Bayan Khaled, a research fellow at HBKU, talks about her first trip back to her homeland
Bayan Khaled’s family is Palestinian. But in 1948, her grandparents were thrown out of their homeland, and forced to flee. At that point, all they had were travel documents. And it wasn’t until they migrated to Canada that they were finally given passports, and with them, freedom – and the opportunity to return home.
“We went on our first-ever family trip to Palestine in 2018, and it was only because we had been given Canadian passports,” said Khaled, a Qatar Foundation (QF) graduate, and a research fellow at the College of Islamic Studies at QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). “It's ridiculous that we have to enter our own country with a different passport.”
Khaled is a proud Palestinian-Canadian. She was born and raised in Qatar and studied Business administration at QF partner university Carnegie Mellon University Qatar (CMU-Q), but halfway through the course, she discovered that she had a keen interest in journalism.
“I feel very passionate about the Palestinian cause. Therefore, I wanted to become a journalist. I did my master's in journalism – it’s how I want to tell my stories, and the stories of others.”
For Khaled, her visit to Palestine was not like any other normal trip, so she decided to capture her trip on film. “I decided to make a documentary, but I was also mentally preparing myself that this may be the first and the last time I ever visit Palestine, because if this documentary goes viral, there is a high possibility they won't let me enter ever again.”
There, Palestinian people are not allowed to say anything or do anything. At least on the Palestinian side, they can hang the Palestinian flag on their homes and can teach their children the truth. But on the occupied side, everything that is supportive of Palestine happens in secret
Khaled said that although that thought was sad, it was at the same time empowering. “Because I was going for a purpose. I was going to see my country of origin, see my people, see the truth, and document it for the rest of the world to see as well.”
On her trip, Khaled noticed that Israeli soldiers emphasized that the land did not belong to the Palestinian people, and that they needed to be careful and not get comfortable.
“Honestly, while I was there, it was much harder than I expected. Seeing the Israeli soldiers with their machine guns, marching back and forth, monitoring the surroundings, and staring at us trying to tell us that we don't belong here, was hard,” Khalid said. “This is the message they send us with their looks and their behavior towards us.”
Khaled spent a few days on the occupied side, and she observed that there were no soldiers wandering around because everyone there is either a Palestinian with an Israeli passport or an Israeli soldier.
I respect those people because I was there only for two days and it was so hard for me. I cannot imagine what living there must be like
“There, Palestinian people are not allowed to say anything or do anything. At least on the Palestinian side, they can hang the Palestinian flag on their homes and can teach their children the truth. But on the occupied side, everything that is supportive of Palestine happens in secret.”
Khaled pointed out that the women get discriminated against because they wear the hijab as they’re Muslim and not Jewish. “They get interrogated on their way to work. But despite all that, they’re continuing to stay, because they're making a point to say that we are here and we're not going away,” Khaled said.
“I respect those people because I was there only for two days and it was so hard for me. I cannot imagine what living there must be like. It was obviously nice to see my homeland for the first time, but it was extremely uncomfortable.”
The more they try to strip us from Palestine, the harder we will fight for Palestine, and the stronger we'll feel connected to Palestine
Khaled has created her documentary Tourists in our Homeland in a mini-series format. It has five episodes, covering topics such as the country’s history, the current situation, and information about the different types of Palestinians around the world, including those in Palestine.
“In my documentary, I give the audience a tour of the country, of both the occupied and non-occupied sides. I tell them what the situation is like for the Palestinians in both areas, and how the Israelis treat them.”
Her manager at HBKU had been following her journey in Palestine, and he liked how she was documenting her trip. “My manager was creating a list of projects, and one of them was writing a children's book that needed to be on a specific topic, and I thought, what better topic than refugees,” Khaled said.
Palestinians are very resilient people, proud, patriotic, and they will continue to fight and will not stop until Palestine is free
So, she started writing to tell children around the world that there are refugees, and how important it is to be generous and kind to them because, most likely, they would be in new and unfamiliar places having a hard time adapting to a new life. The book titled "One Box, Many Hearts" was published by HBKU Press.
“It is rare to have a book that talks about something that involves an Arab audience, especially the ones written in English as they're catered more toward a Western audience,” she said.
“My father was a refugee, and so I feel very passionate about topics related to refugees and about the Palestinian cause. Defining the refugee or explaining the Palestinian cause is not just my duty as a Palestinian, it automatically makes it my duty as a human.”
When there is some form of injustice happening in the world, she can’t just sit back, relax, and say nothing, Khaled said.
“Over the last few weeks, and the huge social media attention around the crisis, now it's no longer a taboo subject to talk about what is happening in Palestine. People are more open and more courageous to talk about this, especially in the Western world. Everyone can see that it’s more of a humanitarian issue than a political one.
“We had something so precious stolen from us – even if it wasn't stolen from us personally, it was stolen from our grandparents or our parents. We feel even more strongly about it. The more they try to strip us from Palestine, the harder we will fight for Palestine, and the stronger we'll feel connected to Palestine.
“Palestinians are very resilient people, proud, patriotic, and they will continue to fight and will not stop until Palestine is free,” Khaled said.