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Identity and its Connection to Belonging

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What does identity mean? What makes us who we are?

Many factors ranging from personality traits to nationality make us who we are and build up our identity, but what does identity actually mean? We are all unique and can have various qualities, different beliefs, personalities, religions and places of birth. All of these factors influence and make up an individual’s identity. These traits and influences in our lives builds both our character and identity, making us the person we are.

Why is identity so important to us and who we are?

Having all these traits and factors that differentiate us allows us to develop our own image that we present to the world – a version that we are and want to be. With this, it enables us to seek out a strong sense of identity. This brings us a sense of comfort and security into our lives, making us feel like we have control. We know who we are and what we what and so therefore it makes it easy for us to feel a sense of belonging and connection with others.

While these influences create a positive impact on our identity, many events and other elements can impact the way we see ourselves and, conversely, create negative feelings. This can lead us to question our identity and place within the world. These negative influences can be considered dangerous as it can lead to an individual facing an identity crisis, losing sense of themselves and possibly putting themselves at risk or harm’s way. 

Palestine and being a Palestinian:

As a Palestinian refugee, I have faced many struggles within myself and my identity and, as I grow, I develop a stronger sense of identity. Despite this, certain influences can frequently result in me struggling with my identity. Being a refugee alone can make you feel disregarded and alone. This is further exemplified through being Palestinian, as we are constantly faced with being told that there is no such thing as Palestine – that it never existed at all – putting our very identities into question. 

On the one hand, this can lead to feeling disenfranchised and lacking a sense of belonging. On the other, for others this may motivate them to fight and raise awareness of this marginalization, thus, creating a stronger sense of identity. Facing this internal battle growing up meant I often struggled to ever feel a sense of belonging towards Palestine. Perhaps this was exacerbated by the fact that I hadn’t seen it and had only heard stories, meaning I felt less of a connection to this part of my identity. However, as I grew, I began to learn about – and eventually visited – Palestine, which put this into perspective for me. 

Identity and nationality are always parts of an individual and having that being taken away from you creates a feeling of abandonment, as though you are not part of society. This is a key challenge faced by many within our society, ranging from racism to states being occupied, to people being expelled and becoming refugees. As a Palestinian, we were brought up to always fight, believe and be proud of being a Palestinian, as well as to never forget about Palestine or that part of our identity. Mahmoud Darwish, a famous Palestinian poet, displays this feeling and resistance within his poem ‘ID Card’ which depicts a Palestinian victim being interrogated by Zionist oppressors and asserting their identity ‘ I am an Arab.. I am a name without a title’. Many Palestinians can unfortunately relate to this poem and hold a strong connection to the voice, having faced similar experiences to the victim.

During today’s climate, there has been an increase attention towards the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and for the first time ever, Palestinian voices have been amplified. Furthermore, their identity has been made known to the world, exposing the crimes committed against them due to the apartheid state. This increase in support and awareness has enabled the Palestinians to feel more connected and understood with the struggles that they have faced with their nationality and being identified as Palestinian. For me, my understanding of my own identity as both a Palestinian and a refugee has allowed me to learn and move on from struggle with my identity, view my identity as way of resistance to the occupation and keep the connection strong within myself for my homeland.

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