I felt trapped in my own body. I had been waiting for 3 dreadful hours, I had taken 2 hot and suffocating bus rides from Jordan, and had been given 2 rounds of repetitive questioning by Israeli security. I waited and waited, I watched the others in the waiting room, seeing my own feelings of discomfort and paranoia in their weakening eyes. Some of them had told me they had been waiting in that room for more than 6 hours. The Israeli security kept calling me in and asking me the same questions, “Where are you from, what are you doing here, where were you born, where was your father born?” After the 3rd round of their “interrogation”, I felt myself becoming more and more sick. “I’m never coming back, I never want to do this again.” And as I heard my own thought echo in my mind, I felt even more disgusted, but now only with myself. I realized exactly what was happening. This is what they wanted. They wanted me to feel so sick I’d never want to come back and go through this again. And in that moment I knew I had won. I had beat them because I knew I would do this a million times, I would do this an infinite amount of times just to be home. And so I waited, I waited for Palestine.
The Check points
I stared at the Israeli check point in the distance and I told myself not to cry. I knew that if I began to cry for Palestine, I would never stop. Israel’s illegal apartheid wall was making my heart turn cold, as it stood in front of me so shamefully proud of its own injustice. The soldiers stand, as emotionless as the wall and fully armed at the first of hundreds of checkpoints. As I waited, I began to think about all the tourists I had seen earlier that day taking photos in Jerusalem. I wondered what they would be taking photos of if they were here next to me and if they too knew about the horrors behind this wall, would they be as excited to stand in apartheid Israel? And as the wall began to do its job and suffocate me, the soldiers began their questioning. Each soldier carrying two guns on the front of their body and a bat on their back. I wondered what it felt like to carry things that have no other purpose but to hurt another human, to scare and oppress them. I continued to zone out, thinking, “How did this wall get so big? How did the world allow for all of this?” And then the voice of a female soldier, angrier this time, brought me back to reality, “Where is your visa!?” I took a deep breath and just like the hundreds of others of Palestinians behind me, the women, the children, the elderly, I did as she asked.
The Cab in Tel Aviv
I looked outside the window of the car I was in, and I felt I was worlds away from the occupation, lost in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. We were a car full of Palestinians trying to find our way back to East Jerusalem and it was midnight. The streets of Tel Aviv were empty and I saw just what kind of different world Tel Aviv was from the Occupied Territories, just how much that wall could keep left forgotten. We saw a cab and could tell the driver was a Palestinian. We pulled down our window in hope of asking him for directions. My cousin shouted “Yetek Al Afya” an Arabic phrase to say God bless you. The cab driver looked at us. We wanted him to understand we were Palestinians, just like him. He heard our words, he understood them, and then he slowly and very carefully shook his head. He signaled to the Israeli couple in the back seat. We understood. He was too scared to speak Arabic. I saw it in his eyes, as if he had never in his life wanted to speak more. Our windows slowly went up. I then realized we weren’t worlds away from the occupation, we were at the heart of it.
The “Arab Hospital”
We had just passed the last checkpoint out of the West Bank, it was around 2 am. My cousin sitting in the front began to tell us she was suffocating. She said that she felt herself having an asthma attack. She demanded we take her to the closest hospital. And that’s what we did. We arrived at the emergency counter of the first hospital we could find in Jerusalem. The Israeli women asked us for our passports. She took a brief look, read our last names out loud, looked up at us and then said “Arabs?” She then began to speak only in Hebrew, telling us that we should go to the “Arab” hospital. I stared at the lady barely understanding the Hebrew she was speaking while my cousin on the other side of me was quickly losing more breath. I was helpless because I was the wrong race.
The Worst Moment Of All
The hardest part of leaving is not the part where you are unsure when and if you will ever be able to return, but it is the part where you have no idea what and who will remain when you come back. I looked at Palestine one last time, the land underneath me, the people around me, and I knew the only thing left to do was pray. And so I prayed, like I have never prayed before, with every bit of energy and hope I could find. And as I left Palestine I prayed watching the wall start to disappear in the night, I prayed it would too disappear in the morning.
And A Moment Back from Palestine
It was the first time I had seen my dad since I arrived home from Palestine. My entire family picked me up from the airport and we were all now sitting in traffic as I began to talk about my trip. As I spoke I began to noticed my father. It was as if my words were music playing for his heart, like an old song he hadn’t heard since he was a young boy, a song he was desperately reminiscing. My dad looked excited in a way I had never seen before. Baba, who is 71 years old, began to look like a child. Like the child who was born in Palestine, the child forced out of Palestine, stolen of a childhood, made a refugee, never allowed to return home. “Lena, you went to Haifa? Lena, Lena, tell me about Haifa. Tell me about Haifa, how does it look now?” My father asked, he spoke fast and his tears began to form in the corner of his eyes, half of them joyous the other half in great despair. I could not respond. I could not think of anything worthy enough to respond, because words here would be inappropriate. My father deserved more than words. He deserved every moment I had in Palestine. I saw his childlike eyes glowing, I knew his memories of Palestine began to form as he waited anxiously for my response. I wanted to close my own eyes, to see Palestine, to grab all of Haifa with the hands of my memory and to give it to my refugee father, crying in front of me. And in that moment I wanted nothing more than to give Baba, a 1948 Palestinian refugee, his birthright, his never ending right to return home.