By Lauren Gainor

It’s a story that nearly any child of foreign-born parents can tell. The balancing act of living a typical American lifestyle, while striving to preserve the dignity and traditions of one’s homeland is a common challenge that many young people in the United States face each day. But for the young Palestinian men and women in diaspora, the struggle to preserve their heritage is perhaps even more important than is typical of other immigrant families.

“Growing up Palestinian in America, you’re infused with culture but have nothing to connect it to,” explained Naya Aldias, Marketing Events Manager for BVLGARI, and one of three panel members for the workshop entitled “The Nation-Building Role of Palestinian Youth in Diaspora.” This workshop, among others, was held during the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s 15th International Conference on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at the Washington Marriott in Washington, DC.

After joining the HCEF Know Thy Heritage (KTH) Leadership Program and returning to her native Palestine, Ms. Aldias and other young Palestinian American professionals returned inspired and excited to have finally been able to connect, in a deeper way, with their family, their culture, and with what it means to be Palestinian. The KTH program empowers young Palestinians in diaspora by strengthening the knowledge of their homeland.

As a critical part of the KTH visit to Palestine, participants are immersed in Palestinian history, culture, and politics. Members learn Palestinian dances and songs, visit important religious sites, and even return to their specific hometowns to meet with family members that they’d only heard about or spoken to on the telephone. Panel-member Lina Barkawi, Consulting Analyst with Accenture shared how her point of connection with Palestine came as she entered the home of relatives she’d never met, and saw her baby pictures hanging in their living room. For others, it was the ability to see, with their own eyes, the effects of the occupation in Palestine that helped them to connect.

“I had this epiphany… I realized why traditions and culture are so important to the preservation of the Palestinian people,” panelist Sohad M., PhD Candidate in Social Psychology at the University of Wisconsin Madison, described as she discussed her realization of the fact that her people had no free land of their own to call home.

As these KTH participants learned more about current events in Palestine, the question of what they could do to help became increasingly urgent. “Everyone needs to find their own way to get involved,” Ms. Murrar stated, adding that there is a need for Palestinian youth to “commit seriously to making a difference in Palestine.”

Ms. Barkawi mentioned that by “simply informing people” about Palestine and the challenges that Palestinians face, one can make a difference. One way she does this is by wearing a Palestine-shaped pendant around her neck, and when people ask her about it she takes the opportunity to educate them.

Ms. Aldias emphasized the efficiency and practicality of networking, building on others’ ideas, and doing “small things” that are within one’s skill set.

KTH members returned to America with a sense of “Post-Palestine Depression,” as Ms. Barkawi termed it. Their emotions were a mixture of loneliness, motivation, passion, and sadness. Mohammed Iftaiha, the workshop moderator, asserted that it is “important to challenge these emotions and use them.” From wearing pins, to starting activist groups on campus, and conducting research on inter-Palestinian relations – KTH participants are doing just that.

But perhaps the most important thing is simply to always remember what they’ve witnessed in Palestine. Palestinians in Palestine need the Palestinians in diaspora to take advantage of the opportunity to educate others and work for the freedom of the Palestinian people. During the their trip, KTH members visited refugee camps and asked if there was anything they could do to help their fellow Palestinians who were living there. The response was simple: “Just don’t forget about us.”

Palestinian youth in diaspora are encouraged to apply to participate in the 2014 KTH Visit and Live Palestine Leadership Program! Email us at or visit us at to learn more about HCEF and its programs.