It was a Monday morning, our first class in national security and strategic studies.
Right off the bat, our professor asked us about the recent incident between Israel and Palestine. I was taken aback because I had no idea that such a matter just happened. As the only Muslim in the room, I imagined the entire room’s gaze shift on me because it was one of the things I was expected to know. We spent the following days preparing for another subject which required a thorough understanding of the concepts and readings given by the professor. Among the readings were the Srebrenica massacre and Rohingya crisis, two more cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing committed against Muslims.
I remember telling my friend that I felt guilty about being unaware of the Srebrenica massacre because I carry this unimposed responsibility to be informed about the matters happening in and against the Muslim community. She responded by asking my age to which I replied “20.” She looked at me, the kind of look that allowed me to understand that I was too young to bear this responsibility of knowing everything. Certainly, I could learn more during my 20s and figure out how to be of help along the way. Indeed, this is not about me, and although I find myself questioning the purpose of my existence as a 20-year-old Muslim in the Philippines, I remind myself that this is not just about me.
For the long weekend, I had a chance to go home. I was looking forward to a week of rest and relaxation because my peace should not be disturbed in the comforts of our own home. During my third night, I went to bed late because I played for hours as a form of relaxation. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and my mother was sleeping so I had no difficulty falling into slumber. Ten minutes passed, and she woke up and decided to open her social media filled with videos of bombings in Palestine, people trapped under the rubble, and crying children with no one to look after them. It was one video after another and with the volume maxed, it was impossible to sleep again. I wanted to tell her to lessen the volume or to wear earphones instead because it was too loud for me, but no words came out of my mouth.
Honestly, I was emotionally drained and physically tired because of studying the previous weeks. After all, the cases we have been reading are historical accounts of genocides and murders with two of them I even connected to on a personal level because the victims were Muslims. But how do I tell my mother to stop watching these heartbreaking and gut-wrenching videos of Palestinians because I am too tired? How can I even find it in my heart to lay in a warm bed at night and complain of crying victims when these Palestinians have only known constant bombings and suffering their entire lives? I could not.
The urge to scroll away from these videos is fueled by the helpless feeling that I cannot do anything to pull them from under collapsed buildings or protect them from these attacks. However, watching and sharing these clips is also one of the only ways to stand in solidarity with them. Helplessness, I learned, is an unshakeable feeling that will always resurface with every news of a bombing airstrike or with every name added to the long list of innocent lives taken by people in power who like to play God. Helplessness is knowing that with every bomb dropped on the already destroyed roofs of our Muslim brothers and sisters, a part of me will also die with them. However, I refuse to simply coexist with helplessness inside my being. I do not want to be a bystander while people are dying. Helplessness is not the act of surrendering to it.
I remind myself that while a part of me is always with them, a huge part of me remains here in the Philippines where I am hoping to make a significant contribution to the community.
The atrocities committed against the Palestinians may have reminded me of contentment in the life I have but it also taught me how both cruelty and hope reside within humanity. I am eternally moved by the picture of a young girl in tattered clothes, covered in dirt and wounds with fear and hope in her eyes because she survived an airstrike and yet it is far from over. I shall always be here, finding ways to be of help. For now, I pray that from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.
Sofia Elham Ellison, 20, is a fourth-year political science student who finds comfort in writing.