Amid conflict abroad, Palestinian Americans seek support from NJ community center

Barry Mahmoud graduated from Clifton High School in June. And he is already considering a career in the public service.

“I want to be the mayor of Clifton someday,” Mahmoud, 17, told NJ Advance Media.

He devoted much of his youth to community affairs, volunteering for the Palestinian American Community Center (PACC) in his hometown for the past seven years, participating in programs such as voter registration campaigns, Dabke (folk dance) classes and cultural events.

Mahmoud’s Palestinian-American identity is at the heart of who he is. Put simply, it makes him proud, he said.

“My parents have always encouraged the maintenance of our culture, the preservation of our heritage,” said Mahmoud. “Since I was little, we would go to demonstrations in the area or in New York… my parents always educated me on what was going on in my home. We went to Palestine every two years. “

Media coverage of recent news violent confrontations in Gaza took a fresh look at the deeply rooted conflict in the Middle East. But Mahmoud and other PACC members said they are still engaged in these conversations, even when it seems the rest of the world is moving on.

“We’re trying to make those connections. The story really matters, because the story reminds us that this is nothing new, it has been happening for 73 years, ”said Abire Sabbagh, community engagement coordinator at PACC. “It’s just at an escalated level right now, and on a big platform, like social media, which is a good thing, because it’s a tool to raise more awareness about it.”

PACC opened at 388 Lakeview Avenue in Clifton in 2014, after community members identified the need for a non-partisan, non-religious space to share their culture.

“(When we started) we had a lot of different people come over and said, ‘We need a tutoring program, we need Palestinian education, we need more understanding. civic engagement, ”said PACC Executive Director Rania Mustafa.

Although she was born and raised in Passaic County, a place like PACC is important, Mustafa said, because asserting her identity and being without excuse comes with its challenges – challenges that many Palestinians face. “Americans are facing it,” she said.

“It’s my constant struggle. It really is. I really have a hard time with that because I know the second I walk into a room, especially because I’m wearing the headscarf, people are guessing about me, ”Mustafa said.

But PACC is a place many call home, whether they’re attending programs in one of the centre’s spacious conference rooms or helping relieve COVID-19.

The recent pro-Palestinian protests in Passaic County have drawn support from all walks of life, including members of the local Black Lives Matter movement.

“I think there is a spirit of mutual aid at the base, that the pandemic has left us no choice but to rely on each other because it has exposed the faults of the government and to which point we have to rely on other communities, especially other oppressed communities, ”said Sabbagh mentioned. “Marginalized communities that understand what’s going on because they can relate to it, and they walk through it.”

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Tennyson Donyèa can be reached at [email protected].

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