HER STORY #31 - RWAN

From Iksal To Jerusalem

I am 25 years old and from Kfar Iksal [Iksal Village], which is next to Nazareth. 

I came to Jerusalem to study and I've been here for five years, but I feel like I got stuck here. Sometimes I like living here, sometimes I don't. But for now, I can only see myself in Jerusalem. 

Kfar Iksal is the home of my family, but it's not really like my home. I like it there, and I always go there to visit, but I don't think it's the place where I'd like to live and work. Although I live in a dorm, I still feel like Jerusalem is more my place, as there are more options to go out and there is less social pressure. This also has to do with my family. In Jerusalem, I can go out without any excuses, without having to explain anything to people, and without having to tell anyone where I am going. For me it's free here. If I were in the village, I wouldn't be able to go out at night with my friends because there are some things you don't do. It's more conservative. 

When I came to Jerusalem, it was solely for my studies. I always wanted to study at Hebrew University because it was a good university. It was my dream to study here, but before I even moved here I liked Jerusalem for religious reasons, and I used to go to Al-Aqsa quite often. 

Nowadays I don't go to Al-Aqsa as frequently as I did when I began studying. Back then I was closer to religion. Now, when I go to Al-Aqsa, I feel like a tourist, and I just like to look around. But ultimately, I go less often because my studies have increased and I feel less religious. 

My ID

Sometimes the guards don't ask anything and you can get in [to Al-Aqsa] without any questioning; however, I remember better the times when they questioned me and when they took my ID, which I could only retrieve when I left. I hate this part of it, and that's also the reason why I don't feel like going. 

The guards ask me where I am from, what I am doing here, where I was born, etc. I feel like they ask me too many questions. But I don't want to be problematic. I know that if I ask too many questions in return, they will only continue to ask me more questions. 

Once I went there with my mother. At the entrance there were two guards. One of them said that he had to take our IDs and that we could get them back at the exit. But there are many exits and entrances [to Al-Aqsa], so I began arguing with him saying that I wasn't sure which entrance we would come out of. The guard next to him told him in Hebrew that it wasn't necessary, and I heard it and repeated it to the first guard, but he responded saying, "No, I have decided already." So it had to do with his ego. I told him this, and he said something like, "It's not your business."

I'm used to this behavior in many places. It makes me more angry than sad. I understand that it's dangerous when an Arab stabs a Jew. But it's not enough of an excuse for people to be scared of me and to behave in a racist way towards me. I can understand it, but can't accept it. 

Medicine

I'm a pharmaceutical student. 

I like the field of medicine, human bodies, etc., and I dream about creating something in the world of medicine that doesn't exist. It challenges me. 

There is a reason why I want to do this. Someone important to me has been suffering from a disease that, to this date, there is no medicine for, and even though there are treatments for it, there are many side effects. So I thought of creating something that doesn't have those side effects. That's part of my goal. In fact, it was always in me. As a child I would always hear things about the disease, but I didn't understand, so I always wanted to understand why it happened. I spent a lot of time in the hospital, and I saw many sick people. I wanted to bring the solution, but I didn't want to be a doctor. 

I see myself working in either the pharmaceutical or research field here in Jerusalem, specifically in Ein Kerem Hospital because there are certain areas that interest me there. 

Family

I have family in Nablus, but also family in Syria and in Jordan that are refugees. 

Our relations were severed for a long time. I don't know why, but maybe it's because of borders and the fact that it wasn't possible to get in or out. Now, it's easier to get to Nablus, so we have more connection with the family there, and we can go and visit. We have also been able to visit the family in Jordan, and they have come to visit us too. 

But it's a little bit strange for me. They have the same family name as I do, but I don't know them that well. They have a different accent and different behavior. They even wear different clothes. It's all according to the place where they grew up and live. 

With these relatives, I saw pictures of our common grandparents. It was exciting, and they would tell us things that my father neither remembered nor knew. They have recently tried to connect again after so much time of disconnect. 

Some of my family members are refugees from 1948. From what I understand, they grew up there [Jordan]. They are older, as they were in their 20s and even younger when they left. They've built their homes there, so I don't think they would want to come back - also because their houses here aren't here anymore. 

I feel like we are all Palestinians, even those in Jordan - including my uncle and his wife, who are in their 70s. My uncle has been in Jordan since the age of ten, but today he will still say that he is a Palestinian living in Jordan. And sometimes he will say that there is a difference between Jordanians and Palestinians. You feel like there is a Palestinian basis. His wife still wears traditional Palestinian dresses. In the West Bank many women wear it as well, although less in Israel. Before the dresses were used daily, and some older women in the West Bank wear them daily. 

Palestinian

If people ask me about my identity, I say I'm Palestinian. 

It's like when people ask me if I am male or female. I'm Palestinian, that's me. I don't like hearing the term "Israeli-Arab." It makes me angry, because it contributes to erasing the Palestinian identity. I feel it. I live it. I see it all the time. So when people say "Israeli-Arab," I feel like it's erasing my identity because they don't want to admit that I'm Palestinian, since it's dangerous to them to recognize that I'm Palestinian. 

It took me a while for me to say that I'm Palestinian. I grew up with the fear of saying it. I was scared before, and I would say "Arab" to make others feel better. I only began saying it recently. 

This thing about identifying myself really touches and interests me. I've looked inside myself at who I am, and what I found out is that I am Palestinian, from when I was born. But I used to be scared of saying it. 

It depends on who I am talking to. When people in the street ask me where I'm from because of my accent, I won't say I'm Palestinian, because I'm scared. It's scary to say that to someone in the street. I'll say it more to people at university, at work, and to people that I trust more, who I know will accept it more and won't be frightened. 

I vote. Every time I hear things like what Bibi [Binyamin Netanyahu] said in the past elections, I think how I don't understand how Jews can support this. It's craziness in people's heads. It's so bad to say what he said. I thought, if this makes people go and vote, that's irritating and sad. It makes me angry. On the other hand, I was a little bit happy about the fact that more people went to vote, and like my friends, I went to my village specifically to vote. In this country, the more racist you are, the more chances you have of going into politics. 

The whole thing about Israeli/Jewish and Arab/Palestinian hurts me in regards to my sense of belonging. I have a thing about belonging. Sometimes I feel that I belong to this place. Once I thought about leaving because I didn't want to live here. Then I began to think about the fact that my grandparents grew up here, and if I left I would feel even worse in my feelings of belonging. 

The idea comes and goes fast because I feel a sense of belonging with my family, parents, and people that I know here, and that I grew up with. These people make me not want to leave. 

The only way to live in Israel as a Palestinian is to call yourself an "Arab", as Jews like it, and to talk in the accent that they like. I see Palestinians telling themselves, "Okay, I live here, so I'll behave like they want me to behave." Some of them go to the army thinking it will help them in feeling part of their [the Jews'] society, so they will suffer less. 

In general, I see that the people who wish to live in peace need to live in a box and not think about their identity and not think about the Arabic language as an important language. They compensate for their rights. Some Arabs speak Hebrew when they are together to feel like they are like them [the Jews]. They're not holding on to their roots. I once met a friend at a bus station who would talk to me in Hebrew next to other people. 

Showing "how much I'm against racism. I can accept everyone." 

Showing "how much I'm against racism. I can accept everyone." 

They make us feel disadvantaged. The thing they did to Yemeni Jews, they did to the Arabs as well. 

Yemeni Jews

Sometimes I meet old Yemeni Jews and I talk to them. Once I met an older Yemeni woman, and when she asked me where I was from, she spoke to me in Arabic. She said that she was also Arab, but it was just her religion that made her Jewish. 

They are Arabs too, but when they came here, they were told they were Jewish: Either you are Jewish, or you go back. They do this with Arabs now: If you want to be like us, you have to behave like us. 

What I have in common with them [Yemeni Jews] is the racism towards them. There was also this thing where they were convinced not to teach their children Arabic, so now you see that they [the younger generation] don't speak Arabic; however, the Russian childrendo know Russian. The Arabic language was a danger to them, and they wanted to erase it. It was racism, just because they were Arab.

Languages

The Palestinians in Israel need to learn Hebrew starting in third grade. My nephew is in third grade and he is learning the language. Children learnt it at a higher level, including things from the Bible. In Jewish schools, they don't learn Arabic at all, just some letters and a few words. 

It's a very irritating point for me because the Israeli school system wanted me to learn everything about Jews and Israel, and they didn't learn even the simplest things about Arabic in school. They didn't want to learn Arabic. 

This is a very important issue for me, especially every time I get into political discussions. I don't see improvement in politics happening without this being taken into consideration. I won't speak about coexistence and peace, if Arabic isn't taught in schools. 

If I were on the phone with a friend or a lover, and a Jewish person overheard me, he wouldn't be scared of me because he'd understand what I was saying, and he wouldn't think that I was a threat. 

When I finished school and began to study, I didn't have a big problem with Hebrew. I was a good student in school, but we had focused more on reading and writing, not so much speaking, so it was more difficult for me to speak. 

I've had a lot of difficult studying in Hebrew. Sometimes I don't understand the entirety of the lectures in Hebrew. Going to university and suddenly learning everything in Hebrew was not easy. In high school, I wouldn't have to go over everything because classes were in Arabic. In the lectures I hear a second language, and when I go home, I have to go over my notes a couple of times. It gives me double work. If it was possible to study in Arabic, I would for sure study in Arabic. 

Israel doesn't recognize Al-Quds University or Birzeit University, so I would have to live in the West Bank to study there. I could study in Jordan, but why go all the way over there? It's more expensive, and I already have a problem here with the need to feel at home. 

Racism

It's true that I study something which isn't political, but I'm very politically active. I go to dialogue groups between Israelis and Palestinians, and I try to advance discourse in those fields. Every time, I try to look at things from the outside and to see both sides, to be more objective. And yet, I still suffer from racism. 

I fight against racism, and I currently volunteer in a program in a school that helps combat racism. I go there and try to help people not to judge others, but at the same time, I know I'm being judged. 

A while ago I began working in a place where I was the only Arab in my department. I worked with a Jew, and he was nice to me during our shift, but we only worked together once. At one point, he started speaking to someone near me about Breaking the Silence [an organization that wishes to bring an end to the occupation] and how he thought that any support of this organization was bad. He was right-wing, and I felt like he was trying to provoke me in a passive-aggressive way, but I didn't say anything. He left after that shift because of me. He didn't do anything to me, but I felt uncomfortable and guilty that my presence caused someone to leave the department, even though I didn't do anything wrong. 

I know that the majority of people are anti-Palestinian and don't want to recognize Palestinians' suffering, so this wasn't new to me, but it did hurt that he didn't want to work with me. By him leaving, it wasn't only racist, but it was insulting as well. He didn't mind the Arabs there cleaning, but couldn't stand any Arabs at his desk. 

In one of the co-existence activities between Arabs and Jews for children, I also experienced racism towards myself and the guide there. In the children's feedback, some wrote that they didn't like the whole thing because of the Arabs in their group. 

I'm not looking for racism, but it shows up everywhere. 

Right now is Ramadan, and at the end of it, there is one holiday. Muslims don't have a lot of holidays. In fact, we only have two. During those holidays we need to celebrate. Ramadan finishes on July 5th, and the first day of the holiday is on July 6th. And unfortunately on that day I have an exam. It's perhaps not racist, but they do put us on the side. The university doesn't care about our holidays. I know they didn't look for my holiday specifically, but they schedule the exam without considering it. 80% of my classmates are Arabs, and 70% of them are Muslims. 

It's always like that, and when people have pointed it out before, the university administration has come up with all sorts of excuses, as in: "Why didn't you say this at the beginning of the academic year?" - as if it's the students' fault. 

The kind of racism I experience actually feels like it needs a stronger word than racism. There are many reasons for the racism that I experience, and part of it is due to the people above  from the Knesset, teachers in schools, and people in high ranks. They plant these thoughts in their children, "They are Arabs." Most Jewish schoolchildren have never seen an Arab. They only know that Arabs make problems and stab people. 

"This is me at one of the Palestinian-Israeli coexistence programs."

"This is me at one of the Palestinian-Israeli coexistence programs."

Families need to explain to them the bigger picture, not only one part of it. There are also Jews that stab people. They need to show their children the whole picture and not to plant racism in them. The same goes for the Knesset. Members of Knesset are directly promoting racism when they talk. Naftali Bennett is our Minister of Education. This  doesn't fit him. I don't expect him to be pro-Palestinian necessarily, but at least be more neutral. When the book about the love story between a Jew and an Arab came out, he was against it. He said that he didn't want "our children," meaning Jewish children, to be exposed to this. The leaders have strong racist voices. 

The media like to play with this as well. 

It's very important for me that people don't judge other people. People will behave towards you based on judgment and stereotypes before they know you. It's irritating, and it causes bad things. The most important thing, although not only here in Israel, is not to judge people. 

Not Politics

My mother and I are friends, but I try not to share everything with her so she doesn't worry. 

She, along with the rest of my family, doesn't like that I'm politically active. They are scared for me. There is fear among Palestinians about getting involved in politics. Someone in the village published something on Facebook about democracy in Israel, and the same day the police came and took her. So it makes people even more scared. My mother says, "Do whatever you want, but not politics."

I grew up with this identity. Part of my family tries to avoid getting their children involved in politics, because life is "comfortable" when you're an Arab not involved in politicsor at least it becomes less risky. So my parents never told us that we were Palestinians. It's only when we're in places like Turkey that we'll say we're Palestinian. My parents protect us in this way. 

I don't want my family to worry about me. I don't want to tell them about this. 

Secure-ty

Showing my ID makes me feel less secure. None of the guards want to see my ID for my security, but for their own, for Jews' security. That's how I feel it and see it. They don't take my security into consideration. It doesn't matter to them what I feel, or if I am humiliated or insulted by their behavior. 

There is something that happened to me a couple of months ago, which makes me feel humiliated every time I think about it. Two things happened to me in the same week. The worst things that can happen to a person. It was in November. 

On Tuesday of that week I was sexually harassed by a Jewish man in Jerusalem. 

When I came back to the dorm, I stayed in my room the whole time. I didn't leave my room until Saturday. It was so difficult. I didn't eat at all. Every time I felt like I was going to faint, I only ate spoons of sugar. My mother felt that something was wrong with me and she came to visit me. 

She wanted me to come and get her at the central station. There were "magavnikim" [Israel Border Police], so I went there and waited for her. She called me. I only said a few words to her on the phone in Arabic. The moment I hung up, the police came over to me and one of them pulled out his weapon and pointed it at me on my face, and shouted at me. 

I was stuck. I didn't understand what it was. They asked for my ID. It took me time to understand what was going on. During the whole situation, they were staring at me for no reason with angry eyes. I asked one of them, "Why do you need to see my ID? I just came here." Then one of them yelled, "I think you're a terrorist." I got really scared. Everyone around me thought I was a terrorist. My legs were shaking, and continued to shake even two weeks later. I was scared in a way that I had never been before. 

When they pulled out their gun, I thought I was dying. I began praying. Because this has happenedthey have shot people in these situations before, so I thought I was going to die like that. 

I began telling people that I didn't do anything. I put my hands up. 

I had a small bag, and one of the soldiers told me to throw it. He opened it and began asking me questions about the ID. I told him that I'm a student and that I work for the Ministry of Justice, but he didn't care. After I gave him all of my details, he called other people and forwarded the information to them. 

That's when I began understanding why Palestinians in Jerusalem carry out terrorist attacks if they are treated like this. Because I've told this story to Palestinians living in Jerusalem, and they just say, "Yes, and?" As if it happens to everyone. 

I went into panic. It's irritating and angering. 

I've shared some of these instances with a few friends. I tell them, but they don't always know how to behave and respond. For example, I told a friend about the harassment almost a week after it happened. I just didn't have the energy before. The only thing she responded was, "Oh, did it hurt?" And that's it. People don't know how to relate to it and to me. I know they are not psychologists; they are normal people. 

Now I Don't Think I Should Keep Quiet

My family doesn't know about the harassment because I chose not to tell them. They will begin to worry for every possible reason, as we are very close in our family. They will begin calling me more, and I don't want to feel like a little girl. 

I didn't want to tell them what happened with the "magavnikim," but my mother knows. When they finally left me, and I went to see my mother and bring her to the station, I began crying, and we hugged. She also didn't feel well, because she had been through a long security process of checking her bags because she wears a hijab. She was also stressed. But when we met I burst out crying because of all the things I'd experienced. 

Once I didn't want to talk about these things because I was scared of making myself look like a victim, especially in terms of sexual harassment. 

The man was Jewish, and I felt that the fact that he knew that I'm Arab made him sure that I wouldn't talk about it. He even said this during the investigation. Some girls don't complain, but the fact that I'm Arab made him think that I wouldn't tell anyone. There is some truth to this, because in Arab society there is more conservatism. If someone harassment me, it's not his [the man's] fault, but my fault. It touches my honor, not his. I did grow up in a place where you don't talk about this. 

As a child, there was a five-year period where something similar happened. People didn't know, and I didn't know what it was, but ever since this last incident, I always dream about these two incidents. They never lever me. 

Now, however, I think differently. I have begun thinking about what is good and what isn't. Now I don't have a problem with the sexual harassment coming out into the open, but I'm also in a place now where I'm not scared. I don't apologize. When you hide those things, it convinces people that what they're doing isn't wrong. 

If the soldiers think that we will suffer this racism without saying anything, it will only make people more racist. In terms of sexual harassment, if women keep silent, men will only continue. 

So now I'm in a place, where I want to say it. I want to talk about what happened to me, rather than being ashamed. It's not like I made a mistake and did anything wrong - it's not my fault. It happened. It could happen to anyone. Now I don't think I should keep quiet.