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May 28, 2002
Yes, I am a Palestinian From Gaza

By Ramzi Baroud


Yes, I am a Palestinian From Gaza
By Ramzy Baroud


Is this the end of a journey? Samih Shqir sings, a lonely voice in my small room: "My yearning to the homeland, oh mother is asking me where are your loved ones?" I join in. My crude singing voice however interferes with the flow of the song, especially as an expected presence of tears roughens my voice even further. Yes, it must be the end of the journey.

When I hauled my bags and headed to Palestine a month ago, I was hoping to find Jenin, to be reunited with my refugee camp and my beloved country, to embrace my father, to pray near my mother's grave, to share simple gifts with my nieces and nephews. But I came back daunted by the fact that even such simple wishes are too much to desire, for a Palestinian. I am one.

I headed to Palestine with numerous documents, passports, Ids, some issued by the Palestinians, others by the Egyptians, the Americans, even the Israelis when they ruled Gaza. But not once throughout my journey was my existence as a Palestinian acknowledged. I carried the burden of four nations in my bag, and yet I belonged to none.

"I begged like I never begged before," was the first thing I told my wife who received me at the airport with my two daughters. I begged them to let me into Palestine. I acted so dignified when I first attempted to enter into the West Bank. Perhaps I was empowered by the fact that I held an American passport, or by the assumption that one's right to visit his family after eight years is not much to wish for. I was wrong.

I knew that one day I would regret pleading to a disinterested Israeli solider, one among many who took over the border point between Jordan and the West Bank: "You've got to let me in, you can't do this to me. It's my family, you know what a family is? My father is dying. I've got to visit my home." He looked at me and failed to hide a canny smile: "I cannot help you, you have to go back home to Washington."

It's the same statement that I heard over and over again from most of those from which I sought help. Even sympathetic Palestinians urged me to "go back," that there was no hope, Israel would not let me in. But who is able to define "returning", what if "returning home" for me means Gaza, not Washington? Will Washington open its arms to embrace me when I "come back"?

I was singled out at every airport I entered. Even in Amsterdam, in my way back, a long interrogation left me to be the last passenger to be admitted on the airplane, although I arrived hours before anyone else. My American passport indicates that my birthplace is Gaza. The suspicious eyes which that simple four letter word, "Gaza" generated was enough to make me feel like a criminal, making a run from the law, from Amman, across Europe, and back to the US. "So you're from Gaza?" I was asked that same accusing question in various languages in many airports.

Each time I proved my innocence and found my seat in an airplane, I carried the feeling of guilt all the way to the next destination, where once again I was singled out, cornered, and asked, with mounting suspicion as a mouse who fell into a trap: "So you're from Gaza?"

On my way back, I carried my sadness and kept to myself in a long flight from Amsterdam. I was determined to keep my crime a secret from all of those in the airplane. But my wound was opened by the story of an Italian American from Sicily who had just visited his birth place in Italy after 53 years of separation.

"Did you honestly feel a sense of belonging to Sicily after all of these years, although you left your home while you were just a child?" I asked the man with the handsome beard and heart full of joy.

"You know," he replied as his eyes wandered in the limited space of the crowded airplane, "if your mother gave birth to you, and if you were forced to part immediately after your birth, she'll remain your mother, even 53 years later. Sicily for me was like a mother. I cannot describe to you how incredible it was to finally meet her, to hug her and to kiss her. How about you, how was your visit?"

"I too was looking for my mother," I replied, this time with the same unwanted tears gathering in my weary eyes. "Unfortunately, I neither met her, nor hugged her, nor kissed her." The man understood my story and I spent hours answering his many questions about my lost mother. He commented, cleverly and with much sympathy: "no matter what they do, they cannot deny you the love of a mother."

My two girls ran to me as I arrived, worn and tired. "Daddy, daddy," they screamed. "Did you get me a dress from Palestine with all the colors of the rainbow on it?" my three-year-old Zarefah asked excitedly. "Yes I did sweetheart."

Zarefah no longer goes to sleep without a "special story about Palestine." I made up many stories about my imaginary journey to Gaza, about the sandy beaches and how her grandfather was so angry that I did not bring her along. The little angel believed every word. How I wish those imaginary stories were true.

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