At the beginning of the year, in my first university class, we all began to introduce ourselves.
“Kamel,” I said. “Palestinian refugee.”
Eyes widened around me. Then somebody said, “What are you doing here? Haven’t you people done enough to us?”
I was shocked to hear that. It was the first time I had faced a situation like this. An hour later, the lecture ended and we all filed out into the courtyard. I tried to find the student who had asked me that question. I felt I must find out what he had meant. What have I done to be spoken to like that? Why did he say it after I mentioned that I am Palestinian?
I didn’t find him, but I did find an explanation. Another student told me that he was a Lebanese Christian whose grandfather was killed by Palestinian factions in Lebanon. Now, this young man considered every Palestinian as a party to the killing. And instead of prosecuting his grandfather’s killer, he found all Palestinians guilty and turned to fanaticism against all of us.
I thought about what I had learned. I tried to find a way that he and I could communicate – or at least to avoid any conflict for the rest of the year. I tried in vain. I couldn’t find a way for us to connect.
In the last days of the semester, I discovered that I would be sitting right behind this student during an exam. I became very nervous. On exam day, my steps were heavy as I made my way to the exam hall. Worries weighed down my mind. When the exam started, I saw the student staring at me out of the corner of his eye. I saw violence in his face.
An hour into this exam, I looked up to see him covered in confusion. “I did not prepare for this question,” he said under his breath. “I’m going to fail!”
Would he accept my help? What should I do?
With no forewarning, I pulled on the hem of his shirt and gave him the correct answer. He looked astonished. He wrote the answer down without saying a word.
After we finished the exam, he came towards me with a cup of tea in his hand and thanked me, then said in a sorrowful voice, “You’re the Palestinian, right? I’ve been seeing you all as enemies.”
Then: “I’m having a dinner party tonight at my house, and you’re invited!” he continued. “I’ll be waiting to see you there.”
LEBANON: OUR STORY
Kamel’s story is just one of many in the newly-published Lebanon: Our Story book, which brings together the stories shared by young people at the Storytelling Club, in both Arabic and English. The stories are vulnerable, powerful, and filled with hope. To find out more about Lebanon Our Story project and to download your copy of the book, click here.
Image by @halayalex on Freepik