Hazem Youness is Palestinian-Syrian, currently living in Sweden. Here, he introduces himself in terms of his sense of identity:
If you’d asked me this question twenty years ago, I would have said: I am Hazem, a Palestinian from Haifa, born in Yarmouk Camp. Today, I say: I am Hazem, who has a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother and who is a Swedish citizen. For me, religion is something private that exists between me and my God, and I don’t consider it part of my identity.
He goes on:
When I remember Syria, I think about the Palestine intelligence branch. My father was in the PLO, and he was forced to flee Syria to Yemen. Ten years later we returned to Syria, and the security forces were always present. After that, I fell in love with a girl of Palestinian origin, but she was raised in Syria, and so I saw it through her. I began to feel more strongly the lie of borders and fixed identity, and being Palestinian and Syrian at once didn’t exist as an identity. But the camp influenced my Palestinian identity; I always tried to make clear that I am Palestinian. Today in Sweden I feel like a citizen with more rights than the ones we had in Syria. When you’re Syrian it’s difficult enough to travel so imagine you’re a Syrian refugee. You have a problem with the security forces always, and this impacted the issue of my identity. But after my nationality changed, I was able to enter countries that refused to welcome me. Herein lies the relationship between the tangible and intangible in one’s identity: the same person, the same human, the same name, and yet once you change the ID papers, the way people see you changes. With this new Swedish identity I can no longer say that I belong 100% to the country where I was born and raised.
On how the conflict has impacted his identity as a Syrian:
What happened in Syria ten years ago filled me with pride, and made me more attached to my Palestinian identity, especially when the Palestinian intifada began. When the revolutions of the Arab spring began, I felt more confident in and prouder of my sense of Arab belonging. I became more attached to my Syrian half, and it was as though I had been waiting for this moment, because when the doorbell used to ring in our house, for me it always meant that the intelligence services had come to ask about one of us. So the Syrian dimension of my identity was reinforced, looking for something to support it. This was my choice, and I paid the price for it; I am attached to it because the Syrian identity is a part of my makeup.
One how immigration has impacted his Palestinian-Syrian identity.
Of course immigration has had a huge impact. It’s opened up a lot of new questions and made us think about things we never gave a thought to before, things that we once so took for granted our minds couldn’t even conceive of them. Arriving in Sweden I become conscious of my Arab features. It was clear I was an Arab and it was clear that this negatively impacted the way people saw me. Now I have three children, and one of them said to me not so long ago: I’m thinking of getting an earring. I know why he said this. Partly because he plays football and a lot of famous players wear earrings, and his teacher at school also wears an earring. But I told him: men in our culture don’t wear earrings. And he responded: but my culture is Swedish. I said: you’re bicultural. This affected me a lot honestly, and I became more accepting of other ideas. I don’t want my son to suffer any kind of lack. And in the last ten years, Europe has seen the rise of an extreme right wing, and they’ve been attacking people they see as foreign. It doesn’t matter if you’re not religious, to them, if you’re from Syria, you’re ISIS.
On the customs and traditions particular to his Palestinian-Syrian identity:
We still follow the same rituals we used to follow in our country. But before my parents arrived I really missed the rituals of Ramadan, of Eid, of collective iftar gatherings. Though these were simple things I missed them. I even missed traditional Palestinian dress. This drew me closer to those similar to me, and I am quite active in the Arab Syrian Palestinian community here. We try to stay close to the culture that resembles us.
If he had to define his identity briefly:
Hazem is a person who loves equality and justice, and is against any identity that is limited to a particular nationality.