I was born in East Jerusalem. I am from Shuafat. My grandfather was a very well-known figure in Palestine. He solved problems like a mukhtar [head of the local government of town]. I was his first born grand-child, and my dad was also his first born child. So it was special.
My grandfather inherited some shops and lands in Jerusalem from his father. My grandfather has a shop in the Old City and used to own a house in the Old City itself, when my father was born. Before '67 my grandfather built a house in Shuafat, and when my father got married in the 80's, that's where he lived, and where I grew up. Shuafat is one of the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods. Everyone there used to know each other. There was a lot of land to play in.
Because all the neighbours knew each other, I would play with girls and boys, which was unusual - to play with boys - as it was socially unacceptable to mix, but it happened, because people knew each other. Nobody said anything besides the girls, who would refuse to talk to me as I played with boys and rode bicycles.
But I grew up during the First Intifada, so I was used to seeing soldiers run after young men. Once one of the young men was shot in front of us, just behind our house. I also witnessed the clashes within Al-Aqsa. One of our neighbours died in those clashes, and he was the only child in his family.
Because of the building of the wall and the closures, the landscape has just changed in Shuafat. A higher number of people have moved to Shuafat in order to maintain their Jerusalem identity card. The population has changed. It looks so different. I wish my son could play around like I used to, but he can't.
When Oslo came around during my teenage years, we all went out to the streets to celebrate that it was an achievement for the Palestinians. Everyone was holding Palestinian flags, and everyone was just so hopeful. That was the end of the First Intifada.
I began watching Israeli TV, and what is when I began supporting coexistence. I could feel that something hopeful was happening. But that's also when all the bus attacks started happening, carried out by Palestinians, and on the other side a right-wing government was elected. And that's when I felt unsafe in my own Jerusalem.
The Second Intifada began, when I studied at Bethlehem University, and that is when the occupation began affecting me personally. We used to take a bus from Bethlehem University to Jerusalem, so that we could get there safe. Sometimes we would have to take detours of up to two hours to get there, although it was supposed to take 30 minutes.
Once a soldier told us we couldn't go through the Rachel checkpoint, even though the checkpoint was open. He asked us to get out of the car and started pushing us with his rifle. It was very scary to see someone practicing his strength over you, just because he had a gun.
I had another incident with another soldier at the checkpoint, who looked like a general. We left the buses to show our IDs individually as usual, and I recall this general carrying a necklace with the picture of someone. I looked at it, and he saw me doing this and told me: "This is my son, and he was actually killed in an attack." I didn't know, what to say besides: "Sorry for the loss." It didn't justify him treating us, Palestinians, like this though.
I remember jumping over mountains and hills to cross checkpoints. The soldiers saw this, but it was fine with them. As long as they could see us having a hard time.
We always say that Israeli women as soldiers are worse than the men. They are even worse at checkpoints, probably because they feel they have to prove themselves. It's even in the way that they talk to you. Some of them have been extremely rude. I don't think I've ever met a nice woman soldier. I try to avoid women soldiers at the checkpoint. When I'm in the car I go to the lane, where there isn't a woman.
During the Second Intifada I experienced closures and checkpoints. I would sometimes spend two hours at a checkpoint, and when there were closures, I had to find alternatives and to stay at other people's homes. The question that I would always ask myself was: "Am I safe enough here?" I consider myself privileged, because at least I can move around freely in comparison to my friends and colleagues from the West Bank. I've had so many social events at home that I have wanted my friends to come to, and they couldn't, including my friends from Gaza.
I have permanent residency. I can't be outside of the country for more than three years. I can't even go and live in Ramallah. If I do this, my ID will be confiscated. I have to prove that the center of my life is Jerusalem.
The prices of apartments and rent are crazy, because there is overcrowding. I have heard a lot of stories of National Insurance coming to people's homes at night to make sure that you live in that house. I know of people who left villas in Ramallah and lived in crappy houses in East Jerusalem just to hold on to their rights and residency.
In East Jerusalem we pay everything: Taxes, "arnona" [municipal tax], national insurance etc., so it is good to know that we at least can vote at the municipal level. However, the majority of people in East Jerusalem don't vote, because they consider the municipality as being part of the occupation, so if you vote for them, you give them sovereignty over your land, and you legalize the occupation. Yet, Palestinians still pay their taxes however to this representative of the occupation.
There is no leadership on the Palestinian side. People are lost, and there are so many issues there. The municipality doesn't provide proper services to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods. It chokes them, as they always have to pay more taxes at the same time. You can't build. There are no places for kids to play, nothing for the youth to do. It's really bad, and at every corner there is a policeman trying to make your life harder.
I live in Beit Hanina now. I moved, because I got married. Then I got divorced, but I'm still here.
I'm considering moving out. I have always loved this place. It goes beyond love; it's passion. But with what is happening right now and being a mother, I don't think I want my son to grow up here. It's the level of hatred from both sides.
For example on Friday I went to the Damascus Gate with my American friend. I don't know, if it was before or after the stabbing incident that day, but there were groups of soldiers everywhere, and they just all held their rifles, some of them pointing at me. At some point I didn't know, whether to keep holding my keys or to put them in my bag. I haven't felt more afraid in my life.
There was a man there, who seemed deaf, and one of the soldiers just decided to push him. The deaf man began shouting, and then more soldiers came. Luckily his friends took him away, so it stopped.
The fact that every soldier has the right to kill you is weird. It just feels, as if there is more and more control over you. They control your life on such a high level. It intensifies my sense of self-control in terms of, where I should go, and what I should do. We can't keep living like this. Every couple of months something happens. It's not normal.
My son is five years old. He wants to go out and play, but he can't. And when he goes to the mall, I tell him: "Don't speak Arabic." Because I am afraid, for our lives. But we cannot simply separate from "the other;" our lives are so interrelated.
During the First Intifada I didn't feel this much, because I was a little girl. I felt secure with my mother and father at home. I do however remember an incident, where Israeli soldiers came to my school - a German school no one was allowed to enter - and the school girls there began shouting. That's perhaps a time I remember being afraid.
During the Second Intifada I never participated in any of the riots, but you knew, when the clashes would take place, so I knew, which places to avoid. Today you don't know anything. Everything is so unpredictable. Maybe I'm also more afraid now, because I'm a mother.
I don't look Arab enough. I don't wear a head scarf and I drive a car, so for many I look like a Jewish mother. I also don't have any form of religious symbols in the car nor stickers. When I drive from Ramallah to Jerusalem I frequently use the Beit El road, which goes through all the settlements. When I take it, I don't see Palestinians at all, and I don't have anything in my car showing, what I am, so I'm in between.
I don't get this feeling of insecurity because of my Palestinian identity, but because I feel all sides are attacking me. What's worse is when soldiers stop me in Palestinian neighbourhoods, they think I'm an Israeli lost in a Palestinian neighbourhood.
When I go to the mall without my son, all alone, I am treated really well. When I'm with my mother, who wears a headscarf, they treat us both really bad. I feel, as if they look at me in different ways. Sometimes I'm treated with arrogance. Some people just stare at me for a long time. And this is really difficult in Jerusalem, because it's a mixed city - you cannot separate.
During the war in Gaza, I was sad, as a Jerusalemite. I was scared of the sirens, and my son to this day has speech problems because of his own trauma with the sirens. So it also affected us. I want Israelis to understand this.
The Shoes Of The Other
What made me change my perspectives throughout the years was, when I began to understand the other. I've personally been able to put myself in the shoes of the other.
I can also fully relate to how it doesn't feel safe to go in the streets. I also feel suspicious sometimes. But in addition to this I also know the history. It's sad that the Palestinians don't understand the history of the Jews enough. It's understandable, although it's not an excuse for what they have done of course.
I have met many Jewish Israelis through different peace initiatives. I've done this a lot through Geneva Initiative. I have good friends from the left and even from the Likud.
I know that I can interact with people on a human level, and sometimes I have much more similarities with them than Palestinians. When you treat the other as a human, there is no problem at all. And I think that a lot of the Israelis would agree with me.
I actually don't think that the issue here is a two-state solution but about justice and equal rights. I know that these issues and a one-state solution is totally against the Zionists' dream, but this is what they brought upon themselves. You have to stop practicing oppression upon another people. You have to stop all of this. It's in the hands of the Israelis to decide, what they want in the future. In the long term, the status quo harms them more than it hurts the Palestinians because of BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions], but also because of how Israelis regard themselves. You can't feel comfortable oppressing another people. You need to live in peace with yourselves. You can't keep being scared of the other one and keep living with the feeling of someone else killing you. Give them their state or live together.
I don't blame the people. They really don't know much about the Palestinians, even those in West Jerusalem. They don't know about the people living in East Jerusalem.
Right now I feel a total isolation between each side. Palestinians see Israelis as fanatic settlers and soldiers harassing them and controlling their lives. I follow the Israeli media, and the Israelis see suicide bombings and Hamas. That makes it important to support the encounters. People need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the other. How great would it be, if people from the West Bank came here and saw the human face of Israel.
And in Gaza they only see tanks and shootings. I entered Gaza recently because of my work. I always say that if it continues, Israel will be producing monsters. People should have the chance to have a normal life and to see something else than violence. People should begin seeing the other side, but all of that takes political will.
I don't understand people that only work against the occupation. They are forgetting that there are Palestinians, who share cities with Israelis, and they can't ask them not to mix with them. I seriously don't understand their logic, because if you don't meet with the others, there will only be more hatred and mistrust. I think that the term normalization has been misused a lot, and so many people understand it in a different way. If I talk to the occupier about hummus and falafel but not about, what the occupation does to me, then that's normalization, but if I talk to him/her about it, and try to make the other understand what occupation does to both of us, then it's not.
I don't know, what will happen here. I always said that if the Palestinian Authority, first of all, goes away and Israel takes over all of its responsibility as an occupying power, then maybe Israel will wake up and realize, what is going on. If you open the people's eyes and make them pay for the occupation from their own pockets, maybe that would work, although they already today pay for the settlements.
Also, on the Palestinian side, you have Palestinians committing aggression within their own communities. In Gaza there is Hamas practicing the worst kind of regime there. If you are affiliated with Hamas, you get privileges, and if you're not, then you don't get any of those. They control everything there. If you look at the West Bank, at the Palestinian Authority, the security there is even worse than the Israeli. Right now we have a teachers' strike to get higher salaries. They only get around 2500 shekels a month, while somebody who works within a ministry gets 5000 US dollars a month without the car and all of his servants. And the media is attacking the teachers instead of supporting them, and then you have all these people cheering for the government. I don't think that the Palestinian Authority will last much longer, if it continues like this.
So I think that the people from both sides are fed up. But if a solution is going to come about, it will be within the hands of the Israeli government.
I studied Biology. In Palestinian society it's a social norm for someone in the family to become an engineer, a doctor or something with "prestige."
At the age of 16, I had already finished high school, and I didn't have any kind of aspirations at that time. My father said that it would be a good idea for me to become a doctor. I think I asked him, if I should study business or social sciences, but he told me: "You're too clever for this." He decided that I should study Biology, which I then did for a couple of years.
I enjoyed it. It kind of made me think in a logical way. It creates a scientific way of thinking that I use even today. You realize things don't happen randomly. You gain analytical skills.
During my studies, I began volunteering and learning a bit more about civil society, advocacy and about the need for good Palestinian advocates. It opened up doors for me, because in Shuafat you don't see so much of the outside world. It made me want to help people who didn't have that big of a voice, so that's when I began pursuing my career in this field.
I began working as an administrative assistant in a local organization in Jerusalem, and then I decided to study something in this field, so I got a Master's degree in democracy and human rights, and while studying there I began working at an international organization. That is where I began working with the Palestinian and the Israeli civil societies. I think such projects are needed in order to know what civil societies think and to know, how to protect them. I think it's very relevant right now but seemingly not so much according to the donors.
Today I live alone, and I'm very independent. My society knows me, so it's okay in that sense. They know I travel a lot on my own, and that I represent Palestine in conferences, so they are okay with me being independent.
But when I look at other divorced women, I feel sad for them, because they go back to live with their families, where their brother becomes their "man." It's another layer of control over women. It's an extremely patriarchal society. Women are always considered the weaker part. It's horrible.
Maybe I'm okay, because I mix with people from a specific part of society that all know me and that all are okay with it, but maybe if I mixed with more marginalized communities, it would look worse.
I don't tell the women that I work with that I am divorced. They are from very traditional communities, and if I tell them, their husbands would come and tell them not to work with me. Marriage for Palestinians is something so important, so if I talk to women about their rights, I don't want them to feel like they need a divorce to become empowered.
Many of these women are beaten up by their husbands or their brothers, and they say nothing, because they don't want to get divorced.
More than 30 women were killed in Palestine last year, and according to their families the reason is honor, such as having slept outside of the marriage. But that's not the real reason. The real reason is economy. A lot of times women want to work or they request a part of their heritage. But the families will say that it's because of honor, because then they say this, the sentences are shortened.
Honor isn't considered a crime, because Palestinians still use the Jordanian law from before 1967, which hasn't changed since. The women's organizations in the West Bank have tried to change that. However the Palestinian Authority tell them that a state is needed first, before they can take care of these issues.