Not Home...Not Anywhere Else
If you live outside your country of origin and it is the summer time, where do you go? You must miss your family, your land, your trees, your streets, YOUR country, YOUR home. So you head back to that geographic location that has built itself a sturdy tower of love and belonging in your loyal heart. Then, once you have indulged in your annual dose of patriotism and family-time, you begin to think of tourist destinations that you easily head off to. This is not the case for a Palestinian refugee. We do not have the option to return to our homeland and ironically enough, do not even have the opportunity to visit many of the countries of the world, specifically, Arab countries.
The difference between ME, a Palestinian living away from home and YOU, my dear reader, is that when summer time comes around, I start looking for the countries that accept visa applications from Palestinian "refugees" to begin realistically planning my vacation based on solely the political stance of the country of choice towards "my people". I am continuously in a struggle when a vacation comes up, thinking of the places in the world I CAN travel to and the time it takes to issue a visa . You, on the other hand, a citizen of any other nationality will have your tickets booked a few months in advance because you are certain your destination is back "home" for the holidays to see those uncles and aunts you have not seen all year and the cosins you have grown so accustomed to playing with in previous vacations. So why am I so different?
Palestinians, Please Forget Palestine?
It bothers me that I am different...It bothers me that I am a "Palestinian" not allowed to enter "Palestine"... What kind of a twisted world do we live in? It seems like a simple assumption, one easily concluded from your nationality, that being a citizen of a country, automatically implies that you have the right to enter that land or return to it whenever you please. You should also be able to do this without battling with visa procedures and other forms of time-consuming applications designed merely to form an obstacle in the way of your travel plans. The concept truly astonishes me, how is it that thousands of Palestinians worldwide carry travel documents and are thus, treated like "stateless" human beings, denied the right to enter many of the countries of the world?
The Stateless Palestinian
I speak from experience, as a Palestinian carrying an Egyptian travel document. I was permitted to enter Gaza, and I say "Gaza", rather than "Palestine" because I was only allowed in that ONE CITY of MY HOMELAND until year 2000. From then onwards, travel document holders were strictly prohibited from entering Palestine even as visitors. Of course, the rest of the world hurried to follow in those footsteps. Soon enough, the majority of the Arab world and many non-Arab nations had made a decision that travel document holders, specifically, Egyptian travel documents were simply not allowed to travel freely. The reason given for this is that we are not "supported" by a specific government and do no "actually" belong to a state. Therefore, it is "threatening" to countries security policies to allow us in to their territories, enforcing unprecedented laws and regulations to deal with us "stateless Palestinians" (as the dear British like to call us).
My initial shock at the "complication" of our situation occurred when I was only 16 years of age, travelling alone for the first time in my life, heading to Dubai to visit my uncle. Firstly, allow me to explain the "rules" a travel document holder had to follow to get issued a visa to the UAE;
1. You are ONLY allowed to apply for a visa through Emirates airlines,
2. You may NOT purchase the ticket from any airlines OTHER than Emirates airlines,
3. You cannot choose between attaining your ticket from a travel agency or the airlines itself because believe it or not, you WILL be sent back if you (لا سمح الله) purchase your ticket anywhere other than Emirates Airlines.
Okay, now back to my journey...Before I head off, my father warned me to not follow the crowds to passport control when we get there. He said "You'll see a small room on your left as you walk towards the passport control counters, go there, it is where travel documents are "dealt with". Of course, at 16, I naturally thought my father was kidding, but...Joke's on ME.
Walking in to Dubai airport, I am directed to that room. A small 4x8m room with two officers sitting on worn out desks, behind a high pile of paperwork. The "kind", "Arab" officer asked me to sit down and began to interrogate me, asking questions he obviously knew the answers to, such as "Where did you get your visa?"and "Why are you here?" After over an hour of meaningless questions, I was asked to take out my passport, he took it, photocopied it, handed me the copy and maintained my passport, calmly stating "On your way out of Dubai, you can come back here to retrieve this."As I look back now, I am filled with rage at that situation and the way I reacted. I asked politely, "Why do you treat us this way?" and he responded, "Blame the Egyptian government" I should have just... I should have yelled, argued, questioned...I should have done anything other than accepted and walked in to Dubai. As of year 2008, the UAE stopped issuing visas to Palestinians holding an Egyptian travel document, period.
I should add that they are not alone in discriminating against us. Lebanon, Kuwait and the UAE do not allow us in to their lands at all. Jordan requires 6 week visa processing and a QR25,000 deposit per passport to guarantee that we will be leaving. Saudi occasionally allows Palestinians to enter for religious rituals, Egypt (which issued us travel documents in the first place) allows females but stops males, seeing that they may be "terrorists" only seeking to destroy the pyramids :)...Anyhow, you see the bigger picture. I would now like to add, it is not only Arab nations that seem to have a problem with document holders.
Europe...Joining The Club
A year after my UAE experience, I had to travel to Ireland (which I must confess is absolutely the best European country I have visited to deal with Palestinians). The trip included a layover in Heathrow airport. We were a group of students patiently waiting in line at Doha airport to check-in our bags and receive our boarding passes but...surprise, surprise, when it was my turn, confusion clouded the space and there was immediate unrest in the airline employee's eyes. To cut to the chase, a friend and I were kept behind and a phone call from Heathrow officers bluntly explains "These document holders will not set foot in Heathrow airport without a visa, even if only for a few hours". We were held back and had to find other travel arrangements to catch up with our team in Ireland.
I Miss Falasteen
I wish this was not the case. I wish the word "Palestinian" would stop causing such a hassle because it really does not need to be so confusing. All I want is the right to visit my land, the opportunity to pick olives, contribute to the olives-squeezing season, fall in love with the beautiful nature, eat fruits from my grandfathers garden and then get the chance to travel, peacefully to other nations, without the fear of being rejected due to my nationality.
If I Could...I Would Help You
Overall, I realize this post has dragged, but if I allow myself to write every detail floating around in my head about the instances I have gone through as a Palestinian, carrying an Egyptian travel document, especially within the Arab world, I would write a series of novels. So, I choose to end this post with a cry-out to the countries of the world to stop the discrimination against us. I am a Palestinian, I DO belong to a land and I long for my homeland as much as any regular citizen does. If given the chance, I would go back home every holiday and save you the trouble of dealing with my "complicated situation". If it were up to me, I would become a one-person government and provide the requested "recognition" for myself, but, unfortunately, this really is not an option. So, I am asking you to see that by rejecting OUR PEOPLE, you are shunning us out in the most unjust manner witnessed by humanity and our only fault is...We're Palestinians.