My family and I have just gotten back from a few days in a resort in the sea-side city of Aqaba in Jordan. We swam, we sat on the beach, we ate good food, we slept on clean, white sheets. It was lovely. it was luxury – and it was a little awkward.
To be able to travel even outside of one’s own city is a blessing, but being able to do so with peace of mind and security is just an added layer of fortune. Often, when I travel to these somewhat luxurious places, where staff tend to me while all I have to do is sit and enjoy myself, I feel a sense of underlying discomfort. I start to think…why is it I get to be here, on this beach, complaining about the speed of the hotel breakfast service, while others in Yemen eat paste made of grass just to survive? Why do I get to leave home and go back whenever I please, while Palestinians have been clutching their house keys for decades, waiting to return?
I won’t lie to you and say that these thoughts stop me from enjoying myself. I indulge in the luxury when I’m in it. Of course I do. But I try to keep in mind just how fortunate I really am. On this particular trip, I tried to maintain a healthy level of discomfort by watching a four-part documentary about the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. It was one of the first times I’d ever watched anything about the conflict happening in my region. This fact alone is pretty concerning. I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries before, but only ever about Western history. It made me realize how deeply I’ve internalized the idea that Western history is the only history, and how out of touch I really am.
As was intended, the documentary made me very uncomfortable – probably the most uncomfortable a documentary has ever made me feel, perhaps because I was learning about the tragedy endured in my own bloodline. Watching it only highlighted how strange and awkward it felt to see these establishments of luxury erected in the center of our war-torn region. I sat on the beach of the Red Sea and to my right could see Israel shimmering in the distance, beautiful and terrifying. It looked so real…like it had been there all along.
To sit and simply stare at it can make one feel pretty helpless, not to mention passive and useless. There is little the average person can do to change the circumstances of war, but we can at least educate ourselves, so that if we do indulge in these perhaps ill-timed luxuries, if we do lounge on a beach and happen to stare our ancestors’ oppressors in the face, we can at least see what stands before us with a little more insight.
See you soon.