Going Home to Palestine, With Fresh Eyes

The strange feelings started on my flight from Berlin to Turkey.

It was a Turkish Airlines flight, and the plane was full of Turkish passengers. I thought about their feelings. They didn’t have to speak in another language to talk with the stewardesses. They didn’t have to wait for a translation to understand safety instructions or the pilot’s announcements. They had a kind of ownership over the flight. Maybe it’s a tiny thing. But having a national airline was a sign of the independence they enjoy.

After three hours of flying, I arrived in Turkey. I was very happy to be there again. A few months ago, when I arrived in Istanbul on my journey to Berlin to study abroad from Palestine, I felt as if my horizons were truly widening for the first time.

But some workers at the Istanbul airport told me to wait at the wrong gate. So I missed my plane. Two guys from Jordan who also missed their plane helped me buy a new ticket. I didn’t have enough money for a new one.  They insisted I not pay them back, saying, “We did nothing. It is our duty.” They also helped me call my family. Their attitude is typical in Arab culture. Men help women as much as they can.

I missed these kinds of courtesies in Berlin. It was very rare to find helpful strangers there. I speak very little German, and most Germans refused to speak with me in English. I was in a bank once and was trying to discuss a problem involving bank withdrawals with a teller. She kept speaking to me in German. I told her repeatedly that I cannot understand. She rudely told me “No English.” Her attitude was very insulting, maybe because I was a Muslim wearing a headscarf. I asked other customers to help me — to interpret or intercede somehow. Nobody replied. I was shocked. I had to leave and return later with a friend who spoke German.

In the Istanbul airport, I was very upset and hard on myself about missing my flight.

But then I start thinking about my future as a journalist. It will be full of challenges and obstacles. Missing a fight was a tiny obstacle that was solved quickly. I have to be stronger and prepared for these kinds of problems.

After I arrived in Jordan, I faced a long and tiring journey to Palestine. I needed to pass three border authorities: Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian. I prepared myself to be again in my culture. I tried to adopt some habits that I liked in Berlin, too, though. Like I tried to stand in a queue to receive my passport stamp and the bar codes for my luggage — an Israeli security measure for Palestinians heading to the occupied territories. A border agent counts the luggage and puts codes on each bag to track them.

But I failed because no one else stood in line. I was forced to take part of the whole chaotic system. Replicating those positive habits I picked up in Berlin would be my main challenge at home, I realized. That insight gave me a sense of hope, oddly. I had a goal.

As soon as I reached my camp in Palestine, however, two political changes made me nearly lose my mind.

The first was the new Israeli cage. The checkpoint that I have to pass every day to my university used to have boom gate that went up and down to allow traffic to pass through as Israeli soldiers inspected vehicles and checked IDs. It had become a real cage. A metal fence and metal turnstiles now surround the checkpoint.

Secondly, when I arrived at home, I noticed new metal fences around a portion of my camp, the Arroub Camp. I asked my father about them, and he told me that Israelis had confiscated around 38 acres to make way for the expansion of Israel’s Gush Etzion settlement.

I’d been away for more than four months. Much had changed. More of our land and liberties had been taken away.

As the days past, I was looked for other changes, including social changes among Palestinians.

So, when I went with my sister to a restaurant in Hebron and saw five girls—four servers and a female counter worker—working, I was pleased. It was my first time seeing young women working in a restaurant, especially in Hebron, a very conservative area. This is very significant. I was pleased that some traditional roles were changing for the better. I’m hoping they are a sign of things to come.

Every hardship and difficulties that I face—constrictions on movement, the lack of facilities, cultural restrictions—and every positive change I observe encourages me to engage more in the Palestinian society. As a beginning journalist, I now have experience from working in an internship in Berlin and a perspective on what life is like outside Palestine from  studying in a German university.  I hope by reporting on the changes I see in Palestine, I can encourage the positive changes and discourage the negative ones.

I promise to challenge the status quo.


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