life who very likely is the sole person I will have ever met to have transformed me in this gargantuan way. The only person — above my parents, above my friends, above any teacher I have had — who taught me to live my life unabashedly and unapologetically seeking justice for those with a voice to whom the world pretends to be deaf. You were the only one to teach me — for the first time in my life — to question the things I’ve been indoctrinated to believe. I wager I angered you at times in our conversations. As a brown female, I spent 25 years of my life not meaningfully questioning anything I was told to be true. About capitalism being the most tenable societal system. About America being “the greatest country in the world”. ‘America the Beautiful’ and the wars she wages to spread democracy. And of course, Israel and Palestine- the good ol’ “Israel-Palestine ‘conflict’”, so very analogous to that infamous “Pilgrim-Native conflict” where both sides of equal measure simply couldn’t figure out how to get along. I never challenged the whitewashed ideas and mistruths that were taught to me, mistruths I likely regurgitated to you. Not because I wasn’t smart or empathetic enough to see through them, but because I felt I wasn’t superior enough to. In my subconscious, I understood that I was a brown female who wasn’t meant to take up any space in the world, that my thoughts and emotions didn’t have much weight, that the very people who taught me these things were surely much smarter than I could ever be, and that they must be right. Who was *I* to question *them*? Even so, I apologize for putting you through that.

I’ve lost a bit of faith in the people who taught me to live for myself and leave that silly, menial, non-intellectual work of service for others to bother with. I’ve lost faith in my whitewashed school textbooks. I’ve lost faith in the system that lasered into me the only important thing in life is material success. I’ve overcome this and many of my past insecurities, I know that I and each one of us was meant for so much more than this. And so my fight begins. In a large part thanks to you. I always knew I wanted to live my life in service to others, but I never fully understood that much of that service could be rendered obsolete if the injustice that brought about inequitable conditions — like poverty and powerlessness — could be ended in the first place. You taught me that band-aid solutions like donations and volunteerism were okay in the short-run, but they were just that — short-run. The reason I mentally dismantle the concepts of settler colonialism, apartheid, war, and capitalism are because of you — you taught me that to dismantle these things would be the ultimate, completed form of service to others. If only I could just upend the sickened human nature that begets all of this. Because I cannot, I sometimes feel hopeless.

In days like this, I cry a lot, thinking about you and who you were in my life. I don’t necessarily think these are sad days. These days are the days I feel most alive — understanding that life is meant to be a lot more than experiencing happiness and comfort allowed by blissful ignorance. I go back and forth between wishing you were back in my life and having the most wonderful conversations with you, and maintaining my mental sanity. As much as I’m aligned with you on everything you taught me now, I worry that the issues that fractured us would resurface. And for that, it’s unlikely we’ll ever be friends again, and I have now made peace with that.

I felt conflicted being in Palestine. By virtue of possessing a blue booklet filled with quotes of venerated slaveholders and images of mountains and valleys stolen from the indigenous — my US passport — I was granted a right of return to a land I was never even from. Our collective humanities have only been extended to us via these passports and cards. I think about this little blue booklet only when I hop on a plane to the Caribbean islands to “get away from all the stress” of school. I only think of my license when I cheerfully get carded at the bar. Every single day in Palestine, I heard people speak of cards — cards were life there. Palestinian cards. Israeli cards granted to some Palestinians. Refugee cards. Most of these cards shackling most Palestinians to a life that is to be understood as nothing short of hell on Earth. Quarantined to open cages. Permanently traumatized under the psychological torment of waiting for the next house raid, the next tear gas bombing, the next detainment of a child to punish resisting parents, the next time the faucet to the water tank shuts off, the next denial of crossing through a checkpoint, the next bombing of Gaza. But obviously, you know all this. You were the one who told me all of this to begin with. You were the one who inspired me to go when I heard my school had a dedicated trip to Palestine so students could see for themselves what life under occupation looks like.

I visited a refugee camp in Bethlehem called Dheishesh, and a refugee woman had your eyes. Farah, the student who started the PalTrek trip at my school also reminds me of you. There was even a small restaurant we passed by one day called Ramzi Burger! But I find you in many things. In the walls with writings of resistance I saw in Nablus. In the Mediterranean Sea which your family never had access to from Tel Aviv. Every emotion felt…every tear shed in witnessing and thinking of this hell that is occupation ultimately traces back to you.

I went to Hebron, and I understood what “no freedom of movement” meant when I saw a Palestinian child being withheld by an IDF soldier from walking down the same deserted street as us. In Hebron I witnessed the systemic racism Palestinians face daily, when the soldiers saw brown faces in my group and only allowed us to proceed to the grassy area 50 feet away if we answered the question “Are you Muslim?” I went to Nabi Saleh, and I saw the tear gas bombs that soldiers hurl at Ahed Tamimi’s house whenever they so please, sometimes over a thousand in a day. The Tamimi’s had hung up the remaining canisters in their front yard in an almost decorated fashion — their very own ornaments of oppression. The family was gracious enough to invite us into their home, where Janna Jihad, the “world’s youngest journalist”, showed us videos of the Tamimi’s defiant weekend protests. I went to the Jordan Valley and I saw those ugly encroaching settlements from a distance, snaking strategically around the valley to bring this 72-year old ethnic cleansing project to completion. The very project you were the first one to ever educate me on. An education I had most likely brought upon myself by sharing some whitewashed talking point I had learned in my 7th grade social studies class in Indiana. I am so sorry for re-traumatizing you with the same propagandist garbage the “land of the free” uses to ensure that Palestine won’t be. I am so very sorry for all of this, but I am very aware that my apologies, tears, empathy, and even my solidarity, as well meaning as they may be, will never be enough.

When I last saw you on Halloween, I was dressed up as Dustin from Stranger Things, and I had borrowed your flashlight for my costume, which I ended up keeping as I never got a chance to return it to you. I still have your mask and the bloody Supreme Court picture too. I went to the Dead Sea, a place I’m fully aware I shouldn’t even be able to go to as some rando American so as long as the Palestinian bus driver that brought me there couldn’t. I felt so guilty being there, I couldn’t find the heart to go into the water. I didn’t want to enjoy something I knew so many couldn’t — simply because of who they were. But I took your flashlight to the sea and left it there, so that a part of you that I carried with me lives on in your homeland indefinitely.

I am moving out of NYC soon. I likely am going to end up in India, at least for a while. But lets see! Looking forward to finding out what’s in store for me soon. If I do move to India, there’s a whole lot of fascism I’ll be fighting against there, too. You taught me that these systems of oppression are always interconnected.

I hope this letter serves as some form of closure between us. I’m so sorry our last conversation ended the way it did — I apologize, and I hope you can find some way to forgive me. I wish you the best on your app (this had better be a really good app, seriously, there are just too many out there) and I hope you’re in a much better place now. I hear that you are, which is why I most likely will never send you this letter, which I know would resurface a lot of ugly things.

If there’s only one message I would want you to receive, it’s this —

Thank you for everything you taught me. For dispelling so many mistruths for me — on Palestine, on systems of oppression and how “civility” will never end them. For inspiring me to resist. You revolutionized so much of who I am, and I’m reminded of your tireless effort to reeducate all your ignorant friends on Palestine and all forms of injustice. I recount on how much you inspired your brother when he was growing up, too, into being the fearless fighter for Palestine he is today. No matter what you are doing in your life right now, know that you have been such an exceptionally influential advocate for justice. And you were a good friend. The loveliest revolutionary I ever got to know.

Love,

Aparna

hey young world, the world is yours