“Everyone can love, but the love of the homeland is different,” declares a Valentine’s Day tweet posted by the Bank of Palestine. Amidst a brutal Israeli occupation that separates people through numerous policies, love in Palestine is a statement that extends far beyond romance and relationships. Here, celebrating Valentine’s Day is imbued with an unyielding defiance.
Following a surge of extra-judicial murders, home demolitions, and evictions carried out by the Israeli occupation forces, Palestinians expressed their commitment to their homeland with the hashtag بنحبك_يا_فلسطين# (#WeLoveYouPalestine), the title of a song sponsored by the Bank of Palestine, and performed by popular singers Shadi Alborini and Kasem al-Najjar.
Last year, on Valentine’s Day, Israeli occupation forces shot and critically wounded 21 year-old Yasmin al-Zarou while she was crossing military checkpoint 160 in Hebron. She was subsequently sentenced to prison. Israeli forces claim she had attempted to attack a soldier. However, witnesses said al-Zarou was crossing the checkpoint with her sister, and neither attempted to attack anyone. According to the witnesses, the soldiers fired at her after she had crossed and walked a few meters past the checkpoint. Al-Zarou instantly became a symbol of that Valentine’s Day, and many commentators lamented that the young girl’s dreams and hopes for a loving and prosperous future were crushed.
Faced with this reality, celebrating Valentine’s Day in Palestine becomes an instrument of highlighting Palestinian aspirations for a homeland free of foreign occupation, all while safeguarding Palestinian identity and narrative. This fusion of romance and homeland is also apparent in a form of popular culture — Palestinian Pickup Lines — satirizing the geopolitical predicaments Palestinians face every day. These include “Your beauty is harder to define than Israeli borders,” “Is your name Palestine? Because I would fight for you day and night,” and “We can go through checkpoints together.”
Valentine’s Day also presents opportunities to shatter stereotypes about Palestinian society, albeit not without challenge. A video entitled “Love and War,” shared by local digital media company PAL+, depicted a young Palestinian man’s public marriage proposal in Gaza at a beach café. The footage quickly went viral and received a mixed response. Many applauded the romantic and unconventional gesture, but others insisted that the proposal is a “western norm” that deviates from Palestinian traditions, which dictate that the man must ask his girlfriend’s father for her hand in marriage.
It is not clear whether the young man had, in fact, coordinated this romantic gesture with his future in-laws. What is clear, however, is that Palestinians continue to mark numerous occasions in imaginative ways that subvert the Israeli occupation and the stereotypes it seeks to propagate about them.