My Journey to Palestine: Part 1

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As a kid, I always looked for Palestine on the map and was confused as to why I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t on the atlas’ in class or in the textbooks. And throughout my twelve years of public education, it was only brought up by my seventh grade teacher who went out of his way to educate students about something that wasn’t even in the curriculum when it should’ve been.

Where am I from?

I spun my plastic globe around in circles as I tried to pinpoint it. I looked up from the globe to my father across the room.

“Dad, where is Palestine?”

“Next to Jordan…west”

I slowly spun the globe around until I found Jordan. I placed my index finger on Jordan and slowly moved it to the left.

Israel

My dad looked up when he noticed what I was doing.

“You’re not going to find it there. It’s only on older maps now.”

“Why?”

He let out a sigh.

“It’s complicated.”

How was he supposed to explain displacement, colonialism, occupation, and illegal settlements to a seven-year-old child that has never remotely been exposed to any of that?

“Baba, if anyone asks, just say you’re from Jordan.”

“Ok”

I grew up with a missing piece to my identity. Once I was old enough to understand my people’s history, a sense of anger and hatred took over. I watched videos of the bombs being dropped, of the home invasions, the agony… it wasn’t fair. I erupted with fury on anyone that denied the truth, and unfortunately I couldn’t say I did in a mature way. The older I got, the more stories my father would share about his life there. The older I got, the more I tried to learn and connect to Palestine, the more I wanted to simply go home and bury my hands in her soil.

My Journey to Palestine

July 6th, 2016

Amman, Jordan

Eid-Al Fitr—Day 2

1/?

It was a cool morning in the vicinity of Marj Al-Hamam.  I stood outside of my uncle’s home with my pack fully loaded and strapped. It was 5 minutes to 6 and I was anxiously awaiting my ride to the King Hussein Bridge (referred to as the jisser). My ride was an elderly man that reminded me of my father. He was my cab driver one day and as we conversed, I brought up that I was planning on visiting Palestine. He then offered to drive me to the border for a good price, so I took him up on his offer.

6 AM comes and still no taxi. I needed to get to the jisser before traffic picked up. I called twice—no answer. He seemed like a reliable man. He even said he would arrive five minutes before. I knew if I went back into the house to wait, my relatives would try to convince me to post pone my trip, and that’s the last thing I wanted. I was determined to go. I didn’t want to wait any longer. I began to walk along main roads in hopes of finding a cab. Not a soul was in sight. This made me anxious; I began to worry that I wasn’t going to make it to Palestine that day, but I kept walking. I saw a car in the distance coming in my direction. The haze made it difficult to tell what kind of car it was. As soon as I thought it might be a yellow cab, I ran to the street to make sure it would see me.  Sure enough, it was an open cab. He pulled over and I approached the passenger side window. In Arabic, I asked “Will you take me to the jisser for 25 dinars?” He hesitated— but agreed. I’m pretty sure he saw the desperation in my eyes.

It was a quiet ride, not much was said. The roads were empty which automatically made it a pleasant ride due to the absence of the honking, yelling and all other chaos that comes with driving in Jordan. Halfway there I received a phone call from the man that was originally supposed to take me. It turned out he overslept and apologized several times.

As we drove through the Jordan Valley, I admired the sand-colored mountains as the warm breeze was flowing through my hair and the sun was kissing my skin.

The ride came to an abrupt ending. We suddenly stopped and found ourselves in what seemed like a line of cars that went on for at least a mile. A young man from the area approached my window and said he would get me past the line of cars and through the gate 10 JDS but that I needed to hurry. I didn’t want to make the cab driver wait, and I didn’t want to waste any time, so I agreed.

The young man took my backpack and I quickly hopped out of the cab and into his car. He quickly drove us to the gate and parked his car near it. “Hurry!” he exclaimed in Arabic. We got out of the car and started running. “Follow me and keep up.” We ran through the gate. I wasn’t sure what was happening exactly. We ran past a security officer and they nodded heads at each other. Ah, I see now… he uses his wastah (connection) to make fast cash off of people like me.

This was making up for lost time, so I wasn’t complaining. He helped me enter the crossing and from there we went our separate ways.

I entered the building at the crossing. It seemed like everyone around me knew what was going on except for me. I asked a man for help and he guided me through the steps which included filling out a short form. I grabbed a form and made my way to an open seat. I looked down at the form and chuckled. It was all in Arabic. I’m fluent in speaking Arabic, but reading and writing is still an undergoing process for me. I was able to make out some words here and there, but couldn’t get past writing my name. There was an older man standing at a table filling out his form. I decided to ask him for help. I held out my passport next to the form so he could transfer over the information. He took my passport and held it up to his eyes. I started to feel bad once I realized he had poor eyesight. What should’ve taken 30 seconds minute took about five minutes. I apologized, but he kept reassuring me that it was ok.

I waited for about an hour until my turn in line came. I approached the window and slid my Jordanian passport and form to the employee.

“Where is your visa?”

“I don’t have one”

“Do you have a Palestinian ID?”

“No, but I have an American passport.”

“You’re in the wrong building.”

I let out a huge sigh as I walked away from the window, then proceeded to where I was supposed to be. I found myself waiting in another line where I met a French guy of Arab descent. We both expressed how this was our first time going to Palestine. We sat next to each other on the bus and hit it off as we made petty jokes about what we would encounter on the other side.

The bus ride crossing from Jordan to Palestine (Otherwise known as the West Bank) took about 10 minutes. So close, yet so far. As we approached the other side, I began to see armed soldiers and Israeli flags hanging from barbed wire fences and security towers. All access to the West Bank is controlled by Israel. The bus arrived to the Allenby Crossing. Everyone got off the bus as I stared at the Israeli soldiers through my window.

Leading up to my trip, my relatives constantly warned me about the way they treat Arabs at the jisser “American passport or not—you’re still Palestinian.”

I got off the bus and waited in line. Once I was called up, I slid my passport through the window. The man continuously looked down at my passport and at me.

“What is your name?”  Banna

“Banna what?” Banna Bazzarie

“What is your name?” Banna Bazzarie

He continued to stare at my passport then muttered something in Hebrew to the employee next to him. I heard him say my middle name “Monif”

He told me to proceed to security but didn’t return my passport. I asked for it back, and he said someone would call for me to retrieve it. I went through security then waited for my name to be called. I saw an older Arab man asking a general question to one of the crossing employees that appeared to be in his early thirties. The employee snatched the passport out of the man’s hands and demanded to see his visa multiple times while holding the passport way out of reach as if the man was a child trying to reach for his toy from an older sibling. It was just flat out disrespectful. “Please give me my passport. My visa is inside of it. I can show you.”

My blood started to boil as I idly stood by knowing that there was nothing I could say.

I continued to wait.

20 minutes… 30 minutes… 1 hour… nothing.

I asked an employee when I would get my passport back so I could proceed.

“Soon.”

A man approached me after he saw me ask about my passport.

“Don’t expect to get it anytime soon, this is their way of testing our patience. Every time I come here they make me wait for 10 hours and there’s nothing I can do about it. I was born and raised in Holland with a clean history, but because I’m Palestinian they make it as irritating as possible to enter.”

I figured I would make myself comfortable as my ETA to Palestine was completely unknown now.

3 hours later and my name is finally called. I retrieved my passport and headed over to another line for a travel visa. There was a group of American girls in line behind me and we began to chat it up. Two of the five girls were of Arab descent. My turn came.

The man at the window was sarcastically nice. “Two can play at that game” I thought to myself.

Half an hour passed as he asked irrelevant questions about my family’s life story. The slimy grin on his face wasn’t helping either. He knew he was wasting my time. They all know. I filled out the paperwork I was given and returned it to him. He pointed to the seats by a wall.

“Just wait there until you are called to see if you have been approved for a visa”

I sat on the floor and waited along the wall only to spot the man I spoke to from Holland. He was still waiting for his passport. Hundreds of people came and went, easily and successfully crossing and I waiting for hours wondering if I was even going to be let in. I reconvened with the girls from earlier. We realized that two other girls besides myself were the only ones that didn’t get a visa yet. The only girls in the group of Arab descent.

I was going on my 7th hour at the jisser. I was exhausted. I closed my eyes and buried my head between my knees only to hear someone call my name. I walked over to the woman that called my name and she took me aside. She reviewed my form. I was unaware that the friend I had listed under who I will be staying with has a last name that is considered a thorn to the Israeli government. That was when I realized I fucked up.

I was asked multiple questions regarding my stance in political activism and the Palestinian cause. What caught me by surprise was their awareness of previous protests I participated in.

"If you protest here, you will go to jail."

Lovely. 

After questioning, I waited for another hour or so. I began to lose hope and thought that I would be denied entry. I saw the French guy from a distance heading towards the exit. He waved to me and flashed his visa in the air with a smile on his face.

"Banna Bazzarie"

My attention was quickly diverted away from him. “This is it” I walked over expecting to be sent back to Jordan.

"Here is your visa. You have 3 months."

I couldn't believe it. I was so relieved. I exited the building and walked towards the busses.

I noticed a group of men that appeared to be the bus drivers on a smoke break.

I approached them and asked for instructions on how to get to my destination of Ramallah. As one of the men put out his cigarette, he told me he was about to leave and I could get on his bus.

I was the last person to board. As I was stepping on, the driver noticed my large backpack and said I could sit in the single seat parallel to his, which had plenty of room and a great view. 

It was a short ride. I admired the rows of palm trees that seemed to go on forever.

I saw something waving in the distance. As we got closer, I realized we were heading towards a flag.

I’m home. Twenty years into my life and I was finally connecting the missing piece to my identity. I can’t describe how I felt when I the Palestinian flag flying in person. It was merely just a doodle in my notebook or a sticker on my laptop; but there it was, waving majestically with history’s rivers of blood beneath it.

This was only the beginning.