Amoula il Majnoona

Amoula's blog from Ramallah

Monday, June 23, 2008

Denied the Right to go Home

I am Palestinian – born and raised – and my Palestinian roots go back
centuries. No one can change that even if they tell me that
Jerusalem, my birth place, is not Palestine, even if they tell me
that Palestine doesn’t exist, even if they take away all my papers
and deny me entry to my own home, even if they humiliate me and take
away my rights. I AM PALESTINIAN.

Name: Zeina Emile Sam’an Ashrawi; Date of Birth: July 30, 1981;
Ethnicity: Arab. This is what was written on my Jerusalem ID card. An
ID card to a Palestinian is much more than just a piece of paper; it
is my only legal documented relationship to Palestine. Born in
Jerusalem, I was given a Jerusalem ID card (the blue ID), an Israeli
Travel Document and a Jordanian Passport stamped Palestinian (I have
no legal rights in Jordan). I do not have an Israeli Passport, a
Palestinian Passport or an American Passport. Here is my story:

I came to the United States as a 17 year old to finish high school in
Pennsylvania and went on to college and graduate school and
subsequently got married and we are currently living in Northern
Virginia. I have gone home every year at least once to see my
parents, my family and my friends and to renew my Travel Document as
I was only able to extend its validity once a year from Washington
DC. My father and I would stand in line at the Israeli Ministry of
Interior in Jerusalem, along with many other Palestinians, from 4:30
in the morning to try our luck at making it through the revolving
metal doors of the Ministry before noon – when the Ministry closed
its doors - to try and renew the Travel Document. We did that year
after year. As a people living under an occupation, being faced with
constant humiliation by an occupier was the norm but we did what we
had to do to insure our identity was not stolen from us.

In August of 2007 I went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC to
try and extend my travel document and get the usual “Returning
Resident” VISA that the Israelis issue to Palestinians holding an
Israeli Travel Document. After watching a few Americans and others
being told that their visas would be ready in a couple of weeks my
turn came. I walked up to the bulletproof glass window shielding the
lady working behind it and under a massive picture of the Dome of the
Rock and the Walls of Jerusalem that hangs on the wall in the Israeli
consulate, I handed her my papers through a little slot at the bottom
of the window.

“Shalom” she said with a smile. “Hi” I responded, apprehensive and
scared. As soon as she saw my Travel Document her demeanor
immediately changed. The smile was no longer there and there was very
little small talk between us, as usual. After sifting through the
paperwork I gave her she said: “where is your American Passport?” I
explained to her that I did not have one and that my only Travel
Document is the one she has in her hands. She was quiet for a few
seconds and then said: “you don’t have an American Passport?”
suspicious that I was hiding information from her. “No!” I said. She
was quiet for a little longer and then said: “Well, I am not sure
we’ll be able to extend your Travel Document.” I felt the blood
rushing to my head as this is my only means to get home! I asked her
what she meant by that and she went on to tell me that since I had
been living in the US and because I had a Green Card they would not
extend my Travel Document. After taking a deep breath to try and
control my temper I explained to her that a Green Card is not a
Passport and I cannot use it to travel outside the US. My voice was
shaky and I was getting more and more upset (and a mini shouting
match ensued) so I asked her to explain to me what I needed to do.
She told me to leave my paperwork and we would see what happens.

A couple of weeks later I received a phone call from the lady telling
me that she was able to extended my Travel Document but I would no
longer be getting the “Returning Resident” VISA. Instead, I was given
a 3 month tourist VISA. Initially I was happy to hear that the Travel
Document was extended but then I realized that she said “tourist
VISA”. Why am I getting a tourist VISA to go home? Not wanting to
argue with her about the 3 month VISA at the time so as not to
jeopardize the extension of my Travel Document, I simply put that bit
of information on the back burner and went on to explain to her that
I wasn’t going home in the next 3 months. She instructed me to come
back and apply for another VISA when I did intend on going. She
didn’t add much and just told me that it was ready for pick-up. So I
went to the Embassy and got my Travel Document and the tourist VISA
that was stamped in it.

My husband, my son and I were planning on going home to Palestine
this summer. So a month before we were set to leave (July 8, 2008) I
went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC, papers in hand, to ask
for a VISA to go home. I, again, stood in line and watched others get
VISAs to go to my home. When my turn came I walked up to the window;
“Shalom” she said with a smile on her face, “Hi” I replied. I slipped
the paperwork in the little slot under the bulletproof glass and
waited for the usual reaction. I told her that I needed a returning
resident VISA to go home. She took the paperwork and I gave her a
check for the amount she requested and left the Embassy without

A few days ago I got a phone call from Dina at the Israeli Embassy
telling me that she needed the expiration date of my Jordanian
Passport and my Green Card. I had given them all the paperwork they
needed time and time again and I thought it was a good way on their
part to waste time so that I didn’t get my VISA in time. Regardless,
I called over and over again only to get their voice mail. I left a
message with the information they needed but kept called every 10
minutes hoping to speak to someone to make sure that they received
the information in an effort to expedite the tedious process. I
finally got a hold of someone. I told her that I wanted to make sure
they received the information I left on their voice mail and that I
wanted to make sure that my paperwork was in order. She said, after
consulting with someone in the background (I assume it was Dina),
that I needed to fax copies of both my Jordanian Passport and my
Green Card and that giving them the information over the phone wasn’t
acceptable. So I immediately made copies and faxed them to Dina.

A few hours later my cell phone rang. “Zeina?” she said. “Yes” I
replied, knowing exactly who it was and immediately asked her if she
received the fax I sent. She said: “ehhh, I was not looking at your
file when you called earlier but your Visa was denied and your ID and
Travel Document are no longer valid.” “Excuse me?” I said in
disbelief. “Sorry, I cannot give you a visa and your ID and Travel
Document are no longer valid. This decision came from Israel not from

I cannot describe the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach. “Why?”
I asked and Dina went on to tell me that it was because I had a Green
Card. I tried to reason with Dina and to explain to her that they
could not do that as this is my only means of travel home and that I
wanted to see my parents, but to no avail. Dina held her ground and
told me that I wouldn’t be given the VISA and then said: “Let the
Americans give you a Travel Document”.

I have always been a strong person and not one to show weakness but
at that moment I lost all control and started crying while Dina was
on the other end of the line holding my only legal documents linking
me to my home. I began to plead with her to try and get the VISA and
not revoke my documents; “put yourself in my shoes, what would you
do? You want to go see your family and someone is telling you that
you can’t! What would you do? Forget that you’re Israeli and that I’m
Palestinian and think about this for a minute!” “Sorry” she said,”I
know but I can’t do anything, the decision came from Israel”. I tried
to explain to her over and over again that I could not travel without
my Travel Document and that they could not do that – knowing that
they could, and they had!

This has been happening to many Palestinians who have a Jerusalem ID
card. The Israeli government has been practicing and perfecting the
art of ethnic cleansing since 1948 right under the nose of the world
and no one has the power or the guts to do anything about it. Where
else in the world does one have to beg to go to one’s own home? Where
else in the world does one have to give up their identity for the
sole reason of living somewhere else for a period of time? Imagine if
an American living in Spain for a few years wanted to go home only to
be told by the American government that their American Passport was
revoked and that they wouldn’t be able to come back!

If I were a Jew living anywhere around the world and had no ties to
the area and had never set foot there, I would have the right to go
any time I wanted and get an Israeli Passport. In fact, the Israelis
encourage that. I however, am not Jewish but I was born and raised
there, my parents, family and friends still live there and I cannot
go back! I am neither a criminal nor a threat to one of the most
power countries in the world, yet I am alienated and expelled from my
own home.

As it stands right now, I will be unable to go home – I am one of many.


At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Israeli and I was deeply moved by your story. I can see it was a while ago. What they did to you is such an outrage! I feel awful about it. Did you finally make it back? I see you are in Ramallah.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger P said...

It is a scandal. I will pass this story on. I hope you made it HOME.

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