Pining for Palestine
All quotes are from the same anonymous source unless stated otherwise. The views of this article are not representations of the views of The Chronicle.
Sirens pierced the air, growing louder and louder by the second. Sirens that, to a 5-year-old child, could simply be a fire drill filled the hot, muggy summer air of Palestine. The young girl heard her grandmother tell her aunt, mother and two younger brothers to hide in the cellar. Only her grandfather stayed out, keeping watch by the window. It was dark in the cellar – the lights were shut off – and everyone was silent. The only sound the young girl heard was the sound of alarms creeping closer and closer as the family waited and waited. The young girl, worried about her grandfather’s well-being, stepped out of the safety of the dark cellar.
Through the window she saw army trucks coming down a large hill near her house. At the top of the hill was a checkpoint – an army facility for Israel. Loud bangs and gunfire penetrated the silence of the small, rural village and the young girl stood, taking in the noise, perplexed. Her grandfather held her close against a wall so that no shadow would be seen – so no one would know they were there. Finally, the sounds faded. The Israelis had passed by their street. The girl was still confused, unsure of what just happened and she was scared. Everyone was silent for a moment. Then it was back to life as usual.
That young girl is now a 19-year-old Hofstra student. She has been visiting Palestine every few years since the age of 5. Her parents came here nearly 30 years ago in hopes of finding success.
“In Palestine, the economy is not as good as it could be. The work there isn’t taken as seriously as it could be, because there’s no set system,” she said.
So her father and mother came to the United States, got an education and were able to “grow and seize opportunities that aren’t offered in Palestine.” Her father came to America to pursue business, and her mother received her master’s in biotechnology.
About 60 years ago, before World War II, Palestine was occupied by Britain. After the war ended, many Zionists saw Palestine as an opportunity to establish a Zionist state.
“Many citizens welcomed incoming immigrants … They welcomed them with open arms,” she said. “Palestine is the foundation for three religions. It is the Holy Land and it should be open to all.”
However, complications soon arose.
“The movement gained popularity and was funded by many people, allowing it to grow,” she said. The movement expanded until the entire country of Palestine was being illegally occupied. “They say it’s their right to a homeland – and I understand that completely – but there was no reason to kill hundreds and displace thousands of Palestinians in the process of illegally occupying a country.”
Palestine has the longest military occupation in world history, which is just one of the myriad of things most Americans don’t know about Palestine. Most of the people she talks to aren’t even aware where Palestine is or what is currently happening there.
“The lack of people speaking about this is disappointing, and no one is educated on it. Google Maps doesn’t even have Palestine on the map anymore,” she said. “As a Palestinian, it sucks seeing that your country has disappeared and that people don’t know about it anymore. It’s very disheartening.”
For her, Palestine isn’t some foreign place. Palestine is her homeland. She is passionate about educating people on Palestine and its culture.
“It’s a beautiful culture that people don’t tend to see because of the image Arabs are given.”
There are so many aspects of Palestinian culture that Americans don’t get to see, especially in the Donald Trump era.
“I always want to show the good side,” she said. “That positive image is just so rare to see.”
Her parents always told her, “Be proud of who you are, because that is what makes you who you are. It is your story.”
She displays her pride by speaking out. She speaks of her village in the West Bank. The rural roads on which you drive and see shepherds on their donkeys surrounded by flocks of hundreds of sheep. The olive trees that blanket Palestine. Olive trees that she used to climb as a child that are now being deforested by the Israeli government as part of their occupation of Palestine, which is taking away a huge source of income for Palestinians.
She speaks of the almost day-long journey it takes to get to Palestine from America. Because she’s a Palestinian citizen, she’s not allowed to use the airport in Israel. Instead, she must first fly the 10-hour flight to Jordan and go to border control – this takes about an hour. Then, it’s onto the Israeli checkpoint, which could take upward of five hours. They check passports at least five times and luggage at least two or three. She speaks of the racist comments made at that checkpoint and of the Israeli military officers mimicking her mother’s accent. When she steps up to give her passport, there’s a red line that she cannot cross. If she does, she’ll be yelled at and ridiculed. She doesn’t speak at these checkpoints. Instead, she just keeps her head down and hopes for it to pass without a problem.
She experiences these things once every few years when she goes to visit Palestine. Yet for some Palestinians, they must go through this horror 10 to 20 times a year. Many Palestinians have family members that are refugees in Jordan, so they have to go through the border control process to visit them.
“It’s just little things like that that dehumanizes Palestinians. The only way to keep in touch with their families is going to this border that is hell on Earth for these people.”
She speaks of the bad media coverage given to Palestine. In the summer of 2014, she was in the West Bank when Israelis blockaded Gaza and nearly 2,000 people died. The media coverage didn’t begin to show its impact. Right now, Gazans only have electricity for certain times of the day – if they are lucky. The power goes out randomly in her village and the water is terrible. She equates it to being an open-air prison.
“These citizens do not deserve this,” she said. “They didn’t do anything.”
She uses her voice to speak out for the people who cannot. It is because of this voice that she recently had the opportunity to intern at the U.N. The U.N. is trying to get more girls involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She has now interned twice at the U.N., working with the Royal Academy of Science and International Trust organization, which strives to get more women an education in STEM. She was mainly doing small tasks such as guiding ambassadors, but what she got out of these experiences has been priceless.
“I got to see the presentations and the environment in which politics is discussed,” she said. “And the many different factors taken into consideration, which has made me more open-minded about the topics which I hope to apply in other ways.”
She has now started getting involved in speaking out about Palestinian rights thanks to her time at the U.N.
Currently, the Arab-American community "is not as prominent as other cultural groups as it could be, which is partly our faults,” she said. “So part of the solution, I believe, is creating a stronger voice for those who do not have one.”
“I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but I would love to get more involved. I want to give people my voice and Arabs a voice, because there are very hard workers in America and they don’t get recognition.”
Right now, she plans on graduating and seeing where life takes her. When she has a career that she’s comfortable with – one that focuses on STEM – she hopes to either start a grassroots organization or join one. Though she plans on staying in America, she will continue to visit Palestine and be a voice for Palestinians who don’t have one.
“This is something I’m definitely not going to ignore and that I’m going to do in the future.”
Until then, she will continue to speak, to educate and to love the country that she is so proud to be from.
“A lot of the images portrayed of Palestine in the media are war, but there are so many peaceful moments I see there. The sunsets there are beautiful, the landscape and the hills … it’s just so breathtaking. I love being there. It’s my favorite place to be.”