Sunday, October 18, 2009

Please can I go home?

I live in Palestine. But apparently this truth is an impossibility.

A few weeks ago I came back from a trip to the US. I flew into the airport in Amman, Jordan and my husband picked me up (something that he cannot do if I fly into the Tel Aviv airport which is just 45 minutes from our home). We had a leisurely breakfast and then took a taxi to the Allenby Bridge. I had just spent 26 hours in airplanes and airports and home sounded so good.

The bridge was crowded, hot, and buzzing with flies. We slowly made our way from one office to another, from one bus to another. After a few hours we finished the Jordanian side and finally made it to the Israeli passport control. My husband is Palestinian and had to wait in long lines with the thousands of other Palestinians going home that day. This bridge is the only way for Palestinians in the West Bank to go anywhere else in the world. And as always, the Israelis are their gatekeepers.

I’m a US citizen and still have not received my Palestinian residency (which is issued by Israel) so my line had just seven other foreign passport holders. I quickly reached the window and handed over my passport. I explained to the young Israeli soldier that the purpose of my visit was not a visit, that I lived in the Bethlehem area with my husband. She told me it was illegal for me to live in Bethlehem on a tourist visa. She was emphatic that I could not live in Bethlehem. And yet I do.

This interaction jolted me out of la-la land and I recalled once again that I do not control when I go home and for how long. So I changed my tone and my line and explained that I live in both California and Bethlehem. I desperately continued, telling her that my husband was waiting for his greencard and so I HAD to stay (not live) part-time in Bethlehem. I said I was only staying two months this time. I would say anything to go home. She told me to wait.

So I sat on the floor and soon my husband joined me. We laughed at the unfamiliar situation of him being able to go somewhere that I can’t. After all I’m the one allowed by Israel to go to Jerusalem, to the Mediterranean Sea, and to his family’s original village while he cannot. And I’m the one that can travel to most countries in the world without applying for a visa. So we waited together for someone to call my name.

Eventually (was it after one hour? two? I tried not to keep track) someone did call my name and handed me back my passport with a three-month tourist visa. I was relieved, thrilled to be told I could go home now! But also sobered by the experience of being told it can’t be my home.

This is just my one silly tale among millions that Palestinians experience each day. It was a rare role reversal in which I was vulnerable being a US citizen and not a Palestinian. But for Palestinians living in the West Bank this home-coming over the Allenby Bridge can also be treacherous. Just last month a friend and human rights worker was taken from the bridge to an Israeli detention center. Read more about Mohammad at