Illustration courtesy of Molly Crabapple / The Nation.
This was written under the request of anonymity to protect the writer’s identity.
What is the possibility of me getting stuck in Palestine?
Of me not being able to come back to America?
Of having to live under occupation for months on end?
These are the thoughts that ran through my mind as I planned my trip to Palestine—a trip in the midst of a genocide of my people.
I realize how selfish these thoughts are. How they prioritize my safety and my well-being. But I think it is important to engage with them, particularly as a Palestinian-American.
Eventually, I made the decision to visit my homeland. I decided it was important for me to have that experience at this point in my life. That it was important to bear witness to what my people go through and to share that with others.
But getting to Palestine is far from easy or straightforward.
I am a dual Palestinian-American citizen. That means that my American passport means nothing to the Israeli government. My Palestinian identity trumps any privilege my American passport may offer me in other parts of the world. Because I have a Palestinian passport, I cannot fly directly into the Israeli airport, and of course, Palestinians are prevented from having their own airport.
That means I have to cross borders.
Many, many borders to get to Palestine. Because I cannot fly directly into Palestine, I have to cross through Jordan. The first part of the trip requires getting to Jordan. The quickest flight is a direct flight into Amman, Jordan.
This is an expensive flight, which has continued to rise in price in recent years. If you can afford it, that flight lasts 12 hours. If you cannot afford it, you can book a connecting flight that takes even longer.
Once in Amman, one needs to drive to what is called the King Hussein Bridge Border Crossing. Of course, before driving over there, one needs to ensure they know the time that it is open. You have to get the timing just right.
The goal is to make it through both the Jordanian and Israeli border crossings in one day. Otherwise, you can get stuck.
Most times, getting the timing just right means you are forced to stay in Amman a day or two to ensure the borders are open at the same time. Prepare to open your wallets.
The Jordanian Border Crossing means more payments, more security checkpoints, and more chaos. It means hours upon hours as Palestinians try to cross the border in droves.
If you make it through, you must once again prepare yourself for another border crossing. You must get in a bus to make it to the Israeli border crossing. Sometimes this means waiting in the bus under the heat for hours as the Israelis decide who they will let in and who they will make wait just because they can.
For most Palestinians, this is the worst part.
Any wrong word, look, or move could trigger interrogation for hours, or even worse, denial of entry.
Young Palestinian men have it the worst. They are automatically labeled a threat and viewed with suspicion.
The Israeli border crossing means question after question.
Why are you here? Who are you with? Who are you visiting? Where are you going? Who is your father? And his father? And his father? How much money do you have on you?
Sometimes it entails the searching of your phone. If you get caught with Palestinian-related content, good luck. That means trouble.
The whole process is humiliating. It is as if Palestinians are cattle being moved from one place to the next and praying that they are not the one who gets slaughtered this time.
Frankly, the whole thing felt like an out-of-body experience for me.
I have visited Palestine before. I know what to expect. But I was shocked this time. With everything going in Gaza, I was shocked how the Israelis just acted like it was business as usual. No one mentioned Gaza. It was like it didn’t even exist.
If you are lucky enough to make it through the process, passing through the Palestinian border crossing is relatively straightforward.
But then come the Israeli checkpoints and apartheid walls within Palestinian-controlled territory. These are daily aspects of Palestinian life that have existed for years.
I mentioned that I visited Palestine before. But never have I experienced anything like this.
The Palestinian border crossing is in Jericho. Five minutes outside of that, the Israelis added a new checkpoint because of Gaza.
As we were waiting behind the line of cars, a Palestinian ambulance came by with its sirens on. Every other car before that had to go through the same process—wait for the order to stop, provide identification, answer questions and allow the car to be searched.
The ambulance was no exception. It was forced to stop at the military checkpoint just like any other car. Two soldiers in full military gear came up to the ambulance on each side with their war weapons. The driver was questioned by one soldier as the other made his way to the back of the ambulance. He opened the back to conduct a search until he was convinced the paramedics were just doing their jobs. Meanwhile, a sniper kept his gun on us and the rest of the cars in front of us ready to shoot first and not ask questions later.
Wrong move and you are dead.
Military checkpoints mean hours of your time waiting. Wasted time that you could be spending at your job or going about your day. Just waiting for them to let you through. Often, the soldiers will hold people up for hours just to humiliate them. They ransack cars. They pick people to punish, both verbally and physically. Again, if you have anything Palestinian-related in your car, good luck.
On the way home, we saw Israeli settlements that were getting closer and closer to Palestinian territory. Every year, the settlements seem to grow and the settlers grow bolder. Our driver described how this year, many Palestinians did not harvest their olives because they were afraid of militant settlers who would hurt them if they harvested the olives, even though those olives belong to them and have been in their families for generations.
Those olives are their livelihood.
Our driver also pointed out a one-man Israeli settlement in the mountains. The Bedouins used to live on that mountain, he explained, but one man decided he wanted their land. The IDF came and kicked them out because he wanted it.
The Bedouins have lived in Palestine forever, and in a matter of hours, they were forced from their home because one man decided he wanted it, and he had the manpower to back him up—manpower supported by the American government.
We finally made it home.
The entire trip took about three days and lots and lots of money. I could not imagine doing this multiple times a year because I have responsibilities or sick family members to take care of. It is a system purposefully created and thought out to deter Palestinians from their right to visit their homeland.
This is a direct juxtaposition to what it is notoriously known as “Birthright Israel.” If one is Jewish, you can sign up for a free Birthright Israel trip and take a direct flight. But if one is Palestinian, you need to leap through obstacle after obstacle.
At home, we realized a critical detail. We arrived on a day where the Israelis cut off the water. We had no water at home, so we could not shower or cook.
Israel cuts off water from Palestinian territories in the West Bank for most days of the week. Amnesty International calls this the “Water Occupation.” To deal with this, Palestinians fill giant jugs on top of their houses with water to last the rest of the week. If you run out, that could mean days without water.
Water was one resource we had to figure out how to get. We also needed to figure out how to get to the city from our village.
A few years ago, Israel opened a pathway finally allowing Palestinians in neighboring cities to get to the city more easily. But in October, they closed that pathway. As a result, Palestinians are forced to travel miles upon miles to get the city.
They must drive around the apartheid walls. These walls separate them not only from Israeli settlements, but also from other Palestinian cities and villages. Some of the walls even go through villages.
Getting to the city meant more than two hours in traffic each way, making it practically impossible to get to doctor appointments or work.
What you see during those hours are images from South Africa and quotes from Nelson Mandela all over the apartheid walls. The images and the words are a form of resistance to the military occupation.
“The humanity of the oppressed is reclaimed through liberation, and Israel is no exception,” read one quote.
Another read “ONE WALL, ONE JAIL” with the image of birds flying over the wall drawn right beside.
At the beginning of this piece, I told you all I had a decision to make: to visit or not visit Palestine.
That implied I had a choice.
If there is one thing I want you to get out of this piece, it is this: Palestinians do not get a choice.
They are born into occupation. They are born into a world that turns its back on their suffering, subjugation and humiliation.
While the world is finally beginning to pay attention to what is happening in Gaza, it is important to recognize that the apartheid system in the West Bank and the open-air prison in Gaza are part of the same system meant to control Palestinians and deny them freedom and liberation.
This system is meant to prevent Palestinians from being as free as the birds they draw on the wall.