Monday, June 23, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

For as long as I can remember, the idea of "returning" to Palestine has been pushed around by the harsh realities of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. My love and passion for the Palestinians is the reason I stay up to date on the status of their conflict, and devote my time to help bring justice to the people.

Born here in America, It took an extra effort for my parents to raise my brothers and I with the understanding and tradition of our Palestinian heritage. We grew up hearing stories about the Palestinian struggle throughout the Israeli occupation. Volunteering with a few non-profit organizations, attending demonstrations, educating myself on the conflict, and conversing with a variety of people from all walks of life, have allowed me to feel a bit better about my commitment and effort towards justice, despite the minimal changes being made. While volunteering with one particular organization, an opportunity to study at Birzeit University opened up... I jumped on it immediately.

My expectations of this 2 month long trip were none in terms of luxury.With that knowledge, I knew I would love every minute of it. Despite the demolition of infrastructure, harsh restrictions, and poor economic state of the people, I knew it was going to be the most beautiful country I have or will ever visit(ed)...because its MY country, my homeland. I arrived on the 14th of June and was already hit with the realities of the masked Zionist movement.

I was set to fly from Los Angeles, stop for layover in New York, and land at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel-Aviv, Israel by the 14th of June. Majority of the passengers from the flight from NY-TLV were Israeli and/or Jews with 3, maybe 4 Arab families. I tried to break the ice as much as possible with those around me. While we enjoyed the light conversation back and forth, I think it remains obvious what the pink elephant in the room was [a Palestinian speaking to 4 Israelis...]. But the conversation rested on common ground- the comfort of CROC shoes, the humidity in the east coast, and the kind of cars we'd like to have one day. Not wanting to start problems or spark tensions, I decided I would stay away from the heavy and complicated subject. But it was inevitable... the conversation shifted from light to dark very quickly. As Christine (An Israeli- Jew, mother of 3)spoke about her spacious home in Philadelphia and Israel, she then spoke about- or rather FOR the people of Israel and Palestine. "You know, its so ridiculous how everyone has this image of Israel as being this lesser developed country, or some big war zone with everyone hurt, poor and living on the streets. Its silly because everyone [yes, she said everyone] there lives in such nice villas, they attend the best schools, live comfortably...etc." I was shocked from the statement made. She claims to visit Israel every summer....has she kept her eyes closed each time? How could she say such a thing in the presence of a Palestinian with out acknowledging the hardly comfortable state of the Palestinian lives? I felt I had to say something. In the nicest way I could, and with a softer tone, I interrupted by saying "Well... I wouldn't say EVERYONE..." I'm not sure why, but her eyes widened as if I was the one who made a foolish statement. I then continued by saying "I think they carry both extremes: you're either incredibly rich and well-off, or you're beat poor with almost nothing..." She gave me a blank stare, and the other 2 ladies looked at each other. After not having eaten in 6 hours, and alone in an airport for over 12 hours, I was in no mood to get deeper into the issue. I immediately tried diffusing the tensions by saying "It's kind of like here in America, we have a shrinking middle class and many people are found either rich, or poor." She nodded her head and said "I guess that's true".

15 hours later we arrived at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel-Aviv and this older lady (probably in her 60s) and I were walking together to get our passports stamped. We were both praising the fact that the flight was finally over. She said "Thank goodness the worst part is over, now I can go visit my son and eat some real food!" I was jealous. "Ugh lucky...I still have a few more hours of detainment and interrogation before I get to do the same thing..." I said it half-sarcastically. She seemed to be startled and asked "Why? What'd you do?" "Nothing...I'm Palestinian..." Being half-sarcastic (half serious) I tried to be as blunt and forward as possible. Why hold it back now? I have nothing to hide and nothing of the racist system to defend. She then looked to the ground, and after a short pause she said "Right, but what did you do exactly? What reason do they have for holding you?" I smiled (a fat one, too) and said "I didn't do anything wrong aside being born a Palestinian-Arab." She looked confused. I continued "...this sort of thing is pretty routine for us Palestinian-Arabs (or non-Jewish/Israeli people)... its a way to frustrate us. Making the journey as difficult as possible for tourist to see whats really happening." Having talked to her on the plane for several minutes, I knew little of her except that she was a mother of 3, a former tennis player, and an active supporter of the state of Israel. The passport line moved quickly. I was up next when the Israeli check-in police grabbed my passport and immediately reached for her walkie-talkie and said something in Hebrew. The next thing I know, 2 members of the Israeli security came to "escort" me to the detainment room.

The older lady pushed me aside and said (or rather yelled) "For what? Where is she going? What did she do? She hasn't done anything wrong! Stamp her passport! Stamp her passport!" She definitely caused a scene. Everyone stared and more security made their way over to ask what was going on. The two original security guards came from behind me, towards her and she went on "What? I support YOU [pointing at the Israeli guards] and I support the state of Israel, but this young lady didn't do anything and what you're doing right now, is wrong!!" Shocked? Yeah, I was too. They assured her that they were just going to ask me a few questions and I would be on my way. She shook her head, gave me her blessings, and went home to her family.

I was detained and interrogated for over 3 hours and the older lady's outcry did not help my situation. They kept asking who she was, what my affiliation to her was...etc. They then asked about nearly each member of my family, my American cell and home number, email address, what I was studying, and the clubs/activities/organizations I was affiliated with in and out of school. I played dumb. I mean, Jessica Simpson couldn't match up to my apparent "ignorance". I thought it was funny how they even tried to take ownership of my father and other members of my family's name. For example, when I told them my father's name (Abdulrahman- clearly an Arabic name), they would ACTUALLY look me in the eye and correct the pronunciation of his name in the Hebrew dialect. Seriously?!? I'm pretty sure I know what his name is, and how it is pronounced...haha they've taken our land, and now my father's name? I tried not to laugh. After 3 hours, I was taken into another room where they checked my bags for nearly 30 min (including the wait), and was then finally released to meet my family.

An interesting experience to say the least, but it really had me thinking. For so long I have been conflicted between my love, passion, and hope of one day returning to Palestine, and then reminding myself of the unfortunate realities of the situation-(most media, money, and superpower all in favor of the Israelis). Sometimes I feel like its hopeless. But after thinking about the brief conversation I had with Christine at the JFK airport, and the scene created at the Ben Gurion airport, I realized something. The hidden agenda of the Zionist is working on so many levels. Its beyond the displacement of the Palestinian people. It is succeeding in writing its own history in such a way that its narrative revolves around gaining international sympathy, and playing the infamous victim card. I realized that EVEN the Israeli- Jews are unaware of the extent of the suffering that Palestinians go through. The Israeli/Jews barely know whats really going on over there because they have been fed this propaganda, that its the "bad Arabs", and Palestine was NOTHING more than "a land with out a people, for a people without a land", by those they "trust" (other Israelis). They don't bother to really research it because ignorance is bliss.

Imagine the difference it would make if the Zionist agenda and/or mentality was exposed for all to see, and really understand. I mean, if the older pro-Israel lady thought throwing me into a hot room to be questioned for a few hours was wrong, I don't think a word could describe the "wrong" of the international crime being committed each day towards the Palestinians. I have a refreshed energy, motivation and drive to spread awareness in my community and hopefully around the world. As cheesy as it may sound, we MUST come together and show the world what is really going on here, because ignorance is NOT bliss in the eyes of the suffering Palestinian people.

Due to the limitations and conditions of my trip, It may be difficult for me to blog new posts about my stories and experiences here as frequently as I'd like...but please keep checking for updates. I already have 2 other posts outlined for next time. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT. Best wishes.



Sarah said...

I truly admire how you tried to address that "elephant in the room" on the plane with the people sitting around you, and really, for telling the truth to people who cannot or choose not to see it. I suspect that this study abroad experience will be a transformational one for you, and I hope that you are able to share its lessons widely.

Dana S. said...

Wow, I'm honestly speechless. First off, alhamdullilah you had a safe flight. I'm sure your experience there just on your first day is more than many will experience in a lifetime. What happened to you is so incredible and so representative of the image Palestinians not living in Palestine have painted in their minds; all but the Israeli woman who tried to stop the guards. Before I read this, to be honest, I thought the Israeli civilians knew what was happening because I constantly see pro-Zionism references or acts in the world. To now open my eyes and see how brain-washed the Israelis are is disgusting. I completely agree on your last point that we all need to come together and do something. There are many Palestinians, like yourself, that are going out there to make a difference; but there are too many that say the Palestinian situation needs to change, but they don't do anything.
Inshallah we hear from you soon, and inshallah you're enjoying your very enlightening experience in the West Bank!

Hasnain Syed said...

I'm looking forward to every post and update. Would love to hear how your experience is evolving and how you've grown with each new experience.

I'm really glad to took this opportunity to visit your homeland and add to your life journey!

hiba said...


Alhamdullah your ok,safe and home. I loved your writing very much and did not want it to end. Please stay safe and be wise. Its hard not to get carried away but your safety comes always first. Please remember that and remember that were all proud of you and love you. honestly can not wait till your next one.

Naoma said...

I truly admire your journey.The honesty and clarity with which you document your experiences is absolutely inspiring. Please continue documenting your experiences and take as many photos as possible, I am sure we can figure out ways to share your experiences and analysis with a wider American audience. I look forward to your return.

Kareem said...

Wow. that was intense. youre braver than most people, you know? im proud to call you my cousin! =]

shaheen said...

Leena, what a journey! Keep documenting your experiences; this blog will open up the eyes of people all around the world!

Zeina said...

wow leena. that was beautiful, i cant wait fer ur other posts. oh and i agree wit kareem =]
i miss u.

abu Istakabunooh said...

well thought out well written I will give it a 8.5 overall with a
9.5 for intensity
9.5 for clarity
7 for length (yeah it ended 2soon:)

I especially appreciated the Humanity of your observations/tone you being able to connect not just across cultural but also generational barriers was inspiring. Remember this your Tribe is one that has been subjected to the most inhumane and cruel of policies, in that context be cautious ---I think the neighborhood cliche is "Keep your friends Close and your Enemies Closer" Clearly your Enemy (our Enemy)is Ignorance. Ignorance of the Suffrage Palestinians are asked to endure. Consider starting a "SMILE REVOLUTION" Whereby a Smile from one Palestinian to another becomes the local Symbol of Solidarity & Steadfastness. Few things will piss off your Oppressor more than a smile--its defiance right? :) Stay Cool

Shazia said...

Thank you Leena, for sharing this with all of us. Your documentation is so crucial! You are teaching THE WORLD! I also look forward to more iA and I pray for your safety and peace Inshallah. AMeen.

Anonymous said...

Wow Leena,

I loved your writing, I'm so proud of you and appreciate you raising awareness. I have tears in my eyes. Stay safe and look forward to seeing you soon.


Jamal A. Barakat said...

Leena this is very well written and even more interesting. It makes me very proud as your brother to read on how you handled the situation no matter how absurd it was. I look forward to reading more. Love you


Donya said...

wow is all i could say. i mean at least they didnt make you lift up your shirt and take off your shoes. i thought that part when they pronounced your dads name as if it was theres ridiculous. how could they but then again i think...yeah they can do or say anything they want and think its normal. reading your blog was very interesting and i didnt want to stop reading it at any time. i wish you good luck and a safe trip back home. and have a great time Leena.<3

nuna said...

Leena you an truely insipirational.
if i had a hero, it'd be you. i love you. yer amazing. <3 nuna

hanadi said...

Hayati, glad to hear about ur days so far,its neat to see you learning n having ur own experiences, gotta love that!!!!!!!
I Enjoyed reading all about ur experience so far, I think its an eye opener for sure!!! My baby is all grown up...Your mama misses you like crazy, your teta too, I on the other hand MISS you but can handle the distance knowing the amount of fun your having at this point, LIVE IT UP KIDDO.... Were planing a family trip and I know its not gonna be the same without u. Anyhow, how come ur not sending pictures??? I love you baby and Im proud of you, and oh by the way, try to find some time and find your self a hot man there before u return back!!!kkkk alrighty thennn, make this trip worth ur while in every aspect. your mama is gonna kill me if she reads you baby

Bader said...

Salams Leena,
Your mom forwarded the link to me and i was mesmerized by your account of your journey...i am proud that you are doing something about your beliefs and not just sitting philosophizing about safe and keep up the great work..inshallah every effort will count in opening up the eyes of the common Israeli citizens who are being brainwashed..regards, Bader

Anonymous said...

WOW, that was intense and i didn't want it to end. you handled the situation with a lot of wisdom for your age.
I'm very proud of you.keep up the good work and continue writing. You're definitely getting through.

debbiesworld said...

Salaam, Leena!

I really enjoyed reading your first blog and admire your tenacity.

Be safe, be strong, be you!

Debbie Al-Saleh

Farah said...

Well said Leena! Your recollection of these experiences is exactly the dose of reality everyone needs to hear. And when I say everyone, I mean people who span the entire spectrum of possible positions on the conflict. I really liked how you conveyed the humiliation of third class citenzry you experienced. More importantly- the Israeli woman's reaction to your being "escorted" from the line may have been
well-intentioned, but sadly demonstrated her shock and disillusionment at the system she supports. I think her interaction with you and the treatment she witnessed really struck a cord with her.
Your experience there and the writing that will unfold from it will have an impact on many people-especially people who are unwittingly supporting a poorly veiled movement to humiliate and subjugate an entire people using necessity and self-preservation as a justification. These are the unfortunate perils of rule by fear-and it's not the first time in history it has worked. Exposing this phenomenon is ultimately in everyone's best interest on all sides. I hope the rest of your trip is as thought provoking as the journey there and ofcourse, be safe. Take care!

Habib said...

My father is Lebanese and so when I fly anywhere in the world, security takes longer to check me whether it's in Australia or Singapore. But I understand why, and it makes me feel MORE secure.
I think you are really acting stupid here (and narrow-minded) too by ignoring why you are being checked and questioned.

Now imagine you were an Israeli/Jew arriving in a Palestinian airport... Your family would be left to collect the little flesh that would remain on your bones to bury.

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Anonymous said...

I can't imagine anyone walking into a Palestinian airport, Habib, because I didn't realize Palestinians were allowed to have an airport. I guess I had better educate myself.