I was an infant during the Nakba, the 1948 catastrophe in Palestine. Growing up I heard many stories of pain and bitterness from my family, who were forced, along with 750,000 other Palestinians, to leave the homes, lands, lives and memories they had built for generations.
Now I face a similar Nakba, forced to leave the country and the life that I built for myself over 23 years in the US – the relationships, the memories and all the people I know and love, especially the women of Chicago’s Arab community.
But I will continue my struggle for justice for my people wherever I land. I will continue the struggle for the right of return, for self-determination and for the establishment of a democratic state on the entirety of the historic land of Palestine.
When I immigrated to this country and found myself in Chicago, after many years of working on women’s rights and other legal advocacy issues in the Arab world, I found psychological tranquility and stability amongst family and new friends, far away from any kind of fear or threats. I determined that this would be my second home, where I would build a life amongst a Palestinian community that I love and respect so dearly.
Community and struggle
I have been a community organizer for the past 13 years with the Arab Women’s Committee, a project of the Arab American Action Network. I have spent the best years of my life with these Arab immigrant and refugee women. We protect each other, and struggle for justice together through our organizing work. They are all helping me to live a generous and simple life, and forget a lot of my personal pain.
We created this committee from scratch; it now has over 700 members. The committee promotes leadership by and for Arab women, to build their capacity to fight for social change, and to challenge systems of oppression like racial profiling, sexism and patriarchy. We built a formation of immigrant and refugee women who fight for their own rights and the rights of all oppressed peoples.
We all have a role to play in our own cities, our own neighborhoods. Organizing is difficult. It’s hard work, but it’s the only thing that is guaranteed to make change in this world.
White people didn’t just decide to give up their power and allow people their civil rights. It was fought for in a Black-led movement that inspired the whole world, and it is still being fought for. Mubarak in Egypt didn’t just walk away quietly from his presidency. It took 10 million workers on strike to push him out, and that revolution is still not complete.
The Arab American Action Network was one of the leaders of the shutdown of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago the day after Trump’s Muslim Ban was announced. We helped get 5,000 people to that airport over two days, and thousands more shut down a number of other airports in the US.
Later that same weekend, a federal court froze that executive order, but it wouldn’t have happened without the mass movement in the streets. Trump lost Muslim Ban 2.0 as well, and the Republican bill to take healthcare away from millions, and he will lose many times more. Even though he said he was going to win more than any other president, he keeps losing because people in the US are in the streets resisting every single day.
Our role in Palestine’s liberation
Of course, Zionists aren’t going to stop their land grab in Palestine either. The Palestinians there — and the Palestinians and our supporters here — have to stop them with our resistance and our organizing. With boycott, divestment and sanctions – including the cultural and academic boycott of Israel. With challenging the Jewish United Fund in Chicago, and with shutting down Zionists when they try to defend their war crimes. With defending our students and our community-based institutions and our organizers and our allies when they get attacked.
Many hundreds of Palestinians and our supporters in the US have had to face government repression because of our organizing for peace and justice, and it is important that all of you continue your activism despite the attacks, because we are doing effective work in this country that is having an impact. Our community organizations, our student organizers, our academics, our solidarity activists — all exposing Israel for the criminal, apartheid state that it is.
There is a long history of repression against oppressed communities in this country. Law enforcement goes after those, like the Black liberation movement and so many others, who are fighting for social justice, those who want to make a difference in the world.
We are those people, and we will be targeted, but we should understand that we have the support of millions of others around the world who share our vision of historical Palestine liberated from Zionism, where all Palestinian refugees can return to their original homes, and where everyone there can live together with dignity and equal rights.
I am going to have to leave the life I have built for more than a decade at some point in the next few months. I am going to have to leave Chicago and all the beautiful people who have welcomed me so warmly to this country and this city. But I will still be organizing wherever I end up.
And I’ll be watching developments in the US very closely, because besides Palestine, this is the main front of the battle for the liberation of my homeland. And liberation we will win.
This essay is adapted from speeches delivered by Rasmea Odeh at the Crossroads Fund Seeds of Change event on 31 March 2017 and at the Jewish Voice for Peace national conference on 2 April 2017.
Rasmea Odeh is Associate Director of the Arab American Action Network.