To live under forced exile in the heart of my homeland or to live in voluntary exile as a resident alien—this is my choice. Either way, to be a stranger in a strange land.
By Sayed Kashua | The New York Review of Books | Aug 7, 2021
How can a young refugee forget his homeland if he lives with constant reminders that he is a foreign element, unwanted, even despised?
On the day my brother called, the local news reported a bear sighting in a backyard in Richmond Heights, the Missouri suburb where we live. Another round of fighting had broken out between Israelis and Palestinians, exactly seven years after the bloody cycle of 2014, which was the summer my wife and I decided to leave our home in Jerusalem. We were spurred by political despair and a loss of hope for a better future.
“Voluntary exile,” the experts call our decision, although I’m not sure I understand the meaning of exile in this particular case. What exactly are we exiled from—is it Palestine, or rather, the idea of Palestine? Or is it Israel, which has proved to its Palestinian citizens that even people who have never left their homes can be forced into a sense of exile? Or perhaps this “voluntary exile” is mostly the intense guilt that overcame me when my brother called on that morning of bloodshed and hatred in Israel–Palestine. Instead of offering further evidence that we’d made the right decision for ourselves and our children—because now we were not threatened by rockets, bombings, politicians, and angry mobs—what the latest war aroused was a feeling of distress and shame for not being there. I felt guilty about having fled my natural home, as it were: the place where I am supposed to belong.