HER STORY #45 - anonymous
I was born in Ramla, a small city located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Culturally, it’s a mixed city.
I grew up in a Christian Orthodox family, which is a small community. I grew up in a bubble because my community didn’t really mix with other communities.
I went to a Christian school and had a normal childhood. I was also very politically active within my community. I am from a family where almost everyone is politically active.
My life story is complicated. I don’t know where to begin.
Ramla is a mixed society, but there isn’t so much interaction between groups. The dynamics in Ramla are very complex. We have Jewish neighbors, but as a child I didn’t really grow up with the other communities. Ramla is known for being a multi-cultural city, but we don’t really see it like this. Either you’re Jewish or Arab, although there is some small interaction, and I felt at ease speaking Arabic in the streets.
I feel very proud of my city. We feel a lot of pride.
When I was 15, I became more politically active. I grew up in an environment with a lot of left-wing friends, all politically active within the same group and holding the same opinions, so I didn’t feel different from others around me. I was in a very protected environment.
But when I was 18 years old I went to university. I chose to study at a right wing and religious university in Israel. When I was younger, I really wanted to go into politics. It was very important for me at that time.
As a child, along with my entire family, I was very politically involved in everything that had to do with coexistence. From a young age I was also very much involved in children’s rights. I worked for an international organization, and I was always travelling to different conferences around the world to represent us [Palestinians] as a minority in Israel. I had a very interesting childhood.
This year I realized that I grew up with this feeling of having to do something. I grew up with a lot of pressure on my shoulders, and the need to be a young leader. I needed to bring change, so it’s very strange to me today when I meet a young girl or boy who doesn’t have ambitions or political opinions.
I have a sister who is ten years younger than me, and her dream is to be a dancer. It took me time to understand that she didn’t want to change her community or do something political, especially because I grew up with this sense of responsibility. I always had that on my shoulders.
At the age of 18 I went to study at a very religious and extreme right-wing university. I think it’s the first time that I really understood how difficult the situation in Israel is. It really made me feel the difficulty of being Arab-Israeli or Palestinian-Israeli.
I remember on the first day I felt new and alone and different, and I just wanted to get to know people. I was really scared of speaking up and confronting my identity.
I grew up in a mixed city, so I don’t have an accent [in Hebrew]. I really made sure to have a perfect accent, like Israelis. I didn’t want to be different than others. I wanted to feel like I belonged, and it was only at a certain age that I began to speak more Arabic, and I gained a stronger connection to the language. I had an identity crisis.
I Speak For Myself
I studied political science. I was the youngest in my class. It was a huge class, but people knew who I was. People knew there was an Arab in the class, and so did the professors.
Since I was the youngest (the others were 25 and above) I was scared of asking questions, but also because everyone wanted to hear what I thought. They wanted to hear how an Arab felt, but I’ve always said, “I don’t represent anything.” I’ve felt bad my entire life about having to represent all Arabs, especially since I grew up more privileged than others. It’s also very racist to put all Arabs under the same umbrella. I don’t think there is such a thing.
It’s very irritating to me that people look at society like this. I speak for myself. People need to stop erasing our identity.
At the same time I also heard a lot of comments [regarding Arab/Palestinian identity], such as, “Good morning, have you come to blow us up today?” and a lot of uncomfortable jokes. Some people bothered me, but there were also people who valued me because of my experience, especially my international experience at such a young age. People didn’t ridicule me, which gave me a lot of power in university.
No Place at The Same Time
We are a people [the Palestinian people] that was split over the years. The way we grew up is very different. I don’t feel I have the right to say that we are the same, because I don’t go through what they [other Palestinians] go through, the difficulties and the daily hardships. I deal with other things. My hardships are different.
Sometimes I feel like I belong. Sometimes I feel different. Sometimes I feel part of Israeli society. My identity changes all the time.
One day I feel connected to the West Bank, and one day I wake up not feeling like this, but rather being angry with them [Palestinians in the West Bank]. We have a daily struggle. It doesn’t give me peace, and I also don’t feel complete because of this. I don’t have a stable ground that I can call home – because we belong to many places and to no place at the same time. Not this and not that. I’m very Palestinian and very Israeli, but I’m also neither this nor that. It’s very difficult to live like this.
We need the ground, the stability to go home and to know where we are from.
I feel very guilty. If I feel Palestinian, then the Israelis say, “How dare you feel Palestinian? You grew up in Israel.” And on the other side, if I say I feel very Israeli, they [Palestinians] say, “How can you say this? You are a traitor.” So I feel the accusations from both sides, and it’s very tiring to work with these two sides.
I know that it’s similar to what [Jewish Israeli] left-wingers go through, but I always say that at least they are Jewish Israelis. They know that they have a land and ground to be on. I don’t have that. I don’t have any ground to stand on to call my own. This is one of the reasons why I chose to move to London.
I’m so tired of the conflict. From age 14 I’ve lived through wars. I just wanted to run away from it. I wanted to have a normal life, and I never had that in Israel, so I moved to London one year ago.
I finished my bachelor’s degree in human rights, which is very ironic, because I really wanted to run away, and studying human rights is not really running away, but this year I focused on gender.
My mother thinks that I’m a radical feminist.
It’s interesting how much I went through here. When I moved to London, there was a war in Israel, or rather many stabbing attacks, and I was here [in London]. It was interesting to see how the media handled it.
I’ve learned about it [the media] and how it works, but when you’re far away, you still fall into this trap, the media’s game. I remember that I would speak to my parents and tell them not to go out, and they told me, “You’re exaggerating, don’t worry.
One day I posted an article that talked about a restaurant in Ramla. It was about a Jewish guy, who said that in spite of all the attacks, he had chosen to come to an Arab restaurant and bring his children with him to show them that not all Arabs want to hurt Jews. The article was very positive, and I posted it on Facebook with a comment saying something like, “A little piece of peace in the middle of everything. I don’t miss you Israel, but I miss the people who want to live in peace.” It was super light, nothing serious, but my post got so many comments, mostly from my friends at my previous university that just criticized me in a way that I had never expected. One of them wrote, “How dare you represent Israel like this?”
I started crying. I wasn’t ready for this. If I had posted something very provocative I would have expected it, but not with this. It was a war of comments. I wasn’t ready for it emotionally.
I recently moved to England, and here I’ve gained many friends as well, and there is a lot of tension. I’m from a very outspoken leftwing school. They don’t really understand the situation in Israel. For them it’s all black and white. You need to choose sides. There is nothing in between. Either you are Jewish or Arab. I had expected intelligent people with a little bit more experience to understand the complexity, but nobody understood me at all. It was very difficult for me.
In one of my courses, there were many Palestinians. At the beginning they struggled to understand me, but now our relations are better. I have gained many close friends in the past year, but I had a conversation with one friend that turned sour. I remember coming home and calling my mother saying, “I’m done with this conflict. The two sides are just crazier than the other. I can’t deal with this anymore.” I felt like I had felt at my previous university – no change, same experiences. I felt alone again with no one understanding me. They attacked me, and I had to think about every word that I said.
What was interesting was that I had to find a place where I was comfortable [in London], and it turned out to be the Israeli leftists. I have many Israeli Jewish friends in London. I feel comfortable with them the most. They understand me.
I have relationships with Palestinians here. I’m also Palestinian, although I’m not from the West Bank or Gaza. It hasn’t been easy. They don’t understand that we [Palestinians in Israel] are a peace-seeking people, because for them there is no such thing. The moment you speak about coexistence, they think that it’s like looking at the problem as being solved. We are not there yet, and I understand their side. I agree with it a little as well. I don’t think they can seek peace when they live under occupation, and I understand them, but our situation is different. I guess they expect me to fight for the nation. I’m guessing this is the dream, but that’s not our situation.
We do look at peace within the country, and I do think that there are paths for dialogue. For the citizens within the country [Israel], it’s very important to advance dialogue and to not give up hope.
For them [Palestinians], Israel is all about politics and security, but it’s not only this. We have economic issues and millions of other issues. It’s not only about politics and security. It’s difficult to explain it to them.
So I understand them, but I’m also tired of having to explain myself, and it would be nice for people to understand me. I’m tired of the divides: left-right, Palestinian-Israeli, Jewish-Arab. Stop it already.
I think that as a Palestinian minority in Israel, we are invisible, which is very political. I still feel that people don’t understand us and that they don’t pay attention to us. All that is talked about is a two-state or a one-state solution. No one talks about us as the Arab minority. When we talk about two states, where are we in this? I think that it’s important for a Palestinian state to be established, but it will only solve a third of our problems.
Many people give up and choose a side. Either they are Palestinian or they are completely Israeli, and then they only speak Hebrew and they give up on their Palestinian identity. It’s difficult to keep a balance.
This is what happens to everyone every day. It happened to my sister, my mother, etc. It’s an identity crisis. I tried to keep a balance, but it wasn’t a healthy balance. I wanted everyone to like me. I didn’t want to offend anyone, but it was impossible to have my cake and eat it too. This year my identity became more stable, but I also think it has to do with the fact that this whole year I focused on gender, although at the same time made my life even more complicated.
I think that in spite of all the hardships as a minority, if there is something to learn it will be from the Arab-Israelis, because we understand both sides as well.
While I don’t know what it’s like to live under occupation, I’m a Palestinian and I’ve been there [to the West Bank]. On the other hand, I understand the Israeli side.
It’s difficult to live in the middle, but it’s also a big present, because one of the problems is lack of communication. One side says something; the other side says something else. They don’t understand each other, and we need the tool to bridge those two sides—a tool that only we have.
I grew up in a very chauvinistic Arab community. They say that the Christian communities are usually more liberal, but that is bullshit. Chauvinism happens everywhere, and just because it might be worse in somewhere like Afghanistan, it doesn’t mean that it’s not bad here. It happens in proportion of course, but it doesn’t help to say that women are worse off in Afghanistan, if it’s bad.
We live in a chauvinistic and patriarchal society, where men control what women say and think. They also blur things out a lot and give excuses, as in “we have a conflict and lots of other issues in the world.” In terms of priority, women’s issues are always in the last places. Maybe there is more awareness todays, but still gender issues will never be prioritized.
If you look at Ramla and Lod, a lot of women have been killed in honor killings there, and nothing will be done about it.
I come from a different kind of community. We have far fewer killings within the Christian community, but we have other upsetting things. I’m the oldest sibling and I have a brother and sister as well. I don’t feel like I have less worth than my brother and my father has always been very proud of me. I learned that it was important to focus on my career.
But I don’t really cook and clean, and I’ve suffered from this lack from my extended family. Everyone told my mother that I didn’t do anything and wasn’t a ma’adaleh, which in Arabic means a woman, who knows how to clean, to cook and to be a “good woman.” I was never like this. I almost never cleaned, and I almost never helped my mother with cleaning, but my mother never bothered me with this. Nonetheless, I became the black sheep in the extended family.
The week before I moved to London, my extended family came over for dinner. When I did the dishes, my aunt, who is known for being the cool and younger aunt, told me cynically that if I did the dishes like this, nobody would marry me. I remember getting really mad at her.
It was very irritating, because I come from a relatively modern family with many feminist women. My maternal grandmother had many siblings with lots of feminist women, whether they were aware of it or not. They were the first women to drive cars and go abroad. They crossed many boundaries.
We don’t talk about this in Israel, because what is important for us Arabs is issues such as racism. Nobody talks about women’s suffering.
I found out that in Lod, in the Christian community, which is very political, where everyone is encouraged to vote, women don’t have the right to vote. They just don’t vote for the local politicians. They don’t take part in it. When I heard it, I didn’t understand it. I really hoped that I was wrong, but I wasn’t.
When I asked about it, I was told that it didn’t have to do with gender issues but lots of other local issues, and even the fact that once a woman had been ran for office, I wasn’t convinced.
I wrote my thesis about abortion rights in Israel and Palestine. In Israel, women’s wombs are used for purposes of war, to increase reproduction for there to be more Jews than Arabs. You have entire essays about this, and I wanted to prove that this strategy also exists in the Palestinian Authority.
What was interesting in the whole discussion was that out of all the sources that I found, in terms of doctors, journalists, writers, etc., 90% of them were men or written by men. Even the discussion about abortion, which is such a female-affected issue, is controlled by men. For me it seemed crazy. Couldn’t there have been a single woman doctor to talk about abortions? There were some women, but most of the people that I encountered in this discussion were men. It’s crazy.
Today I have come to the conclusion that I suffer more as a woman than an Arab, which some people might find interesting, but I don’t. It’s a fact, and it’s always hidden, or it’s not taken that seriously – and we pay the price.
As a woman I don’t want to come back to Israel. I’m not interested, even if I come from a relatively open family. I don’t have control over my own life.
So the fact that I’m divided not only has to do with me belonging to the Arab minority in Israel but also to do with being a woman in my community, in my country, and in the world. It’s two, or three struggles all at once.
Today, as a woman and an Arab, I really want to stay outside [of Israel]]. I really like London, although it’s not home. Then again, when I’m home I also don’t feel home.
I know that a home is something that you build, so if I stay here, I will build a home here.
I don’t miss anything [from Israel]. I haven’t been homesick for half a year. I think it’s because of the daily struggle of living in Israel. The moment that I land [in Israel} I feel the tension immediately. There is an environment that doesn’t give me peace of mind.
I wish that I could stay here for a couple of years, or at least until I’m strong enough to go back to all the issues in Israel. I don’t think that things will get better in the near future. Silence won’t come, until there is an end to the occupation and the conflict.
You know the good feeling that you have, when you’re home, and you think back to your childhood and sleep in peace. I didn’t have that last time I was home. I felt like a foreigner in my own home. I feel like I neither belonged in my home, nor in my city. I belong to the whole world, and yet nowhere at the same time.
I think that one of the conclusions that I came to this last year is that it helps to have economic independence. I have a scholarship and a form of economic independence here in London.
It’s not easy to live here. London is very expensive, and everyone struggles here every day. Fortunately, I didn’t have these kinds of difficulties, so I understood how important it was for me, as a woman, to be economically independent. Every time I had a difficult time, and every time I reached breaking points, it seemed easier when I thought about my resources.
Usually men earn more money, and we are dependent on men’s incomes, so it has given me a lot of security to have this kind of financial independence. It made me feel secure about myself, of not being dependent on others, but rather on myself. I don’t say that money is the most important thing in the world. It’s the principle of being dependent on something and someone, and when you have the privilege of not being dependent on men, it empowers you and gives you a kind of freedom.
I noticed that I’ve been a feminist from birth. I was born a feminist. I’m just reminded of it today.
At the beginning of this year I began reading the book, Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I really recommend it. I really connected to it because it relies on a lot of scientific research, and it was a very interesting book. She [Sandberg] combines it [research] with her biography and gender issues.
There has been a lot of criticism of the book. It has been said that she seems to put all the responsibility on women, but I didn’t think it seemed like this. She does present the world to be fucked gender-wise, while at the same time women should try more and should “lean in”.
All of my research papers have focused on developed countries, such as the U.S. and England, because I was tired of hearing about how everything was good in the western world, and how “we [in the Western world] are perfect.” “Look at England. Look at how many female CEOs there. It’s much better here than in other places.” Maybe there is truth to it, but there is still a long way to go.
Bigger Than Us
Right now I’m studying a lot about rape during wartime. There are stories and instances that I haven’t been able to read until the end because they were too disturbing.
A lot of it has to do with how the rape of a woman is a way to get rid of your enemy. The body of the woman is an object of victory. Rape is a way to win war, like in Kosovo. For me this topic has been so difficult.
I think it’s crazy how these things still happen today, and how people don’t think about it too much. But I don’t have as much authority as men have, as much as I try. The war is stronger than me. I can vote, but I cannot change. It will take time. It will take generations. It won’t happen tomorrow, and that’s very hurtful.
I think I’ve changed my life with my studies, but the struggle is bigger than me. When I think about going back to Israel, getting married and having kids, I think about my friend who just got married and has a kid. She didn’t give up on her career, but she also has to wake up at six in the morning, take her kid to nursery, and then she doesn’t come home until six. She struggles, but does the country help her? Is there help around her? Are there policies that encourage women to go and work?
You get three months maternity leave, and lately they have given two weeks for men. What can men do in these two weeks? In Germany, women and men can take paid maternity/paternity leave for a year, or even for two years.
We are in a war that is bigger than us. Perhaps little by little some things will change. It will be okay in the end.