My second visit home was an exceptionally emotional one as I had for the first time travelled alone. While I had went to Palestine just one year earlier (during Israel’s offense on Gaza), it was as though I was making the trip for the first time. I deeply wished that it would feel as though I’ve been there hundreds of times – God knows I have in my head. I punctually and impatiently reached the King Hussein Bridge on Sept 20th, at 6:50AM. I was told that I would have to wait until 8AM for the terminal to open and until 9AM for the bus to depart.
In the terminal I met a British couple, an Australian couple, and an Italian man who had regrettably deemed me their professional tour guide/translator. Truthfully I was fully occupied with trying to get in on my own and I now found myself with a responsibility I wish I could have turned down. I did my best to lead but in reality I was more or less pretending that I could help them in some way to prove my Palestinian-ness to them and perhaps really myself. I really wanted to, and it was my responsibility, right? As a Palestinian entering my home, I should ordinarily easily lead the way. I was overcome with a sense of guilt and humiliation later when I found I wasn’t able to do it as I wished – of course the journey into Palestine is anything but ordinary. Interrogation from one soldier to another, line up from one area to another, ID yourself from one armed Israeli to another; and in the end your fate is at the will of the occupier. When I reached the area where we hand off our bags to security, I worked my way to the front of the line and instructed my fellow travelers to stay next to me. After about ten minutes of observing, I discovered that in reality there was no line, people were jumping over me to throw their bags in front. So I, like the rest, aggressively fought my way to the front and threw my bag onto the belt, handed my passport to the first officer and grabbed my baggage ticket. I helped my guests do the same and we all made our way to the next line where they would mark your baggage sticker with some hebrew characters that would decide your next fortune (or misfortune… probably misfortune) – whether you will be sent for baggage check or not. The Israeli officer at the window looked at me briefly and then asked me if I was alone, I told him that I was. With my passport in his hand he asked me for my name, as if though to quiz me. After giving him my name he scribbled on my sticker and asked me to proceed. I waved goodbye to my guests as I knew we would likely be taking different paths. At the next line after passing through the metal detector, the officer told me to step aside, “tafteesh”, (I was one of the lucky ones who would have to wait until they checked my baggage). After almost an hour, an Israeli woman younger than me called my name and asked me to follow her to a small room with a podium; she asked me to stand on the other side and drew the curtain shut. She was kind and quick, asked me a series of questions and dealt with me politely. I despised that she was kind because I wanted to hate her, but I couldn’t. I moved to the next line in another room which I remembered well from my last visit where I had spent seven hours. I handed my passport again to another Israeli soldier and she gave me a paper to fill out, identifying who my parents were, where they were born, and what relatives I had in the country. I completed the sheet and waited almost three hours to be called again. First one man came out to ask me questions I’d answered at least three times already he disappeared. Another twenty minutes past another officer came out to ask me where my father was born, I answered “here”, she questioned back, “where here? Like in this terminal?” I told her “in Nablus”. She asked about my mother I answered “Tulkarem”. Another officer quickly came out and asked me to follow him into a room where he asked me about my job in Canada, purpose of my visit, where I wanted to go, and of course their obsession with my parents and grandparents wouldn’t desist. I walked out of the room with my passport and permit confident that they knew about the last three generations of my family as much as I did if not more. It was now just a bit past 2PM and I was successfully in Palestine. I took a bus to my uncles’ home and wasted no time. As soon as I entered my uncles’ house, his wife exclaimed, “do you choose the worst possible times to come?!” I told her that I’d booked my ticket months in advance and if anything I was the bad luck charm. Palestine was on the verge of another popular rising prompted by increased incarceration of Palestinians, further restrictions on entrance to Aqsa mosque, and of course amongst many other things settlement expansion and racist settler violence on Palestinian land, crops, and people.
I could cover almost every minute of my trip as I tried to leave no stone unturned, I visited Tulkarem, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Jaffa, Haifa, Nahriya, and Akka in nine days. Along the way I met extraordinary people who treated me like a brother; perhaps a feature I wouldn’t have had the privilege to experience had I not been alone. It would likely been an endless post if I were to write about each of these and so I want to exclusively write about my visit to Mokhayam Balata in Nablus where my father was born.