Kunnen wij Nederlanders die regelmatig naar Gaza gaan klagen over de manier waarop we worden behandeld, het aantal keren dat we er niet in of uit mochten, de uren die het soms kost en het onaangename gevoel als criminelen behandeld te worden. Het kan nog erger. Je bent bijvoorbeeld een Amerikaan, maar wel een met een Palestijnse achtergrond. Probeer met je Amerikaanse paspoort Israel binnen te komen om je familie in Ramallah te gaan bezoeken. Dat gaat ongeveer zo. Met dank aan Dorothy Naor, die onvermoeibaar en dagelijks berichten doorstuurt.
Written in Al-Bireh, Occupied Palestine
*Jordan River Border
December 16, 2007
In line to check our bags through security, I make small talk with the young
Palestinian man standing in front of me with his Israeli passport in hand.
We speak in Arabic and he tells me he’s from Haifa and was just visiting
relatives in Amman. He asks me if I’m also originally Palestinian and I tell
him yes, but born and raised in the states. Smirking, he replies, “in the
end we’re all just simply Palestinians.” I smile, yet soon enough I’d see
exactly what his words imply.
*What do you do in America?-Where do you study?-How long have you been
studying altogether? Count all the years-What exactly did you study in
undergrad?-What does that mean?-And now you’re studying the same thing?-Who
pays for your studies?-Who paid for your plane ticket?-So what will you work
when you graduate?-Media? But why? That’s not what you’re studying.-Have you
visited any other Arab countries before coming here? Syria, Lebanon, Iraq?
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran? Have you carried anything for someone?-Are you
carrying any weapons now?*
*Why have you come to Israel?
**Why have you come to Palestine?
*Vacation?! Why would you come here for a vacation? Why not somewhere nice,
*I’m from California.
*Where will you stay in Israel?*
*Who will you see there?*
My grandparents. They’re very old.
*Feels like a safe enough answer. What could be more benign than
grandparents? They must hear that one frequently…No wait. I forgot that
it’s our grandparents that possess one of the most formidable weapons:
*So why exactly do you come to Israel?*
*I didn’t know there was a way to get from Amman to Ramallah without having
to cross into your state. We don’t choose to pass through the occupier in
order to get to the occupied, you know.*
I have a break from school, so I’m seeing family.
For a moment, I pause to contemplate the face of the border soldier sitting
before me. She can’t be any older than me, I think. I try to briefly strip
her of her role and imagine her life beyond the uniform. I ponder how she
spends her nights off, what novel most moved her, what she might
affectionately call her lover. Yet such thoughts are all too fleeting and
soon enough I resume my inability to see anything beyond the repressive
establishment she represents.
*There’s a reason I shudder each time I see someone wearing army green and
feel instantly defensive and inferior each time I hear an Israeli accent.
*Write down the address of where you will stay.
*I can’t. They don’t exactly have street names.
*What is their phone number?*
I don’t know it.
*Write down the names of the people you’ll be staying with.*
*Now write down your name, address in America, cell phone number and email.
She furtively talks to the other border soldier sitting beside her.
Discreetly, I listen and try to make out as much Hebrew as I can.
*I was fourteen years old when I first began to study Hebrew. The only
Palestinian in a class full of American Jews, I spoke of how I believed in
peace, in tolerance, and in coexistence. But deep down lay another reason I
was not so candid about. To learn the language of the oppressor was crucial,
I knew. You taught me this lesson at a very young age. It was always
reinforced at the border, where I had my first experiences with racism,
power, and oppression. I was six years old at the Allenby border when you
crushed before my eyes a gold necklace pendant shaped as the map of
Palestine with a small Palestinian flag painted on it. It was a gift. “This
is my homeland,” I anticipated telling all of my classmates, excited to
finally prove to them that where I come from really does exist! I thought if
I could plead with you in a tongue you best understand you might exercise
some mercy. Somehow I doubt speaking Hebrew here and now would work to my
*You can go take a seat on one of those chairs.
The entire border crossing is empty with the exception of me. Periodically,
a new batch of 1948 Palestinians with Israeli passports enters. They check
their bags through the security process, get stamped and go. The whole
process takes no longer than 10 minutes. Meanwhile I sit alone and wait.
One hour passes-
I try reading a few pages of *Love in the Time of Cholera* but to no
avail-the anticipation prevents concentration on anything else.
Two hours pass-
It could be worse, I think. At least I’m not feeling the vicarious shame of
watching my mother being strip searched like the several other previous
times at the Israeli border.
Funny how we learned the word for “terrorism” in Hebrew but never learned
“occupation.” I’d say the two are synonymous.
She comes back out and sits beside me. In her hand is a form that has all
the information I gave her neatly compiled. She points to the names “Bahjat
Tahboub” and “Yusra Tahboub.”
*Who are they?
*What is their address and phone number?*
I told you, I don’t have them.
I wonder what my grandmother would think if she knew the Israeli Airports
Authority was busy researching her identity at this moment. Poor Tata, what
threat could she possibly pose to the state of Israel? She’s a frail old
woman who weighs no more than 95 pounds and depends on a walker to move
about. No one in the family will admit it, yet we all know she’s depressed.
She stubbornly refuses to leave the house unless a trip to the hospital
demands of it. Perhaps she’s sparing herself the disappointment and anguish
of seeing her country’s landscape marred by uprooted trees, an apartheid
wall, checkpoints, infectious settlements and splattered bloodstains of
foolish infighting. By staying inside, she avoids having to juxtapose those
images to her imagined ones of ‘what could have been’ were it not for the
opportunism, concessions, and corruption of her very own. This is how she
escapes her people’s dismal reality-this is where it’s safer.
And yet although she decided long ago that home would be her permanent
refuge, nothing can mitigate her concealed pain of never being able to see
her first-born son, who has been forced to live in exile for the past 30
years. The passing of the years never healed the wounds, for how can one
peacefully reconcile not being allowed into Palestine indefinitely or not
being permitted to see her own flesh and blood? And so the years passed with
a torturous vacancy haunting them both. She missed his wedding and he missed
her maqbluba. She missed the birth of her grandchildren and he missed her
70th birthday. She missed the grand opening of his new business, and he
missed spending the eids with his mother and family. Next month she’ll miss
the first wedding of her grandchildren, his eldest daughter. God only help
him when he has to miss her funeral…
Palestine is where we learn how love is painful, justice is an abstraction,
and nationalism is a crime.
Another half hour passes. I’m bored and hungry.
*”Where do you like more, Dandoona? Palestine or America?”* This is the
inevitable question I am asked hundreds of times by hundreds of people each
time I visit. I hate that until now, I’m too scared to search myself for an
Another 40 minutes go by. I begin to feel as though I’m in the waiting room
of hospital waiting to hear an update from the doctor of a loved one in
critical condition. No, no, I feel more like a wrongly accused criminal in a
courtroom awaiting my sentence. What offense I’ve allegedly committed, I’m
not too clear about (I sense it has something to do with being Palestinian,
though). It is at the Israeli border where I feel most vulnerable and
impotent. Here, we’re just balls in their hands for them to play with as
they please. We put our tails between our legs, answer their invasive
barrage of questions, and hope it earns us entry into the homeland.
By now I’m antsy and start pacing. I approach the window to ask what is
taking so long, especially considering that the entire border is empty.
Before I can ask, she opens the door and accosts me. It’s about time. She
looks at me accusingly and addresses me curtly:
*We found your Palestine ID. You cannot enter from here. Try the Allenby
**My heart instantly drops, as I am aware of the consequences of that
statement. Having a Palestinian ID comes along with all the restrictions
that most Palestinians must suffer. It means I can no longer fly in to Tel
Aviv, visit any Israeli city, or enter Jerusalem. The latter, of course, is
the biggest blow of all.
*I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was born in the US and the
American passport is all I’ve ever held.
*We can’t let you in from here.* (she points) *Go get your bags, you have to
No, I won’t leave. I always enter with my US passport and you have no right
to turn me around. You have to respect my US citizen rights.
*I told you, you have a Palestine ID and we found it! You can’t enter from
What difference does it make which border I enter from? Plus this is the
border I last exited from! I understand that is your policy. Why must you
*If you have a hawiyya, you can’t enter from here! This border is only for
foreigners and Israelis.*
So what does my US passport mean to you!?!
*It doesn’t matter. You have a hawiyya.
*This is unfair! Who are you to tell me what *my* identity is?
*Okay tell me, where were your parents born?*
*I’d love to know where yours were born…
*Aha! There you go then.*
I’d like to talk to somebody else please. You’re denying me entry and not
explaining anything to me.
*You cannot talk to anyone else. Go get your bags, you can’t stay here any
*I’ll hold you accountable for the sins of your grandparents so long as you
perpetuate the crimes of the present.*
I won’t leave until someone explains the situation to me.
Reluctant and annoyed, she returns to the office to bring someone else to
talk to me. Out storms another female officer, also probably my age or
younger. She’s angry.
*What? What is it that you want?! I’m in charge now!*
You don’t need to speak to me like that. I haven’t said or done anything
She catches herself and defensively puts up her hand.
*Ok, ok. What do you want?*
I’ve entered with my US passport several times and I left last time from
this border. Why are you pulling this now?
*You have a hawiyya and you’re not allowed to enter. This is the policy.*
I don’t have a hawiyya.
*We have your number!*
I was born and raised in the US and I’ve lived there my entire life. This is
how I’ll enter.
She snaps and raises her voice even louder.
*Listen, don’t stand here and talk to me about a diplomatic passport! You
have a Palestinian hawiyya number and that’s that! We have nothing to do
with the Sulta! Go deal with this at the Allenby border.*
I try to think of what to say next but am stifled by my frustration and
exasperation. Instead, I absorb the scene that has unfolded before me and
the blatant asymmetrical power dynamic between us: three women of the same
age with claim to a same homeland, two somehow possess the right to let her
in and third possesses only ability to hope and plead. How triumphant they
must feel to watch me stand before them and deny my Palestinian identity
(card). Ashamed and conflicted, I regret the thought that has just occurred
to me: Have I just betrayed Mahmoud Darwish by telling them instead to
“Record!” my American identity while rejecting my Palestinian one? This is
painful… I tell myself to calm down and not to dare allow them the
satisfaction of seeing that they’ve gotten the better of me, but the
combination of sleepless jetlag, disappointment, and powerlessness prevails.
Resistance, in *this* case, is futile and my eyes start to tear up. As they
stare at me, their demeanor and facial expressions momentarily change. They
are used to mistreating Palestinians and Palestinians are used to being
mistreated, but to see a Palestinian so visibly upset seemingly catches them
*There’s nothing else we can tell you. Go get your suitcases and we will
walk you out.
I’m defeated. In a somber procession, I push the cart holding my suitcases
outside of the border terminal to the bus stop across the street. From there
I’ll have to take a short bus ride back to the Jordanian border to cancel my
exit stamp and reenter Jordan. I demand to hold my passport, they tell me
not yet, I have to wait. Only when they are assured that I am seated
securely on the bus do they return it. I quickly flip through the passport’s
pages to find these agonizing words stamped in cruel red ink: “*Entry Denied
*You don’t have to pay for the bus ride, we took care of it.*
*Just fuck off and leave me alone…
“Home is an addiction, it throws us against death, detaches us from
forgetfulness, and yet we cannot be without it.”*
December 17, 2007
Allenby is full of Palestinians and Jordanians eager to cross in and spend
the holidays with their families in the West Bank. Although the abundance of
people means waiting longer, I’m at once put at ease by the fact that I have
company this time.
Yesterday’s protocol and interrogation replay themselves. This time it takes
only 20 minutes for them to come out and inform me that I have a Palestinian
hawiyya number and that I must take a seat and wait for them to figure out
what to do with me.
In the meantime, I enjoy chatting with the people around me. Everyone shares
his or her story of why they are being barred from entering. Collective
sufferings prompt interesting conversations; I’m astounded by the stories I
I also notice that Palestinian holders of foreign passports have also been
held for hours without any explanation. It is clear that Israel wants to
make their process of entry as difficult as possible to deter them from
wanting to return again.
Finally a young soldier comes out with my passport and calls my name. His
name is Moshe and he explains to me that my mother recorded my name under
her Palestinian ID number long ago and that I cannot enter Israel without
“tasreekh.” He says my mother should have this paper and that I should go
call her in San Francisco because without it, I cannot enter. I tell him:
This is ridiculous. You’re talking about a piece of paper from over 15 years
ago. She won’t have it, and anyway there’s no way I can get it from her. Let
me enter and I’ll do all the paperwork from there.
*But how can I trust you?*
Are you afraid you’ll let me enter Israel and I won’t leave?
*Wow. At least he’s honest…*
That won’t be the case. I’m a student in America, I’ve shown you my
university id. I’ve just come for a vacation. And anyway, if you’re scared
I’ll stay, why are you forcing the hawiyya on me? With that, I have a right
to live here permanently!
Moshe tells me he’ll see what he can do. What follows is hours of waiting
interrupted by intermittent reappearances by Moshe. Each time, he gives me a
new contradictory piece of information and each time I fire back responding
that what he’s requesting doesn’t make sense and that the situation is a lot
less complicated than how they’re treating it.
After over five hours, I am finally handed back my passport and a form
filled out in Hebrew with my picture and information on it. This is to
suffice as a temporary *tasreeh* until I can get a proper one along with a
Palestinian identity card from Ramallah. I receive no visa. Instead, my
passport has a large new stamp that reads in Hebrew. And under my name is
the following number which from here on out defines my existence in this
small land that causes such a big commotion: *948523815*.
In the taxi ride from Jericho to Ramallah, I talk to a fellow passenger who
is a professor at Birzeit University. I tell him about my last two days and
he responds with the following:
“You should be very happy and proud that you have the Palestinian hawiyya
now. This is a small victory in our large struggle. We’ve just increased the
number of Palestinians by one, and soon you’ll pass on the identity number
to your children and our numbers will continue to multiply. I know this
experience was frustrating and difficult, but it’s good in that it has
increased your sense of belonging here. Now you’ve suffered like we suffer,
you understand our plight better and have strengthened your commitment to
ending it. So don’t be upset. Thank them for returning you to your roots.”
His words move me, yet I still can’t help but feel an unsettling
ambivalence. Were we foolish and arrogant to think all of those years that
we were the exception with our mighty blue American passports? Who am I to
lament being prohibited from entering Jerusalem when there exists an entire
population that has lived in Palestine its whole life and has long been
forbidden from visiting it? But at the same time, don’t we pay our US taxes
that help fund this vicious occupation that slowly seeks our obliteration?
To be recognized as American citizens and given a visa seems but a meager
consolation prize to expect to help us allay our guilt. I can’t deny how
angry I am. What I have just experienced demonstrates the unjustified
discrimination routinely practiced by the Israeli state; this is the epitome
of racism. It is outrageous that Israel gives itself the right to completely
disregard any other nationality or passport that a Palestinian holds. I am
surprised, yet not shocked, as this latest episode is but a microcosm of the
larger phenomenon of institutionalized Israeli racism and denial of rights
to Palestinians. Today, the lesson is clear: to Israel, any Palestinian is
nothing beyond a loathed Palestinian and must be oppressed accordingly.
Sadly, the young man from Haifa I first talked to at the Jordan River Border
captured it most accurately: “In the end, we’re all just simply
*The Author is an MA candidate in Arab Studies at the Georgetown University
School of Foreign Service*