“Palestinians Podcast”: Reinventing Palestinian Oral History

On an unusually cold October evening in 2015, I stood at the end of a nondescript alleyway off of Union Square in Somerville, Massachusetts, directing pedestrians toward the entrance of the Warehouse XI event space where live oud music filled the air with an inviting warmth. The space quickly reached capacity in anticipation of Palestinians, Live!, a live storytelling event co-sponsored by the Boston Palestine Film Festival, and the inaugural recording session of the Palestinians Podcast series.

Palestinians Podcast is a podcast and live storytelling series focused on the experiences of Palestinians living in diaspora. The podcast aims to “re-humanize” the Palestinian people and cause by making Palestinian self-representations more available to mainstream American audiences. Often funny, and sometimes heartbreaking, this project undertakes the critical work of archiving Palestinian oral history, cataloging Palestinian-American narrative arts and performance, and documenting the culture and experiences of diasporic Palestinians in the United States.

The show was created and is produced by Nadia Abuelezam, a public health researcher and teacher, along with a dedicated team of volunteers. I first met Nadia Abuelezam in 2013 at the Boston Palestine Film Festival while I was conducting ethnographic research for my doctoral dissertation on diasporic Palestinian film culture. One of the things which stood out in our conversations, as well as the interviews I conducted with other festival participants, was the way in which the festival afford Palestinians in the diaspora a way to connect with their culture, history, and their community. And, while there has been a steadily growing number of Palestinian art and film festivals around the country, there remains a desire among diasporic Palestinians to express themselves more directly. During the three years I conducted this fieldwork, another cultural phenomenon was taking place: the first season of the Serial podcast commenced on October 3, 2014, which reinvigorated people’s appetites for compelling audio storytelling.

The Palestinians Podcast project emerged at this moment with the intention to bridge the academic documentation of Palestinian experience with the realm of popular culture.

The podcast offers an invaluable contribution to the documentation of the Palestinian experience in diaspora. Although there are a variety of Palestinian oral history archives around the world, such as Columbia University’s Center for Palestine Studies Oral History Project, the Nakba Oral History Project, and the Palestinian Oral History Archive at the American University of Beirut, Palestinians Podcast offers a unique, popularized spin on Palestinian oral history. The series’ relatively short format, ranging from fifteen to forty minutes, and its availability on iTunes makes the project accessible to a wider audience and potential storytellers alike.

One of the most compelling aspects of this project is the range of voices and experiences that are represented in the series. The diverse array of stories presented here challenge stereotypes about Palestine and Palestinians that permeate both American and Palestinian imaginations, rendering the heterogeneity of the Palestinian experience in new and creative ways.

The inaugural episode, “Here We Are,” features Annalise Raziq—a Chicago-based performer and writer—and her humorous and bittersweet stories of growing up Palestinian in the American Midwest, her parent’s divorce, and negotiating her ethnic identity. Another highlight includes the episode “Wafa, Missiles, Wheat, and Gardens,” with Wafa Ghnaim, author of Tatreez and Tea: Embroidery and Storytelling in the Palestinian Diaspora, as she talks about Palestinian embroidery as an expression of identity and a form of visual storytelling. And then there is the episode “Eib and Guapa,” with writer Saleem Haddad, about understanding gender and sexuality, coming out to his family as queer, and writing his recently released novel, Guapa, which he describes as a process of “writing [himself] into history.”

Nadia’s own story, in the episode “Mama, Please Bring Me Pants,” offers a heartwarming narrative about food, family, body politics, and childhood embarrassment, Nadia’s story is less overtly focused on Palestinian-ness and offers listeners a moment of relatability for anyone who has had an embarrassing childhood moment. This episode encompasses the podcasters’ effort to “re-humanize” Palestinians and their experiences. For a people who have been historically de-humanized by colonial arbiters of humanity, the process of re-humanization is, unfortunately, necessary. Palestinians Podcast contributes to this process by empowering the agency of Palestinian voices to share and relate their stories with broader audiences.

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About Umayyah Cable 1 Article

Umayyah Cable is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the programs of Asian American Studies and Middle East & North African Studies at Northwestern University.

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