The irony is not lost on me that I landed in Amman on May 15, nor that the 6 hour interrogation I underwent as I was crossing the border in to Palestine 2 days later was almost 63 years ago to the week that my father fled with his family and neighbors from Isdoud to Gaza.
I started writing thinking I was going to give some detailed description of my day at the mukhabarat in Amman (yeah, that happened) or my 6 hours and 5 separate interrogations on the border. But oddly enough, I don’t care so much anymore. I barely cared even on those days. I was more frustrated with some of the Palestinians crossing with me from Jordan than I was with the Israelis. I expect the Israelis’ nonsense and hostility, their suspicion and frustration at my existence, and have learned, even living thousands of miles away, how to push past it in absolute calm. What I have never learned or understood are the Palestinians who are so outraged so easily and so self-righteous about their foreign citizenships, who are so offended to be treated like a Palestinian at the border, instead of realizing the insanely exalted position of privilege they are returning in and to. It is not that any human being shouldn’t be outraged at the humiliation which they are forced to undergo, it is the attitude that for some reason, you are better than all of the other Palestinians who undergo it every day. It took more restraint to not yell at the Palestinian-Australians with me than it did at the Druze son of a bitch who kept trying to speak to me in Arabic to change my story.
Since I got through the border so late, I didn’t make it to Nazareth until about 7pm. I arrived to find Ian, who had been waiting for me the entire day (bless his heart) sitting with his new friend and restaurant owner, Abu Firas. We wouldn’t have been able to make it back to Ramallah till really late and Ian informed me we’d been invited to stay the night with Abu Firas and his family in their village a few minutes away. I spoke to my delightful new Amo and agreed. Less than an hour in and I was already being adopted by Palestinian families and doing things that seem inconceivable and beyond unsafe in the States.
We stayed the night in Ein Mahil, a beautiful village in the hills near Nazareth. When we arrived at their home, Um Firas had a pot of stuffed grape leaves ready, and after dinner, their children (college age) took us on a walking tour of the town. They showed us the orchards and land that the people have managed to hang on to, thought most has been taken by Israel. The streets were particularly empty, yet filled with music, as we walked that night because most of the town was at a wedding a few roads up on the small mountain. We had breakfast with the family the next morning and from Ein Mahil, we left to Jerusalem, and then from there to Ramallah.
The bus ride down south was a borderline disturbing introduction to the moving landscape – distorted with colonial presence, Israeli flags, signs in Hebrew, and fields and hills populated with trees not native to the land, covering the crimes their planters committed.
After going through Jerusalem, the Qalandia checkpoint, and passing the Apartheid wall, the scene opened up to the hills of Ramallah.
It’s not my first time in Palestine, but aside from a one day venture to Jerusalem when I was 11, it is my first time beyond the borders and beaches of Gaza, and the camps of Rafah and Deir el Balah. It’s the first time I’ve seen its hills and trees aside from in pictures. It’s the first time I’ve looked with my own eyes upon this image of Palestine that so many others have. The change in terrain is jarring and yet isn’t in the same moment. It isn’t the village my father spent years describing to me in detail and it isn’t the coast I’ve spent summer afternoons on, but I know the scenes, the hills, the rooftops, the streets and alleyways, and the olive trees in the same sort of comfortable manner.
Tala and Ian have both asked me in the past couple of days what it feels like to be here, and I haven’t been able to answer them really. I don’t know if I’ll be able to for a while, maybe in a couple more weeks, or when I make the trip to Isdoud, or maybe never. I’m not sure how much it matters to be able to say what it feels like to be here. For now, it might just be important enough that I am.