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Michael studies computer engineering at Vilnius Tech and wants to return to his home city of Ramallah, the de facto capital of Palestine, where he has founded a data science start-up.
Noura is a master's student of International Communication at Vilnius University, aiming to work in the field of human rights or academia. A granddaughter of a Palestinian refugee, she grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon.
For the last few years, their life stories continue in Vilnius where, for many locals, they became the first Palestinians they have ever met. After the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel and Israel's military retaliation in Gaza, the topic of Palestine became central for many people around them.
Michael and Noura feel that they have to constantly confront the existing view on Palestinians and Arabs in general.
"When I have interactions with Lithuanians, they get surprised that I’m Palestinian. There’s a stereotype of Palestinians that we are uneducated, we don’t know how to talk, we are just religious extremists, and even at some point that we are physically ugly," shares Noura.
"I lost faith in governments. My faith is in civil society, the people."
They also think about themselves as being very privileged, which brings a feeling of guilt. "It’s everyday guilt that I am safe, my family is safe, I have everything around me, and my people, the Palestinians in Gaza, are being shelled", Noura continues.
For Michael and Noura, the city of Vilnius has also become a place to build new connections – the ones that wouldn't be possible back home. In an interview, Michael shared a story of how he met a Jewish girl on a dating app, despite having a Palestinian flag on his bio. The mutually suspicious meeting turned into a three-year-long relationship. When Michael went to his then-partner's graduation in a Jewish school in Vilnius, everyone thought he was Jewish.
"We’re so similar, yet we are put in such a situation, where we’re afraid of each other", says Michael, commenting on Israeli authorities control over the Palestinian population, which Human Rights Watch has called "apartheid".
Both Michael and Noura talk about their grandparents being forced out of Palestine during Arab-Israeli War in 1948. The hope of a brief absence, a mere week away from their homes, transformed into a decades-long exile. A sense of loss has been passed down from one generation to the next.
“What I see in Gaza is a collective trauma, the trauma that we are living all over again”, shares Noura.
Both in their early 20s, Michael and Noura have to deal with the seemingly unsolvable situation earlier generations created for them. Will their generation be able to change it?
Hear the full conversation on NARA podcast. The episode is hosted by NARA's podcast editor Karolis Vyšniauskas and NARA's researcher Austėja Pūraitė.