A month ago, the Palestinian-American community and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement lost one of their most devoted members.
Hassan was only 24 years old when he was found dead in his San Diego home. Hassan was an exemplary figure for young Palestinians and would have been a pillar of any community: a loyal son, a loving uncle and a brilliant student.
But there was one thing that made him different and affected him throughout his short life: Hassan was gay and that made too much of a difference for some, even in the activist circles he frequented.
Born and raised in the West Bank city of Tulkarm and living under the guise of Israel’s occupation, Hassan dreamt of a different life; a life without roadblocks, checkpoints and constant frisking.
Hassan was a peacemaker, a problem-solver and the one you went to if you needed help. He turned no one away. Even when tragedy hit close to home during years of fighting, he sought to understand Israelis and picked himself up to help his Palestinian brothers.
When he turned 19, after attending one year at Al-Najah University in Nablus, also in the West Bank, Hassan decided to transfer to the University of Indiana to study dentistry.
He arrived in Indiana and quickly made friends. Blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, straight and LGBTQ — he befriended everyone. He was also eager to contribute to society, and it wasn’t long before he joined SJP — Students for Justice in Palestine.
Hassan was vocal and passionate about his homeland and was the life of every event he organized and participated in — his voice was always heard and creativity always evident. He never forgot where he came from; always talking about his family, especially his little nieces that he nicknamed Lolo and Shimshim.
The one thing Hassan was not open about was his sexuality. Coming from a very conservative and religious society and family, Hassan was afraid of exposing the fact that he was a homosexual.
Leading this kind of life was hard, even in Trump-country Indiana, let alone in Palestine. Hassan was a silent activist in the local LGBTQ community in Indianapolis, with life practically compartmentalized — his Palestinian and other Muslim friends did not know of his secret, and his LGBTQ friends did not urge him to come out.
But even when he tried to hide it, people saw he was in distress. Hassan would suddenly go quiet, keeping his thoughts to himself. At other times, he had outbursts, blaming people for not understanding him or demonstrating ignorance in their words and deeds. His friends from BDS, the ones from SJP and others, didn’t have a problem creating a political alliance with LGBTQ organizations on and off campus. It was fine as long as it served their worldview.
But this sudden enlightened, “pink” agenda sported by BDS did not hold water when it came to containing and reassuring its gay members, such as Hassan. It was one thing to have LGBTQ “allies,” but his Palestinian friends did not want a gay Palestinian associated with their group.
Hassan was practically alone. Far from home, with little money, he struggled. In addition to his studies, he worked extra hours as a dishwasher, a cabbie and as a research assistant.
After finishing school, Hassan saw his future in the West Coast. The weather is warm, the society is more open and accepting — California was a natural choice. He set out to San Diego and started his dentistry internship. This wonderful time of his life, so well recorded on his Facebook profile, was unfortunately short-lived. The despair, the solitude, the confusion — did not leave him even in California.
His hope for acceptance in the activist communities where he undoubtedly left his mark was never realized and it ultimately followed him until the end.
Hassan is an example that we in the activist community need to remember. A man pressured by different forms of discrimination throughout his short life, but who could not find release, even in the very circles that claimed to seek to combat the intersection of different forms of oppression.
We who knew Hassan and were at his side in his daily struggle to free others from their shackles, could not muster the fortitude to accept Hassan for who he was. Maybe it is about time that the struggle to free Palestine also becomes a struggle to free Palestinians themselves; not just from the Israeli occupation, but from their own mental shackles.
It might be too late for Hassan, but let’s make sure he did not die in vain.
We will remember Hassan as an advocate of love for humanity and a true peace-bringer.
May he rest in peace.
—The individual who submitted this piece was identified as a friend of Hassan who wished to be anonymous.