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In Solidarity for Collective Liberation
June 2, 2024
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Narratives about marginalized communities are often packed into dense textbooks, making them inaccessible to young minds, or the stories are written by people without lived experience. Rifk Ebeid intentionally created Baba, What does my Name Mean? to offer a perspective other than historical tragedy and to give Palestinian stories a space to exist.

Rifk and I connected a few years ago through our mutual interest in introducing social justice issues to children as early as possible. She shared an Arabic saying with me at the time “the hearts are together” inferring a moment when two people are thinking the exact same thing. She was another mother who had felt the void of stories for our children, and so, had courageously decided to write them herself.


Rifk Ebeid is a Palestinian writer, human rights and media advocate who has worked with various organizations in the US, Jerusalem and the UAE and currently works as a Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist.

“She began writing children’s books to serve as an ongoing trust that teaches children about Palestinian history and inspires them to be proud of their identity and always fight in the cause of justice.” (Palestine Book Awards).

Book Cover: Baba, What Does My Name Mean? by Rifk Ebeid, illustrated by Lamaa Jawhari. In the centre a young girl's face is seen looking up with her arms outstretched above her, holding Palestinian memories. A soft lilac arch frames her. Forest green fills in space to the edge. Title is in yellow block letters outlined in black.

Baba, What Does My Name Mean? by Rifk Ebeid, illustrated by Lamaa Jawhari ©Rifk Books, 2020. (No copyright infringement is intended).

A Conversation about books for children and the ideas that inspire them

N: Welcome Rifk!

Baba, What does my Name Mean? – A Journey to Palestine, begins with a universal question asked by many children. Did this idea come from a personal experience?

RIFK: It’s interesting because although my name was always a challenge, even for other Arabs, the inspiration behind the title was actually my children. We named our children after different cities and villages in Palestine so that they never forget their roots, and I educated them about their names from a very young age to the point where there was no need for them to eventually ask what it means! 🙂 That was the initial inspiration, but honestly its exactly like what you said, an important issue to address because many if not all of our children who come from different ethnic backgrounds will ask one day.  I want them to not allow society to otherize them or make them feel bad or weird about their name. I want them to have a foundation of confidence in their name by understanding what their name means and why their parents chose that name for them. It allows for really beautiful conversations between families and really instills a sense of pride when they understand the meaning behind their name.

N: The key and olive tree represent deep heritage and ancestry to the people of Palestine. Does your family still hold on to a key and what do these remnants of memory mean to you?

RIFK: The olive tree to me symbolizes Palestine. Whenever we would visit during summer vacations, I always felt a sense of comfort and awe as we drove by mountains and groves of olive trees. Seeing the olive trees is what told me I was home. The olive trees are a source of sustenance, bearing the olives and subsequent olive oil that is an integral part of our culture. We can’t have a family dinner without a plate of our Palestinian olives, we can’t prepare a dish without authentic Palestinian olive oil. It’s just a natural part of who we are because it comes from the land and we are from the land.

The key holds significant emotion and symbolism for every Palestinian family. It is a physical representation of our physical expulsion. It is proof, evidence, often times the only thing ppl had left of their belongings. It symbolizes a life once lived , a life that existed and had a home. It is the most powerful counter narrative to the lie that Palestine was a land without a people.

A young Palestinian girl looks sad on the right (in the foreground). She has shoulder-length dark brown hair and is wearing a blue t-shirt. There is a world map behind her and a teacher is looking at it with her back towards readers. The teacher wears a white shirt and has short red-brown hair.

©Rifk Ebeid (No copyright infringement intended).

N: The beauty and diversity of the land is bountiful in this story. From Kunafa to Dabkah and the glassblowers of Al-Khalil, it feels like reading multiple stories in this one book. You capture the historical significance of Palestine’s architecture and land so intricately that the current loss is unimaginable. In what ways do you believe the ancestral heritage will be kept alive for future generations?

RIFK: I wanted this book to be like a tour guide for Palestinian children, especially those whose families are forbidden from ever even visiting, let alone returning. Educating ourselves and having knowledge of our history and culture is what will keep Palestine alive for future generations. They build a strong foundation and closeness to the land from a young age so that as they grow up they will have this inherent ability and confidence to be strong advocates for justice.

N: This piece of work moves beyond the simplistic label of ‘diverse books’. How was the process and production of Baba, What does my Name Mean? Did the writing and publishing process of this book become an act of resistance in any way?

RIFK: I have been a student activist my entire life, I’ve been told since preschool even! When I finished my higher education, I realized the traditional activist route wasn’t for me, so I began to think of other routes that would educate the masses and have a lasting impact. Palestinians have a long literary tradition, with our scholars writers and poets even being assassinated because of the power of their words. When I became a mother I realized there weren’t any children’s books in English about Palestine, and that’s when it all clicked for me.  Writing the book was definitely an act of resistance, I chose self publishing so that I wouldn’t have to be edited or sanitized in my language and message and illustrations (drawing the entire map of historic Palestine for example). And it is a conscious decision I’ve made to stick with self publishing even though the climate is changing and many Palestinian authors are now getting traditionally published.  So it is an act of resistance in the content as well as the approach.  You have to fight an uphill battle to be taken seriously as a self published author. There is a line from a jay z song that pretty much summarizes my outlook: “just know I chose my own fate, I drove by the fork in the road and went straight.”

N: What are the dangers of pushing Palestinian voices out of literary spaces? Have you ever experienced this and how did you respond?

RIFK: As I said, being a self published author can get you pushed out by all. Even making this distinction is a way of pushing us out. But I do my best to remind myself of my intentions and my target audience. I am so grateful that my books have reached the communities and audiences they were intended for.

As far as pushing our voices out on a macro level, the most obvious danger is that you aren’t hearing from the people directly impacted, you aren’t hearing lived experiences, you aren’t getting the information from the source.  What is the point of books and stories about us if not told by us and from our perspectives? We also aren’t a monolith, so having a plethora of our voices really offers a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Palestine and Palestinians.


YouTube link to animation film for I Am From Palestine

©Rifk Ebeid
No copyright infringement intended.

N: You have created an animation film to mirror this story. What propelled you forward with this project?

RIFK: When I was going to publish my book, the director of the animation, Iman Zawahry, pushed me to make an animated trailer, especially considering the illustrator, Lamaa Jawhari, was also an animator.  The response was amazing and we realized there was a deep desire to see our stories and voices in all types of mediums. Iman and Lamaa really pushed the idea of expanding on the trailer and making a full animation because at that point I was burnt out. They really deserve the credit for pushing me to keep on going! When Iman and I brainstormed and wrote the script, we knew it was so so important to share because it tackles an experience that all of us as Palestinians have felt at some point in our lives. With decades upon decades of silencing and denial of Palestinian voices and experiences, this animation allows us to feel seen and heard, for children and adults alike. It also empowers our children to speak truth to power.

To learn more about Rifk Ebeid’s work, including her new titles, please visit her website and follow her on Instagram. Support independent authors by purchasing books if you are able, or order them from your local libraries (they usually have a title request form).

Image of Navjot Kaur with thank you message for supporting a small, independent press. There is a green frame around the text with a black tag in the bottom left. Text on black tag shows website address and hashtag #WhereStoriesGrow. Small logo in gold. Navjot is wearing a white top and some of her long black hair is placed over her left shoulder.

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