My name is Tesnim Al Khatib. I am aged 34 and I have been resident in Denmark since about 2017.
I am a graduate of the Faculty of Journalism, Damascus University. I worked in many fields that have nothing to do with the media, that is, up until the last years preceding the Syrian revolution. The beginning of a private media movement appeared in Syria, even if it was in a virtual way. This resulted in an increase in the number of private newspapers and private podcasts. I had the opportunity to experience the editing field, where I served as an editor of several newspapers and magazines for children. Some of these were not successful because in Syria, in order to succeed in the media sector, you must abide by certain conditions and have certain affiliations. Before the revolution, it was not possible for me or for many who had graduated in journalism to meet these conditions. One of the conditions is to be affiliated with Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party.
I discovered that I had no story with belonging although I had stories of excursions and deportations starting with my ancestors who were displaced from the village of Tantoura in Haifa to Syria. My father and mother traveled to Libya and therefore I was born in Tagura in the western suburbs of Tripoli. Unfortunately, my father and mother were deported from Libya in the early1990s .
I don’t remember anything about that era, and I didn’t imagine that I would complete this displacement.
I lived in Yarmouk camp and studied in UNRWA schools for Palestinian refugees. In my early years until I took my diploma, I did not have any problem with belonging as my affiliation was obvious as a result of the community I was living in within the Yarmouk camp. The camp is considered an alternative homeland and one of the biggest gatherings of Palestinians in the world.
On top of that, the Syrian state did not differentiate between Syrians and the Palestinians but at that time I did not know that the Syrians themselves had nothing in Syria!
Up until that point, I was surrounded by everything that is Palestinian, which made my belonging clear.
When I went to university. I would not say that I felt that I was a stranger but I felt different. I was different in many ways, such as my accent, my interests and my thoughts because they all revolve around the Palestinian question.
At university, I discovered that there are other issues in life other than the Palestinian cause and I started to integrate more into Syrian society. I started thinking that your feelings and your country are only what you see in the news, and this creates a state of weakness and aimlessness. I mean, as an individual, as Tasneem, what am I going do regarding the Palestinian issue?
Here I started to wonder why I did not belong to the place where I was, the place where I live, where I study. I was surrounded by Syrians, what if I became Syrian?
Of course, my thinking at that time was a little superficial. I started to lose my Palestinian dialect and try to speak in the Syrian dialect all the time. I decided that I could be a useful person in the place where I live, more than useful for the Palestinian cause.
I acted as if I were Syrian and I was successful in feeling from within that I belong to this place.
The way I dealt with the Palestinian issue was similar to the way any Syrian citizen deals with it. This feeling of belonging remained until the Syrian revolution started.
When the Syrian revolution started, I was not allowed to share my opinions or my thoughts on what was happening in Syria because I was Palestinian. The Syrian revolution affected me directly too because, just like any other Syrian, I lost my house and my family etc...
But whether a supporter or opponent of the Syrian revolution, I was not allowed to share my opinion. Some supporters, for example, used to tell me that a stranger sharing her opinion without living the situation was not acceptable and that I did not have the right to speak because Assad gave me my rights as a Syrian. The opponents were worried about the Palestinians who had more to do with the Syrian revolution than they themselves. If a Syrian disappeared then he could be found but as a Palestinian you could literally disappear and no one would know anything about you. This was the first shock for me and it made it clear for me that I was not Syrian!
Of course, I did not lose the feeling of belonging that I had from within but in reality this belief was shaken.
When I decided to leave Syria because of the war, the dream of a homeland remained. I meant to leave to look for a homeland. Egypt was my first choice, for many reasons, but mostly because we Arabs are influenced by the Egyptian culture.
When I got there, I started doing the same thing that I had done in Syria, meaning that my accent became Egyptian and I got to grips with Egyptian society in terms of its problems, its cultural concerns and all that concerns Egyptians. I did not have any real problems until one day when I was taking a taxi to go to the Palestinian embassy headquarters in Alexandria, I think it was in Mustafa Kamel Street. I don't know how the taxi driver discovered that I was not an Egyptian but he asked me directly, “Are you Syrian?” I panicked because Palestinians are not welcome in Egypt and, of course, it is not people’s fault but the media was against the Palestinians and influenced public opinion. I was confused and didn’t know what to say but eventually answered that I was Syrian. He replied with, “Thank God that you are Syrian from Damascus. I thought that you were Palestinian, and these Palestinians are traitors.”
The alternative homeland bubble again popped and I discovered again that I was not Egyptian, and it was very easy for anyone to find out that I was Palestinian. I remember then that I made him drop me off before the embassy site so that he would not figure out that I had lied.
A series of incidents that happened outside Syria, in Turkey, Greece and later in Denmark, made me abandon the idea of looking for a homeland and the idea of belonging. When I arrived in Denmark, I stayed in a camp for a year with many people from different countries. They had left their countries for various reasons to apply for asylum in Denmark.
I got a sense of my life in the camp and of the concept of the camp because there were people who had lived there for years and they treated it in one way or another as a homeland. Perhaps they were also looking for a homeland to belong to. The realisation of how many issues there were in the world hit me. I heard of countries I didn't know about, of circumstances I had never imagined, and that brought me to a question: Why is it important to look for a homeland? Why should I belong, sympathise and defend one group of people over others?
At that point I felt that I belonged to mankind. When I got Danish residence, I was so happy to see “stateless” without a homeland on my documents.
I am without a homeland but I belong to mankind, wherever it is.
Your true belonging is to everything that is fair in this life, and what is beautiful is bigger than the borders of a geographical location. You keep looking for it until you finally find peace.
I can say that after 2017, my hunt for a homeland ended. The main source of help for me was the community on social media. It was an outlet for me as it did not require any papers or documents to join it. I did not have time to tell you, Omar, how papers and documents control your life in terms of your beliefs and your feeling of belonging. Social media gave me a world where I can belong without the need to show some papers to prove that I belong. In short, I belong to mankind, wherever it is…