Students encouraged to reflect on Arab history, linguistics, and Palestinian identity

Ibtisam Barakat, award-winning Palestinian author and poet, presented a lecture titled “Palestine in First Person: Writing the Personal Palestinian Story for the Global Reader” at Birzeit University on April 22, 2019.

Speaking at the invitation of the Department of English Language and Literature, Barakat started her talk by soliciting from the students the definitions of science and of a scientist in Arabic language. She connected them with the term ‘sign’ or ‘alama,’ pointing out that she considers the similarity of roots to indicate that science is all about leaving a footprint for the next generations.

Barakat asserted that in the past, Arab scientists have transmitted their knowledge to their people as a gift. Today however, “Foreigners have usurped our scientific discoveries, leaving us as mere consumers of knowledge.” She further elaborated, “This is what Israel does. They are tracking our footprints and changing them, changing the Palestinian narrative.”

Barakat was born in Jerusalem and studied at Birzeit University in the early 1980s and during the First Intifada. In 1987 alone, the university had to deal with closures of its campus by Israeli occupation forces three times, lasting for a total of over four months. In 1984, Barakat witnessed the killing by Israeli forces of her classmate Sharaf Tibi who was mortally wounded by army gunfire and died en route to the hospital.

This tragic event, adding to her experiences from the six-day war in 1967, strongly influenced Barakat and empowered her love for literature and words. Amidst the near-constant closures of the university during the Intifada, she changed her major from chemistry to English literature. Barakat had become convinced that Palestinians have an important mission, namely to tell their story to the world. She adopted this calling and made it her story and career. “I take my heart and soul and with some ink put them on paper to give them to the world,” Barakat said, explaining her role as a Palestinian author who lives in the diaspora. “My main aim is to connect with the world and to tell its people the story of Palestine,” she revealed.

Barakat reminded the students that all Palestinians, including her, have been and still are impacted by the experience of living under the Israeli occupation. “Israel’s actions have created layers of fear and anger - and at the same time they have raised heroes who fight the occupation every day,” she said.

Ibtisam Barakat is an award-winning Palestinian-American author, poet, translator, artist and educator. She was born in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, grew up in Ramallah, Palestine, and went to the United States to do an internship at The Nation magazine in New York City. Barakat holds two master’s degrees and has taught language ethics at Stephens College. She authors in English and Arabic and her work centers on healing social injustices, especially in the lives of young people. Her writings exist in numerous translations.