“I never drank seawater like you every day, but I am familiar with its saltiness in my mouth.” – A Palestinian’s Solidarity with MDWs in Lebanon

There is a proverb in Arabic:

لم أشرب ماء البحر مثلك كل يوم، لكني أعرف شعور وطعم الملح في الفم

I never drank seawater like you every day, but I am familiar with its saltiness in my mouth.

I believe that the essence of this proverb is at the core of why I have dedicated my life to fighting for human rights. It encompasses the idea of empathy or understanding for another person’s suffering despite not having the exact same experience. It is about relating to the struggle or hardships of others to the extent that it feels part of one’s own experience. 

I remember my first encounter with the concept of humanitarian assistance and civil society organisations. I was only ten years old when a Japanese organisation visited the Palestinian refugee camp where I lived in the heart of Beirut. During an activity for children, we stood in a circle and were asked to share our dreams for when we grow up. I immediately knew that my goal was to help people. So I stepped into the circle and proclaimed that I wanted to become a nurse because, as Palestinians, we often don’t receive medical attention. 

I will never forget the moment when the interpreter, a Palestinian man, chuckled and told me that I would change my mind the minute I reached adulthood and would most likely end up in my husband’s kitchen. This moment became my awakening as an advocate of women’s rights with the ultimate goal of breaking out of these patriarchal limitations that my own circumstances would force on me. 

As a Palestinian, I am fully aware of the limitations that the Lebanese state has put in place, with many of my rights being denied. Yet, these limitations and this lived experience of marginalisation are what push me to advocate for the rights of others. The thought that whatever little I can do, whatever problem I can resolve, and whatever help I can provide gives me the power and satisfaction to continue. I refuse to watch the perpetuation of injustice passively and instead want to be actively involved in the process towards change and justice. 

This is what has led me to be part of the movement of working for Migrant Domestic Workers’ rights and against the Kafala system. I do understand the feeling of being away from my own land in a strange and hostile environment. I experienced the hardships of being a refugee in Europe and being reduced to a country of origin, which eventually also led to my decision to return to Lebanon. 

I work for rights while at the same time don’t have rights myself. I don’t have a passport, and I am stuck as a Palestinian refugee in a country that treats me as a nuisance. This reality I am living is shared with the MDWs in Lebanon. I want to liberate myself from the consequences of Zionism, the same way I want migrant workers to be liberated from the Kafala system. 

Palestinians don’t have the protection of the Lebanese labour laws. I share this main concern of exclusion with the MDW community that has repeatedly campaigned for change and inclusion under the legal framework of labour protection.

In Arabic, we say:

نقطة ماء في بحرك

Which translates into “A drop of water in your sea.” This expression is used to convey the idea that something is a tiny or insignificant part within a much larger and more significant context. In the Lebanese context, my drop of injustice is a drop in the sea of injustices that exist. I did suffer a drop of your suffering, so I do know its bitter taste.

Particularly, the limited access to services and the denial of rights are experiences I know myself, which is why I want to work against them on behalf of the MDW community in Lebanon.

This year, the experience of being Palestinian and working in the human rights field feels both cynical as well as necessary. The same colonial powers that deny me my right to return are also responsible for the capitalist exploitation and systemic abuse of women of colour under the Kafala system. The experience of Palestinian women being reduced to victimhood is a similar experience of MDWs being reduced to commodities in the households of the rich and privileged. 

My faith in human rights has been shaken. The hopes I previously held on reclaiming the right to my land and fighting for the right to existence have been dampened by the current situation. This also has had a similar effect on my hopes of abolishing the Kafala system and the reality of achieving the goals of the MDW community towards true and real change.

If there is no justice for innocent civilians suffering under the relentless bombing in Gaza, then how can I hope for justice for the women trapped under the Kafala system? 

يقولون إن فاقد الشيء لا يعطيه لا والف لا، فاقد الشيء يعطيه وبقوة

They say someone who misses something can't give (offer) it. I say, on the contrary, someone who misses something offers it a thousand times more.

This expression conveys the irony or contradiction of privileges, suggesting that those who lack something are often more generous in giving it to others. Although I am struggling for my own rights, I also work even harder for the struggle of other people’s rights. 

We share the same trauma of violence by white supremacy, colonialism and patriarchy. The perpetrators and the circumstances might differ, but the trauma experienced is the same, which is why the fight for justice and liberation is the same.