“My baba left,” I would say to friends, who were still a little mystified I had moved by choice, “and now I’ve come back.” I could never stop myself from saying “back.” In a way, it makes no sense. I had never lived in Turkey before. But it acknowledges something that feels true: that the arcs of our stories stretch beyond our own lifetimes.
The “Palestine” we have grown attached to is simply not there waiting for us. Just as some Palestinian refugees still cling on to the heavy, rusty keys of homes they were expelled from in 1948, hoping to return some day and find life as they left it, we all adhere to an idea that is just as illusory today.
Will I give those challenging my way of life the benefit of the doubt, as I preached to my Turkish friends, or will I approach them with extreme suspicion?
Years later, after leaving the country and then returning as a journalist, I would ask fellow Syrians what they understood themselves to be. “What is Syria? Who is Syria?” I asked anyone who listened. “What does it mean to be a citizen of Syria?”