One of my biggest indulgences when I make a trip to the United States is taking long hot showers. This may sound ridiculous to many, but to a Palestinian it is anything but. Standing under the hot pressurized water at the Hilton in Los Angeles, taking my sweet time, I could not help but contrast my present state of watery bliss to the bleak state of water resources in my real home, Palestine. Back in Bir Nabala, my parents’ village, Israeli authorities cut the water supply for up to four days a week, leaving the residents scrambling to fill their tanks and ration out water for the rest of the week. Baths are quick, washing is done on the ‘water saving’ cycle and windows are only washed on the two or three days the water is turned back on.
And this is a good area. In an interview this morning with Voice of Palestine, head of the Maleh Local Council in the Jordan Valley, Aref Daraghmeh lamented that Israeli authorities had taken over all but 20 percent of the land and all of the water sources including a local spring. Daraghmeh maintained that the plan was to “drought the people out”. The mostly Bedouin population depends on shepherding for a living in addition to farming, both which rely heavily on water. Once that is taken away, there is not much left to do but leave. So who is enjoying Al Maleh’s water? According to Daraghmeh, seven area settlements and six army posts all tap into the wells and springs that rightfully belong to Al Maleh residents.
This is the case throughout the West Bank. Palestinians only have access to roughly one-fifth of the West Bank water supply with the Israeli government controlling the rest. Illegal Israeli settlers have more control over water resources in the West Bank than the majority Palestinian population living on their own land. Hence the luxurious swimming pools in the settlements in stark contrast to empty wells in neighboring Palestinian villages.
Taking showers in the US was not the only jarring contrast that came to mind either. Living under an oppressive occupation for so many years takes a toll on your state of mind whether you are conscious of it or not. Crossing Israeli borders and checkpoints almost daily has created a sort of built-in tension for me (and I am sure for all Palestinians). Walking up to an Israeli soldier or border control officer, a sinking feeling always washes over me, as if I were guilty simply because of my identity. Approaching the American border policeman at Dulles Airport, I had to remind myself that this was not Israel and that I was a citizen of this country where I had full rights and equality. Strangely, this sense of entitlement, this sense of ‘freedom’ which has been denied to us Palestinians for so long, bore heavily down on me as I entered the place of my birth. Was the border officer really smiling at me, welcoming me “home?”
This simple incident reminded me of how criminal it is to deny an entire nation of their freedom. Granted, there are enough Americans living in poverty, who are struggling every day to keep their home and their jobs, but they are still free citizens of a sovereign country. In the UK, which I also visited, the same feeling applied. I did not have to produce my ID card every time I changed zones in London. I did not have to press my fingers into a machine that pulled up a police-like report on me to make sure I was not “wanted”. And I did not worry that if I took 15 minutes more in the shower, I may have denied someone else in the family of their own bath time.
This ‘indulgence’ was short-lived however. At Vienna’s international airport I was forced to part with my two children who were flying back to the country via Tel Aviv with my father. I had to sleep the night in Amman, Jordan before crossing the Allenby Bridge the next morning. That’s right, my children must enter and exit the country via the airport due to their Jerusalem status while I –” the proud bearer of a Palestinian passport (alongside my US one) –” must trek through the east bank of the River Jordan before I am allowed back into the country. Not only is this extremely discriminatory and a terrible inconvenience, it also means I had to take an unsatisfying, trickle-of-a-flow shower in Amman just to remind me that I was almost home.