Recognition is a Two-Way Street

Everyone wants to be acknowledged, not only as individuals, but as a people, too. Israel has made it very clear that it must be recognized as a Jewish state. But is this not a two way street? Looking back on a number of examples and personal incidents, I realize it is not.

At Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, “Palestine” is a four-letter word. Israeli immigration officers and border police ask foreigners the most absurd questions. “Will you go to the West Bank? Do you know any Palestinians?” Of course, trained as most people are, the answer is always “No.” Who wants to be returned at the border? Or be given a few weeks on their visa? Or be given a stamp that says “Palestinian Authority territories only”, which means Jerusalem is off the travel list? No, even though it goes against the grain of so many people’s consciences, most Palestinians with foreign passports or foreigners coming to visit or volunteer in Palestine usually come up with an alternative story as to why they want to enter the country.

As I say these things, I think of a very upsetting episode in my own life several years ago. In Jerusalem, something as small as a Palestinian flag or a necklace with a map of Palestine pendant can land you in hot water. During an international peace march in the city years ago, Israeli police stormed the gathering because a Palestinian flag had been raised. I was caught in the middle, trying to rescue a young girl from the clutches of a burly and not-so-nice Israeli policeman. In the process, as three policemen grabbed me and put me in a headlock, I heard –” and felt –” something snap. I knew what it was. My precious gold Palestine necklace, which I had not taken off for years.

I was later taken to the police station (and subsequently released 24 hours later when no charges were made). During the few hours I waited to be “processed” a mean looking Israeli interrogator came up to me dangling something shiny. “This is yours, isn’t it?” he asked, my beautiful broken necklace with the Palestine pendant inches from my face. I weighed my options quickly and quietly. If I reclaimed it –” which I wanted to do –” it could mean an actual charge against me. If I didn’t, I would probably be allowed to go home, sans my necklace. But worse than losing the necklace to the Israeli police, I was unhappy with the fact that I could not proudly claim ownership of it to them without penalty. What I wanted to say was, “Yes, it is mine. Yes, this is Palestine, my home.”

But I did not. I denied it was mine. Some may see this as a justifiable survival tactic; a way to live in this place where oppression and injustices run rampant. While it is true to some extent, it is also true that we should be able to claim our identity just like anyone else in the world. And the world, in turn should recognize it.

Perhaps today, I would have reacted differently. With the surge of international solidarity with the Palestinians and the Arab spring which has emboldened all oppressed peoples in a way like never before, not to mention the Palestinian bid for statehood in September, the tide has changed. Palestinians are not only demanding recognition, they are commanding it.

In September, I will raise a Palestinian flag above my house in the Old City of Jerusalem, regardless of the consequences. Just like the group of internationals who flew into Ben Gurion and stated the truth–” they were coming to Palestine –” even though they understood this would mean deportation, sometimes consequences are necessary to assert what is really important.

Recognition is a human need, a political need and a requirement for a dignified life. We must never have to hide who we are, why we are here and what we stand for. Yes, I am Palestinian and Palestine is my home. And if you respect and acknowledge that, we will have no problem whatsoever.