HER STORY #51 - anonymous
Checkpoints and Permits
I am 28 years old. I was born in Nablus, and I work as a solar engineer. I lived all of my life in Nablus. It was just two years ago that I moved to Ramallah.
I never tried to move around. I’m not one of those people. My biggest pleasure is just to sit in a café that I like and drink coffee. I never wanted to get through the trouble of getting a permit to see the beach. TI think the first time I saw the beach as an adult was a year and a half ago, and it was for a work trip, so it wasn’t really a fun kind of thing.
I really do not like checkpoints. Nablus was one of the most surrounded cities during the Intifada [Second Intifada]. It was closed down on all sides, so you had to cross multiple checkpoints to get out, and most of my family lived in Qalqilya [in West Bank], so during Eid we always had to go through two or three checkpoints. My grandmother’s house was a 25-minute drive from my house, but it would take us three hours, including donkey rides, hiking, and changing taxis. That was what I was living through during the Intifada, so I don’t really like it [checkpoint].
Coming into to Israel has an entirely different humiliation to it. Getting a permit [to enter Israel] requires an invitation. You have to go to a certain office that accepts people from your area. After you get your permit, just the fact of crossing the checkpoint and being searched is uncomfortable.
And now I get here [to Jerusalem] for work so I have to cross Qalandia [Qalandia checkpoint], and I don’t like that whole process – the multiple gates, the mazes, having my fingerprints taken every day and having my ID scanned. And if the soldier is in a bad mood, he or she might yell at me. I don’t really like going through that.
This Monday, I was on my way here. I told my taxi driver to go through another checkpoint, Hizma, not Qalandia. Normally you need a special permit for this [at Hizma checkpoint]. I wasn’t sure if my permit would allow me to go through, but I’ve passed through Hizma before and they never checked me nor the car that I was in, as they only check people who look suspicious to them.
There had been a big challenge with getting my permit, so I never actually received the paper. I had to go to an office in Qalandia to get it, but every time I went, it was closed, so they never allowed me to go through. That said, I have another card that has my information and allows me to go through once they scan it.
However, on that day, there appeared to be a training for new soldiers at Hizma, and they were training the soldiers in stop and search, so they stopped me and asked me for my permit. I told the soldiers that they could just take my card and scan it through the system. The soldier said no to this and that they didn’t have the computer for that, and that I needed the paper here.
I didn’t have the paper, and I explained that I had tried to go and get it. I pass by here every day, and I’m harmless, and if I don’t go through here, I have to go back to Qalandia and I will be really late for work. My driver also goes through there the all the time. He is an Israeli citizen, so he said, “Halas [“enough” in Arabic”] just let us through. It’s fine. Please do us a favor.” He told them that I’d be late for work. The soldier got pissed off that he [the driver] requested that he do him a favor, which is illegal, so they arrested us.
They escorted us to individual rooms, and one soldier came to me and said, “Don’t use your phone, don’t smoke, don’t talk to anybody, and stay in this room. You’re under arrest, until we clear everything up with your driver.” They kept my driver for an hour to question him about why he asked for something illegal. Apparently asking the soldier to do a favor is illegal, so we were an hour late for work. We had to go back to Qalandia to pass through the checkpoint there.
So the whole hassle of doing that everyday doesn’t seem like a feasible thing. I have never liked it, and during the Intifada it was even worse. At least now they don’t ask you to take off your clothes at the checkpoint. During the Intifada they used to do that.
Once, the soldiers asked my dad to unbuckle his pants and pull up his shirt in front of everybody while they searched him. He is 60 years old and a doctor. Why would he carry a weapon? They just did these things to humiliate people, so I never really liked going through checkpoints.
I actually avoided travel for a while but once when I tried to get a permit, it was really difficult, and they basically told me to fuck off.
I wanted to meet a friend that I had met through work. We had been talking over emails or phone. He lives in Acre [in Israel], so we had to meet in person, since we had worked together for two years. When I asked to get a permit to meet him, they requested this complicated invitation letter that he had to write in Hebrew specifying the exact place, date, and time. We would only meet for lunch, so it wasn’t a big deal, but he had to write the place and time that we would meet, and he had to be responsible for me. It was just too complicated, and we both freaked out, so eventually we met in Germany. Getting a German visa for a business trip is much easier for me than to get here [Israel].
The only times that I got permits issued, I hadn’t applied for them myself, because you’re not allowed to apply for a permit for a personal reason, as in going to Jerusalem or to the beach. You need to have a reason, such as going to the hospital or for work. If it’s for work, your company has to be responsible for you the whole time. In my adult life, I’ve only come here twice before for work and once because my mother had to go the hospital.
The first time that I came here was to visit the port in Ashdod. It was nice. I’m fascinated by containers and ships, so that was the cool part of it.
Then we went to the hospital, which was kind of freaky for me in the beginning, because I was really scared. My mom was asleep because she had had surgery, so I stayed awake the whole night. I am sad to say it, but I was scared because of the stereotypes that a religious Jew was going to attack me if I spoke in Arabic in front of them. I was really scared of that, because my mom and I spoke in Arabic, and we were in Shaare Zedek [Shaare Zedek Medical Center], which is a really religious hospital. It’s in a very religious area in Jerusalem, and most of the people who go there are Orthodox Jews.
And then I came to MassChallenge [global non-profit startup accelerator in Jerusalem] where I met these amazing people, and it was fine. They did actually strike up conversations out of curiosity, and it turns out we all had similarities. We both have this scared mindset, making us steer clear of each other. We didn’t talk much.
People just listen to the media and their government, and they are scared of the other side.
Ever since I started coming here [to MassChallenge in Jerusalem] I have always tried to invite people to come to Ramallah, and most of the time I have gotten the response from people of how they are scared of getting attacked. But people are very friendly [in Ramallah]—they won’t attack you in the streets just because you’re a Jew. This is sad for me. I think we need more personal communication.
I feel conflicted about normalization, because on one side I feel really sick of the situation, this abnormal situation we live in. People try to convince themselves that this is normal—that the ways in which I lived in Nablus and the way that people in Jerusalem live their lives in fear were normal. It’s not normal.
So this part of me is pro-talking to other people and is convinced that civilians that are born here [in Israel] have the exact same right to live here as I do.
On the other hand, I have the patriotic part, because it is personal. I don’t think you’d ever meet a Palestinian who doesn’t have a personal story about being affected by the politics here.
My grandfather was in prison most of his life. My mother was in prison most of her life. My uncle was in prison as well and still suffers from being in prison, where he was tortured. He has slipped disks in his back and lots of other physical problems, so for me it’s really personal.
Throughout my career, I worked for a year for an NGO that works with kids and teenagers in marginalized areas, including in refugee camps around Nablus. I got to see first-hand how horrible their lives are, and it’s only because of the 1948 war.
So there’s a part of me that wishes it never happened, but the realistic part says is we can’t revert everything, and it’s inhumane to ask people to leave their homes. Just because it happened to us in the past, it doesn’t mean we would have to do it to other people. So I’m still in between.
I haven’t decided, and of course a lot of the people that I know that I have this side. I have profound discussions with them. They have started developing negative ideas about me, because they believe I’m pro-Israel, and that I am normalizing, so a lot of them are rejecting what I’m doing and that I work [in Israel], but at the end of the day we live in the same country. There has to be some cooperation. We can’t really do business without partnering with Israeli companies. We can’t really move around without, so we kind of have to live in the same place. It’s like a 50-50 competition in my head.
The borders are controlled by Israel, so if I want to import anything, it has to go through Israel. Most of the time, if there is a product that is in competition with an Israeli product, they [Israelis] will delay the process as much as possible and make it nearly impossible for me to get it, which adds to the cost, and makes the delivery not really feasible. It’s much easier to work through Israeli companies, because whatever I order they will order in bulk, as their market is bigger and the economy is much better.
I know how important this is, because I’ve worked with this a lot. Importing through Israeli companies is much easier and less costly, because the size of the shipment affects things, and politics play a part.
NGO / Engineering
I design solar systems.
During my time in university, I studied to be an electrical engineer, but then I didn’t work in electrical engineering for two years.
I worked with an NGO [for children] in Nablus, and at the end of my contract with the NGO I was kind of overwhelmed with a lot of the work and a lot of personal stories involved with the work—which I couldn’t separate. I was really involved with the kids’ lives, so it affected me emotionally, and I couldn’t really work with people anymore. It was really bad.
I was depressed for three months. I didn’t leave my bed. I didn’t want to do anything or see anyone. It’s not just because of the bad stories but also because of the amount of work I was taking on, from managing all sorts of projects, fundraising, training the new employees, and doing the work of the psychologist and the sociologist.
So eventually I had to take a break, and then I was approached by this company that I started working with, but it was only because I knew English that they approached me. They wanted me to work with their international partnerships. But eventually my former boss asked me to begin looking into the field of solar engineering, as that is where the company was going, and so I began studying about it on my own through books and the internet for a few months.
Today I work a newly established start-up that designs and sells solar systems for the commercial sector in the West Bank. It’s a bit difficult, as the solar sector in Palestine is a bit challenging to work in, as the government only began encouraging the sector in 2012, and so it is a relatively new sector. There are many stakeholders in the private sector and electricity companies, so the policies and regulations are not very solar-friendly. Almost 90% of the West Bank depends on Israel for electricity, and the core principle in the law is to encourage independence of the Palestinian infrastructure from Israel, so it would be obvious to encourage the solar sector, but they don’t.
Stubborn - Science
You have to know that I’m a very stubborn person, and I’ve been this way since I was a kid. I was the tough one in school. My mom really helped me develop a strong character.
I have a very scientific family. Everyone in my family has must go to university and have a career. Either you go to medical school, or become a pharmacist or an engineer. Everybody in my family is either a doctor or an engineer, so being an engineer wasn’t weird for me.
My mom is a dentist and a really strong woman, not your typical Middle Eastern woman, so she raised me to choose whatever I wanted, and my dad said that if you’re strong enough to be accountable towards yourself, then you can do whatever you want. We had set principles in the house to live by, but anything else we could choose ourselves.
I got good grades in my high school exams, one was a 94%, which allowed me to study wherever I wanted. I didn’t really have any preference, I just knew that I liked math and physics.
I have a really huge family, and we like to discuss everything at our weekly dinners, so when I finished high school, it [what I would study] was the hot topic of the dinner discussions. My extended family in Qalqiliya is very different from us, very conservative. My dad was the weird kid, because he had an open mind and lived abroad most of his life.
My grandmother told me, “I think you should study literature, because you need to become a teacher, because women have to become wives and cook for their family, so your studies will be less important.” And then I said, “Well, what can’t I study then?” To which she responded, “Definitely stay away from engineering and anything on-site.” So I signed up for engineering.
The following year I had to choose my specialization, and the same thing happened. My grandmother said that I should choose something that had more to do with managing and less with on-site. “You’re a girl. You shouldn’t go to sites with workers.” I knew that with electrical engineering, it’s hands on, and so I picked that.
Today I’m the outcast. I have also recently encouraged my younger cousins to study what I did, and they went with that, so now we’re a majority and the family had to accept it.
During the past three years I was working in another company, which is how I was introduced to the solar sector. There were both positives and negatives.
My boss used to work for the government. He was really strict, and working with him was horrible, and I hated working at that company; however, it also gave me a lot of experience. It was three intense years where I worked in logistics, as a mechanical engineer, as an electrical engineer, as an accountant, solar engineer, in sales and marketing, and he was involved in the policy making of the sector as well, so it exposed me to a lot of key players in the sector. I think those three years account for ten years of professional experience, so it was bad and good at the same time.
I also was able to use my English a lot in a professional context, and I learned many things. I learned how to design solar systems and to install them. I would go on-site and carry a drill, aluminum, etc., so it exposed me to a lot of different things.
It helped build my character enormously. I’ve always been the shy kind of person. I just like to do mathematics—that’s my thing. Leave me in front of a computer and with an Excel sheet, and I’m happy.
Today I’m still partly shy. I can’t really be in networking events, because I will panic and sit in a corner, but it used to be much worse.
For most of her life, my mom was banned from leaving Palestine, because if we left Palestine, we would have to cross through Jordan – that’s the only way we can travel anywhere. You can’t travel through Tel Aviv. You need a special coordination that is only granted to politicians and businessmen. Palestinians with green IDs have to go through Jordan.
My mom was studying in Pakistan in the 1980s, and she was politically involved over there. Once she graduated and came back there was a big issue with her coming back to Jordan and then back to Palestine. They asked her a lot of things about her history, so she was basically banned from ever going into Jordan again. She can’t really go anywhere. She’s in a big prison in Palestine.
So for most of my life I’d never left Palestine, until 2006. My uncle knew a guy who helped her with her file in Jordan, so in 2006, during spring break, we decided to go to Jordan.
The second day we were there we got into a really big car accident. It was really shocking and scary, and I thought that my mom was dead in the moment that it happened. It was really weird and big.
My mom and my siblings were crossing the street in front of me, I was a bit behind, and so I watched everything while it was happening. I saw the whole scene, and it was really horrible.
She stayed in the hospital in Amman for a couple of weeks. We [siblings and interviewee] had to go back to Palestine because of school, and that year turned into a really difficult year for me. I had to take care of the family.
I have two older sisters, but they were busy with their studies at university, and so I had to be the mom for my two younger siblings. I cooked, did the dishes, laundry, etc. I was a part-time mom and a part-time student, and it was very difficult.
It taught me a sense of responsibility, because I was responsible for six other human beings other than myself, and also for my exams.
That kind of got me to lose my faith in God.
I used to be really religious. I used to wear a hijab. I prayed five times a day. I fasted all of Ramadan. I would wake up at dawn to pray. I did everything.
But then I got pulled away from it, because my mom is a very good person. That’s how I looked at it. She is this amazing and wonderful person. She does everything religious that she is supposed to do. She never hurt anyone in her life. She feels guilty about having lived as an atheist before, so she spent most of her adult life trying to compensate for what she didn’t do before.
What I saw was that she was doing all of these great things. She has a [dental] clinic, but she never asks for money from her customers. She is the poorest dentist here. So for me, someone doing these amazing things shouldn’t suffer in their life, especially when they grow older.
When she had the accident, it took her about ten years to recover. She only completely recovered this year, two months ago. Throughout these ten years, she couldn’t walk. She had a lot of medical issues, including cancer. Every year something happened to her, I was pulled more away from faith.
I do believe that there is some spirit that did all of this. I do believe in a God. I believe in some things, not one religion in particular, but what got me through this ten-year period was the belief that all of this couldn’t be happening without a purpose. There has to be a reason for why it happened. I just can’t get back to being convinced that praying five times a day and fasting will get me to heaven. I believe in right and wrong, helping others, and if by not praying I will go to hell, then it doesn’t really make sense.
It’s all a big transition. It took ten years.
I respect the religion that other people have, and my family is still very religious—even my mom is more religious now than ever. I respect that she believes that what she does will get her somewhere and will be for the good. Sometimes I am sad that I don’t have that belief, because she seems very relieved. Part of her belief in why this is happening to her is that she needs to cleanse herself of everything she did in her life. She thinks that what is going on with her is all a test of her faith, and if she passes she is set for good. Sometimes I think that’s very relieving, and I wish that I could have that, but at other times, I don’t, as it doesn’t really make sense.
I don’t miss religion, the praying and the reading. It did have some kind of relaxing effect some times, but I think that I was too young to have that. I didn’t really believe in it 100%. Most of the time I was doing it because it was an obligation, because I am a Muslim. Then I’m obliged to do these things.
Now my religion is to do good, be good, help others, and that’s it.
Math and Equations
One of the things that I was never able to shake off was the belief that there has to be something a bit stronger that made everything. Maybe it made it and then it disappeared, and I think that advances in technology has only made that belief stronger in me.
It’s like a pyramid, every big thing creates something smaller and controls it. We created computers, so they won’t outsmart us, and this goes for everything.
What is spirit? How is our spirit? How is everyone breathing, and how was the brain created? Some things are unimaginable for humans, and maybe it’s the same concept. Sometimes, I, as a logical person, think that it doesn’t make sense. There has to be an origin for everything.
Electrical engineering is based on math. You solve an equation, and you have an answer. It’s very straightforward. That’s what I liked about it. It all just made sense to me, that’s it - and physics as well. It’s the same thing. Everything can be explained. Everything can be torn apart into smaller particles, and everything serves a purpose.
I get attached to people that I love because I’m kind of anti-social.
Before I love someone, they have to go through this whole process to make me love them, and I have these extremes. If I love somebody, I would give them an eye or a kidney.
So losing somebody really hurts. It’s scary. These are my weak points. Every new connection that I form is a weak point for me. Ever since I was a child, my weakest points were my younger siblings, then my friends, and of course my mom and dad.
My mom being thrown 15 meters in the air and falling on the ground was one of the scariest moments in my life, and when my dad had a gun pointed at him was also one of the scariest parts of my life. I think that happened in a checkpoint in 2004. I was really scared.
When they [soldiers] search you, they point guns at you, even if you comply with their orders.
The thought of losing anybody never seemed realistic to me. I never imagined that somebody would die, until they had a near-death experience, or when I saw them in danger. Then it becomes really scary, so when I see anybody hurting who I love, it’s really hard for me.
I would do anything for them, even if it was a friend and not family. I’m very protective of my loved ones.
I try to avoid thinking about Palestinian history most of the time. It’s not something that I’m very proud of, but it makes me sad.
I tend to avoid the conflict, partly because for a whole year I was involved with the lives of people in refugee camps and before that I had also volunteered for four years in refugee camps, cleaning the streets and teaching the children how to speak English.
It’s taken a lot of energy out of me, so I tend to avoid thinking about 1948, the wars, and not just Palestinian wars, any wars. I don’t like to think about killing and violence. I don’t like that. I just talk to people about regular things when I meet somebody new, like how they like their coffee, if they like the beach, and what field they work in – normal stuff.
I have Palestinian friends who live here. They are very different from person to person. Some of them are completely oblivious to what happens, to what happened, and how we other Palestinians in the West Bank live.
I met a [Palestinian] guy yesterday, who was in the West Bank for the first time. He had never been to the Palestinian side. He had never met anybody from there, and he was completely oblivious to what happened here. He just knew the Israeli way, and he loves Israel. He loves working here. He moved to Tel Aviv and works in a restaurant. He is happy.
Sometimes people like that piss me off, because even though I avoid thinking about it now, I at least took time to learn my history. Otherwise you don’t use your brain that God created for you. That’s unethical for me. If you have a head, use it. You might find out you can help in some way. There are Palestinians that are completely ignorant by choice, and I don’t really like them.
I have other friends, who are really politically involved. I guess it also depends on the quality of your life, and on how much you have suffered in your life, which varies from person to person.
The first few times that I saw a soldier [in Jerusalem], I really panicked.
Once I went to the office kitchen to get a coffee, and I saw a solider, and I freaked out, because here was a soldier with a gun in the kitchen. And so I ran to my desk. I didn’t even get coffee.
I discussed this a lot with people here, and it helped me. I’ve discussed this with someone here a lot, and he said that it’s kind of normal. It’s [going to the army] the thing to do, and now I accept and understand it. It still freaks me out, but in some sense it has been accepted in my head.
I’m neutral to the soldiers in the checkpoints now. I used to be more negative. I never reached the point where I was so negative that I would attack someone, but I was so negative that if a soldier said “good morning” to me and asked me questions, I would just answer with a one-syllable phrase.
Now I can have a conversation. I won’t be happy about it, but at least I can do it. I can talk and interact.
Walking here [in Jerusalem] and seeing different people and the streets is very weird for me.
I have two voices in my head, when I look at a house. One says that it is a very nice house. It’s very nicely built. Then another voice says that the land that it was built on was stolen, and maybe the stones were stolen from somewhere, maybe from a family who now lives in a refugee camp somewhere.
So it all leads to a web of thoughts that get tangled in a lot of things. I even think about the color of the t-shirt of the little girl from the Palestinian family, who was born in this house.
Interview conducted on November 7, 2016 by Sarah Arnd Linder