Palestinian roots inspire student nurse

Posted on September 27, 2011


Tamara Khoury, a second-year nursing major, is unlike any activist out there. Her Palestinian roots inspired her to learn about what she believes in while questioning and reading taught her how to fight for it. Regardless of her demanding major, Khoury seems to find her way to the center of activist action defending what she believes is right, from Palestinian rights to police brutality. At 21 years old, she’s been to hundreds of protests and says she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Q: So tell me, why do you want to be a nurse?

A: The summer going into my junior (year) I went to Palestine, to the West Bank, for the first time in eight years. So when I went, I had more of a political understanding of what was going on. I visited a few refugee camps and I talked to some people there. I realized that I would be a better help to my people, my community, if I did something in the medical field.

Q: Is that also why you’ve become so active in protests?

A: Regardless if I wanted to be interested in politics or not, I’ve been immersed in politics at a really, really young age. Even just watching TV with my parents, watching the news in Arabic, I would see these images of people being killed and that’s when I started to ask questions. I was in the fifth grade when the second Palestinian uprising started. I was 10 or 11 years old. It was at that age that I started attending protests regularly, and that’s when I really started reading not just about Palestine, but from Palestine all the way to civil rights movements in Africa, in the U.S. I got really interested in Malcom X and the Black Panthers. I read up on Ghandi and Martin Luther King all kinds of different ways of fighting oppression.

Q: Do you speak Arabic?

A: Yeah. Semi-fluently. I can understand way more than I can speak and then because I don’t live at home anymore I don’t really have anyone to practice with.

Q: How do your parents feel about you being as involved as you are? My parents are Syrian, so I come from the same kind of background as you and if I was telling them I was going to a protest almost every weekend, they would tell me to be careful.

A: Well the nice thing about living away from home is that a lot of time when there are protests, if they’re not major protests, I don’t tell them about it usually. My dad is really supportive. He thinks it’s good and he says I need to be careful. My mom, she’s proud, but she would rather me not do it.

Q: Are you ever scared that someone is going to see you?

A: It does make me nervous a little bit, but I have never been arrested or got in any kind of serious trouble. The most that’s ever happened is news interviews or news articles or my picture in the paper, but that’s basically it.

Before I got into the nursing program, there were all these protests on campus against budget cuts, which I was involved in. It would make me really nervous if the administration would see me here. What if they deny my applications because I was working so hard?

Q: Could you tell me how you’ve changed since you first started attending protests?

A: Since I was young until now, I’ve gone from attending protests to organizing protests. My role is to not supervise, but watch. I’m watching everything that’s going on. I’m making sure there are no scuffles. If there are problems with the police, me and the organization I work closely with, we try to intervene and keep people from getting arrested.

A lot of the times, because I’m really loud, they’ll make me chant at the protest, but on a microphone instead of just my normal voice. Sometimes I go up and rally the crowd and introduce speakers.

Q: What kind of protests have you spoken at?

A: A couple of years ago I gave a solidarity speech with the Irvine 11. This year I gave a speech on behalf of a student movement. I don’t put myself in one box. I’m not just a Palestinian. I’m a Palestinian. I’m a female. I’m a student. I have all these things that I identify myself with.

Q: How many protests would you say you’ve gone to in your whole life?

A: Oh man, that’s a lot. I don’t even know. I can’t count them, honestly. There are times when things are really crazy, and there are times when things are not crazy at all. When Israel was bombing Gaza in 2009 to 2010, there was a protest every day for a month that’s like 30 protests in a month. Then there are times like this summer when I attended like two or three.

Q: So you told me that you’re interested in using your nursing degree to help Palestine. Could you tell me a little more about that?

A: I’m not sure yet. There are organizations in the U.S. that I can work with. There is a Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, and they go do medical missions. I was also thinking of moving there for a little bit and working at clinics in refugee camps.

Q: Just one last question. I noticed you have a dark-cream tattoo on your wrist. Is that a tattoo or henna?

A: It’s a tattoo. I took the idea from a political cartoonist who is Palestinian. He used to sign all of his work with this little character. It’s a boy with his back turned toward the viewer. You never see his face and his hands are usually behind his back. His name is Handala, and in English that means “bitter.” The little boy is a refugee and the reason his face is never shown is because the artist said the world turned their back on Palestine. He’s looking at his land from somewhere else because he can’t live there anymore.

This tattoo is Handala writing Palestine in Arabic. The Arabic is a heart. I got it last December.

Originally published in the Daily Titan, Cal State Fullerton’s student-run newspaper.

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