“Are you a member of khizbollah?” she asked, “no,” I answered.
“Are any of your family members or friends supporters of khizbollah?”, again I answered, “no.”
Nine hours of sporadic questioning, and all because I said I was visiting a friend in Ramallah instead of Jerusalem; my American passport did nothing for me.
The assumption I had, on my first and only visit to my homeland, was that my white skin, strong command of English, postgraduate education, and, most importantly, my American passport, would allow me to prance across the Jordan-Israel-West Bank border. I was wrong, all because of a nondescript Lebanese stamp on the corner of one of my passport pages.
And so the inquisition began: name, mobile number, marital status, political affiliation, residency card, profession, travel history, Facebook profile (a questionable cover photo: the back of a pickup truck with a bumper sticker, written in Arabic, reading ‘kiss the boo boo’), name of employer, address, future plans; How many babies do you want to have, Nadine?
The officers took turns and the fluency of their English varied. I suspected that one or two of the officers were in training but I couldn’t be certain; at any rate, I was their practice. After the first hour of a very boring round of questions and answers, the border control officers upped their game.
“Where was your father born?”, “Gaza”, I answered – there is little point attempting to lie to an Israeli immigration officer.
“And your mother?”, “Hebron,” I said.
Naturally, this piqued their suspicion of me. What is a young Palestinian woman doing going into Palestine on her own? They returned to their private office and I sat and waited another hour or so while the background check was underway.
My father’s birthplace is a very contentious place, they wanted the whole story. And so, what choice was left then to divulge my cloudy family history and expose my fractured identity.
“My father was born in Gaza and lived there for a few years, they left through Egypt in 1959 to Lebanon. They took the Lebanese nationality courtesy of my grandfather’s attempts negotiating with the authorities. It helped that they were Christian, the Lebanese didn’t have a problem with that.”
And the Muslims, particularly the Sunni Muslims, were not so lucky, I thought to myself.
“It is terrible what they do to the Christians in the Arab world,” another fresh faced officer said to me.
One of many antagonising attempts, which failed, I smiled, “It is terrible what is done to every Arab in the Arab world,” I replied.
“And your mother?” I was asked.
“My mother is Jordanian, she was born in Hebron was there in 1967. My grandfather used to work in Amman so they were back-and-forth a lot, did you know it’s only a one and a half hour drive?”
Disregarding my comment he said, “So you are Palestinian,” instantaneously erasing my insecurities for me. “Yes, I am.”
With that they left me once again, to sit amongst the others in bureaucratic purgatory. The room was cold, very cold, and after 5 hours of waiting, was annoyed, to say the least. I paced up and down the room, looking at the other groups of people waiting, some more patiently than others. I sat down beside a friendly looking couple, they were clearly foreigners going in for tourism, and asked them how long they had been waiting. Six hours, they told me and so I asked, why?
The woman said to me, “They gave me my entry stamp, but we are waiting to hear what happens to my partner.”
Her partner was a German man of colour, and I was, sadly, not surprised.
He said, “I am originally Somali, but I was born and raised in Germany. I visited Somalia only once in my life. They are asking me if I am affiliated with Boko Haram.”
I laughed, and then received a scolding and almost a smack on the arm from the cleaning lady for taking her colleague’s seat on the bench. It was marked with a jacket – I deserved it, occupation is illegal.
A few more hours and my impatience began to roar, but I knew better than to say anything, I wanted to see where my home should have been. I could not even imagine what it would look like. All I knew was how to live without it.
Take a shot at explaining to someone that growing up somewhere does not make you feel like you belong to a place. And that sometimes after living somewhere your whole life, that place does not want you anymore. Or that just because you have a few pieces of paper claiming that a state owns you, that does not mean that you are owned by the state.
This narrative is not written to victimize or vilify; it is written as a testimony to the unnaturally broad spectrum of injustice perpetrated by one state on another. There is far worse than border control officers, and many victims of a much more serious nature.
This narrative highlights the varied exertions of dominance, and the psychological warfare orchestrated by the state of Israel.
It is written because after 50 years of the existence of a singularly subjugated population, the balance still does not seem to be shifting. It is written because Palestine is still occupied.
They let me in, but whether I can go back is a different story.