Being a Palestinian-American

Ibraheem Samirah (SDM, '17) is an active member in BU SJP (Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine). He’s finishing up his dental degree and now is wondering where to take his life, and what to do with his activism. Currently, he participates in a local campaign to boycott HP products and works with SJP at a local, regional and national level.  

At one of SJP’s events, The Palestinian Cultural night, Ibraheem shared his story about leaving the United States when he was younger and coming back.  

Q: You talked about your story at the Palestinian cultural night; can you reiterate that for me? 

A: I moved to Jordan when I was younger. My father was not allowed entry in the United States after 9/11, as he was seen as a security threat for being Muslim and an activist. He was registering Muslim Americans to vote and lobbying politicians for Muslim needs. Back then, Islamophobia was strong and there was no defense for Muslim-Americans. He wanted to bring about Palestinian rights and Muslim-American rights. He had legal rights, but was informed that he was a threat to national security.   

After this, Ibraheem and his family moved to Jordan, where he described his first couple of years as rough. He had trouble communicating with the people there. He was also adapting to the fact that he would not be able to experience his teen years in the United States or play for his basketball team again – for which he scored the winning shot just a few weeks before he left. However, he grew to love Jordan. He was able to use his love for basketball, and make friends who were also Palestinian-Americans, thus finding his way into society and finding his Jordanian identity. It was there where he decided to become a dentist – after he figured that he couldn’t become an NBA player. He wanted to do something hands-on, and give immediate relief, using science in a beneficial way.  

Q: Why did you want to share your story that night? 

A: I have always been afraid to share it. I’m at the end of my journey to develop myself, as I'm graduating, and it’s time to just let it out. I haven’t been able to vent, I didn’t want to fail my people. It was the last time I was going to help put on the cultural night, so I wanted to inspire the Palestinians there who were in the same situation – that it is possible to become the doctor, dentist, whatever, despite the discrimination we face. There’s nobody who will free Palestine but Palestinians. I wanted to draw parallels by being a Palestinian and living in Jordan while being American, and being Palestinian-American in the United States. I wanted to explain how those two identities interacted. I was discriminated against in the U.S. for being Palestinian and a Muslim. In Jordan, I was discriminated for being American and for being Palestinian. I wanted to explain how that reflected on me, how it brought me to being active as a Palestinian in the United States.  

Q: How do you feel about not being able to go back to Palestine, and instead having to go to Jordan? 

A: It hurt me a lot. I was raised with a strong Palestinian identity, and my parents not being able to go there, well, it made me want to go on my own. I didn’t know that I could go until about the 10th grade, due to my citizenship. I went to Jerusalem for the first time with my grandparents – it was their last visit. My grandfather was a direct refugee of the Palestinian occupation, and he refused to visit again after that first time. I visited a total of four times after that, and I would cry endlessly – I can go there but my family cannot. It became too painful for me to visit, to the point that I prayed that I wouldn’t go there until it’s free.   

Q: How was your experience readjusting to U.S.? 

A: I came back by myself in 2009 for undergrad at American University in DC. I was studying political science and made amazing friends. I faced a cultural shock by being thrust into this college culture, with greek life and so many diverse view-points. However, 11% of my school was international, which helped a lot. I made friends from all over the world, which helped me learn who I was. DC was a great place for me to come to, a place where so many people are coming in and doing great things.  

Q: What drove you to become an active member of SJP? 

A: It’s hard to be Palestinian. Your parents tell you to not get involved in something that may harm your life, like activism. But it keeps me real with myself, keeps me close to my emotions and my people by seeing them at events. It actually kept me focused on studying, since it could have cost me my education. The procrastination that everyone gets could be solved by being active.  

Whether it be with his activism or his dental career (or both), we know Ibraheem Samirah will go on to do great things.