What I did on My Summer Vacation

Me overlooking the beautiful villiage of Deir Ghassana, which is currently a part of the governate of Ramallah.

When people asked me what I’m doing on my summer vacation, I told them that I am going to Palestine. I told them that I am going to Palestine to visit my grandmother, my aunt, and my cousins…

But after visiting “Palestine” for a month this past May, I realized that I wasn’t visiting “Palestine.” I was visiting a beautiful piece of land occupied by a foreign, aggressive force. It’s a land filled with millions of people who are displaced and living under the constant fear of violence and corruption by their illegal occupier: Israel.

Growing up in America all my life, I never truly realized how free I actually am. I’m not under the constant fear of unjustified imprisonment without benefit of Due Process. I am not afraid to be denied medical treatment because the hospital is not in “the allowed territory,” and I am definitely not afraid to go to work or school or the mall because I might be illegally stopped, searched, and potentially physically or sexually abused. For most Palestinians, these are legitimate concerns. And as an American, I was disgusted by what I witnessed in my short time in the beautiful and historic land of Palestine…. And as a Palestinian, I am hurt, dismayed, and shamed by the humiliation and abuse my people face in their own land.

To give a brief history (mind you, I am not a historian or claiming to be), Palestine was obtained after a bloody massacre and hostile take over by Israel in 1948. In 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were illegally seized and occupied by Israel and is still occupied to this day, even after numerous resolutions and treaties demanding that Israel withdraw from these Palestinian territories. But still, Palestinian women, children, and men are still living under debilitating and inhumane circumstances inflicted upon them by Israel.

Upon entering Israel, as an American citizen, my sister and me were subjected to hours of waiting and incessant questioning. If I was white or really anything other than Muslim or Arab, I would have not been treated with such hostility or injustice. But because I am an Arab and because my parents were born and raised in the Holy Land, I was forced to sit on plastic chairs in an obscenely cold room surrounded by other American citizens of Arab descent and/or who practice Islam, waiting for hours to be given permission to be entered into “Israel” to visit my grandmother, my sick aunt, and my beloved cousins. Within the 3 hours we sat waiting, I was asked the same questions over and over and over again: “Why are you here?” “Who are you staying with?” What is your aunt’s Palestinian visa number?” And of course my personal favorite, “What is your father’s and grandfather’s names?” After being asked these questions numerous times, we were then asked to fill out a piece of paper asking the same exact questions.

And even though I watched my Australian, Caucasian counterparts enter immediately without harassment or discouragement, my mother, sister, and I entered hours later.

But of course, Israeli abuse didn’t stop there. Approximately 2 weeks later, my cousins and I went to Ramallah to get our hair and make-up done for my cousin’s engagement party. This should be a fun time. But coming home from the city after getting all glammed up, we were stopped by Israeli solders and asked to go back. When it was clear that the van full of young women in evening gowns and the bride sitting in the backseat were only heading home to celebrate an engagement and are clearly not a threat to anyone, the fully and dangerously armed solder forced us to turn around. We had to take an alternative route through mountains and dangerous unpaved roads, leading us an hour out of our way. Sadly, most Palestinians are used to this torture and oppression, and have become numb.

A week before our vacation was over, we decided to go into Jerusalem to pray at the Holy Muslim sites: a right that should be guaranteed to all people of all faiths. First of all, we didn’t enter Jerusalem the same way White Europeans/Americans do. Because we are Arabs, we entered through a checkpoint that requires us to be searched and our purses to be put through metal detectors. Thankfully, my mother and I were sent right through, but my younger sister was detained for a half an hour for questioning. Of course, you can’t ask why you are being held. So she was asked to sit in a room alone and wait. Finally she was asked her father’s and grandfather’s names. They put it through a computer (making sure my 24-year-old Social Worker sister isn’t a big bad terrorist). She was then released. Apparently Israel doesn’t like it if your middle name ISN”T your father’s name, as they have become accustomed to with Arabs. But may I remind you again, we are American citizens and our fathers’ names shouldn’t be any of their concern.

The Aqsa Mosque: The 3rd holiest prayer site for all Muslims. It is located in East Jerusalem.

Two days later, on the way home from an amazing dinner at my great uncle’s house, we were stopped, once again, by two armed Israeli solders. We were asked were we were going and why we were out to begin with. My uncle (who is in his late 60’s by the way) was asked what he does for a living and where he lives. The solder proceeded to open the van door to peer inside at me and my family and our shopping bags. They then let us go. It felt so stifling and violating for someone to just stop you for no reason, to ask you questions, and to have that much control over you when you aren’t guilty of anything, but just existing. The only purpose for stopping us was to remind us that we are not free and that we never will be. It’s just all very disgusting.

Overall, my experiences dealing with Israelis was not pretty. And to be honest, my experiences are considered mild and routine compared to the hell most Palestinians endure. Abuse ranges from murder to rape to illegal searches and detention, and just about everything else the civilized world would frown upon.

I’m glad I got to spend quality time with my grandmother and my aunt and all of my awesome and resilient cousins. But I am not glad that they are all forced to live under Israel’s state-sponsered terrorism. May God protect them and give them the land that is rightfully and legally theirs.  

~~ Leen J.