When I arrived in the United States as a college student in 2017, I was taken aback by the amount of harassment I received from students, teachers and administrators for talking about my Palestinian background, and my artwork gradually developed into work that centered this identity, my family and the collective Palestinian experience. Faced with erasure at every turn, telling these stories and asserting Palestinian existence was the most natural course my work could have taken.
I realized very quickly that Palestinian cultural production — be it in the form of painting, writing, singing, performing or otherwise — terrifies our occupiers because it documents Palestinian voices. Truth-telling is an act of revolutionary love, and the work would not be so violently suppressed if our occupiers didn’t find it so threatening to the fragile ideology that sustains them.
Since October 7, at least 22,835 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in a war waged against Palestinian existence. I struggle to express how each victim of this ongoing genocide was a person with a family who loves them, each with aspirations and dreams. Among them are countless artists whose work should be revered. One was Heba Zagout, a teacher, mother and dreamer.
Zagout gained a dedicated following on Instagram from all around the world. Viewers responded to her vibrant paintings of cityscapes and portraits that documented aspects of Palestinian culture; I wrote and illustrated this comic to honor Heba and her art. As a Palestinian artist myself, I wanted to offer a fraction of her life and what her work meant to the people of the world.
But in working on this comic, the only thought running through my mind was: How can anyone possibly capture the scale and severity of this destruction, this dehumanization? With every minute, more and more Palestinian martyrs become statistics. I recalled the words of the writer Khalil in Gaza (@khalilo1): “If I were martyred, I would not want to be a number. Tell my name, hear my story, and pray for me. I am not a number. I am a complete planet.”
The people of Gaza are not pieces of content for the world to share; they are more than people facing genocide under the watch of the world. They themselves hold entire worlds within.
Zagout spent her life trying to share Gaza’s voice with the outside world, while trying to reach the outside world herself. Our martyrs cannot and will not be forgotten. Their legacies will live on for generations.
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AYA GHANAMEH is a Palestinian illustrator, writer and designer from Amman, Jordan, currently based in New York City. Her work moves away from state-centric ways of thinking to center the voices of ordinary people in historical and political narratives. Her debut children’s book, These Olive Trees (Viking Books, 2023), is inspired by the experiences of her family, who cultivated her love of the earth throughout her upbringing in exile.