1 – My jiddo fled genocide in Palestine so I could be free

Cw: murder, Palestinian genocide 

By Laila/Laiq R. Makled

In 1948, at the age of seven, my jiddo (grandpa in Arabic), his parents, and his six siblings were forced to flee from their home in Haifa, Palestine. A few years ago, my jiddo told me his memories of standing on a balcony, seeing naked dead neighbors in the streets, hearing screams in the distance, children “going crazy” because their families were gone. That morning, they ran for their lives to the Mediterranean.

My family was privileged and wealthy: They owned an olive oil mill and property in Palestine, so they had resources to flee and survive for some period of time.

When they got to Sur, Lebanon, my great grandmother, Badrieh Al Khamra, started to sell her jewelry to keep everyone fed. This kept my family alive for a while, but after five months, it was gone, and everyone started to starve.

So, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, they got on a cattle train to Aleppo, Syria. The trip took a few days. Eventually, they arrived in Aleppo, where they stayed for six months, before settling in Damascus, Syria. What ultimately helped pull our family from starvation to survival were two things: My great grandfather, Ahmed Izzat Taha, spoke English and also had a college degree.

It was incredibly hard for Palestinians to get jobs at the time, so having an education meant everything to my family. And for the Tahas, they experienced how a degree could mean the difference between having dinner and not. Over his life, my great grandfather published and translated 46 books, including The Oregon Trail and Cheaper by the Dozen.

In 1959, my jiddo Nabil Ahmed Izzat Taha was accepted to Purdue University with less than $20 to his name. He worked as a dishwasher making 80 cents an hour to pay for school and housing. In 1964, while at a church event to get some food, he met my grandma: Sharon Elizabeth Hood, a young white, Baptist, small town girl from Texas. Not long after that, on February 24, 1965, my mom Rhoda Nabil Taha Makled was born in Baytown, Texas to a white Baptist mom and Muslim Palestinian dad.

My grandma’s unexpected pregnancy forced both families to reckon with how they were going to integrate their lives — and so they did. My grandma not only supported my jiddo, the father of her child, in becoming a citizen, but many of his other siblings as well: writing Congress, filling out immigration paperwork, etc. And on March 6, 1969, under the affirmation and witness of my maternal great grandparents, Earl Winfred Hood and Elaina Marie Hood, my jiddo was recognized as a United States Citizen by the District Court of the United States in Houston, Texas.

This narrative of a wealthy family, turned poverty stricken refugees, turned American Dream may seem like the inspiring story the colonizer propaganda machine wants us to hear. But this story continues to be marked by tragedy.

With a darkness looming over him, I can hear my jiddo saying to me: “I am completely broken at this point.”

The impact of this apartheid, of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, continues to impact this generation and generations to come. Genocide carries itself in our bodies, beckoning us to tend to its healing and to honor the pain and devastation it has caused. Every few months, when Palestine is in a news cycle, we are forced to relive the trauma our family went through while watching other families continue to suffer. It’s incredibly painful to witness, and all people who come from Palestinian bloodlines are survivors of this tragedy. Regardless of what’s in the news, my jiddo, now nearly 85 years old, still gets night terrors.

I called my mom the other day to let her know I was writing this piece and to check in with her about how she’s feeling about the news. She was struggling, talking about how her whole life she has felt so confused and hurt and disconnected from the struggles in her heart about Palestine. She told me when she read this essay that I put words to feelings she has long struggled to put words to. This is what she wrote to me after our conversation:

“In a world where colonization still draws painful borders around Indigenous lives, through silent echoes of the past and loud clamors of the present, the narrative of my dad’s shattered dream and unyielding survival stands as a testament. It is a soul-stirring reminder of the human spirit’s unyielding flame, burning fiercely amidst the chilling winds of conquest, illuminating the paths of resistance for generations to come.”

In the spring of 1992, I was born to a Muslim Lebanese dad and my mom. Today, 31 years later, and 75 years after my family escaped the Nakba, I live on Confederate Villages of Lisjan territory in Oakland, California. On Trans Day of Visibility this past year, I posted a photo of me after top surgery, talking about what it means to me to be trans. This is what my jiddo said:

My jiddo fled genocide by Israel in 1948, and I get to be free as a transgender person with access to things like gender affirming care and community in 2023. My jiddo always tells me he is proud of me for just being me, and I truly believe him when he says that. He has endured so much, and to see his grandchild live in such a loving and fulfilling way, is a dream come true for him.

A few months ago, when I asked my jiddo if he considered me a Palestinian, he said, “nothing would honor me more.” 

That is why I’m sharing this story. I carry my Palestinian elders and ancestors in my heart and body everywhere I go. It is not a separate part of me; it is me. It is part of where I come from. I come from the land and people of Palestine. I am a transgender Palestinian.

A free Palestine means a freer world. Wall-shattering resistance from Palestinians is a direct result of 70+ years of colonization, land theft, occupation, and apartheid. It is the result of traumatized, imprisoned, and oppressed people fighting back.

Do not be silent. Have conversations with people in your life. Call and email your legislators and demand a cease fire. It matters when you stand in solidarity with people as they fight against militarized and global forces that want them extinct, especially when those forces are backed by biased mainstream media.

I hold all oppressed people fighting for liberation in my heart. Black liberation, sex worker liberation, Indigenous sovereignty, transgender liberation, Palestinian liberation — it is all intertwined as we aim to decolonize and return home. 

I read this piece to my jiddo before publishing, and I asked if there’s anything he wanted me to add. With a glimmer of hope in his eyes, this is what he said:

“We [Palestinians] are not going away. We’re in this world to stay, and the world is going to have to deal with us.”