The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Realities and implications of being Palestinian-American

Even though I have an American passport and I am a natural-born citizen, I was never comfortable saying “I am an American” until I studied abroad in London last semester. I convinced myself that I am not an American.

After considering this issue deeply, I realized that this feeling stems from the political implications and realities of being a Palestinian, rather than shame or discomfort in being an American.

I will attempt to explain.

In Palestine my Palestinian passport reflects my identity, while my American passport makes my life easier.

According to Israeli law, my American passport grants me more rights.

To get to Palestine, Palestinians must travel to Jordan and cross the Jordan River on a bus to get to Jericho. As an American, I can use the airport and fly directly into Tel-Aviv.

Palestinians must spend five hours taking extensive back roads to get to Jerusalem, which is about 20 minutes away from Ramallah.

I reach Jerusalem in 15 minutes because I am given the advantages of international travelers. I can take direct routes, without being tortured and humiliated at checkpoints.

According to a new Israeli law, Palestinians born in Jerusalem must change the birthplace on their Palestinian passports and identification cards to read “Ramallah,” “Jenin,” “Nablus,” or anything else, as long as it is not “Jerusalem.”

My American passport states that my birthplace is “Jerusalem.”

Yet, my Palestinian passport falsely states that I was born in “Ramallah.”

When I renewed my Palestinian passport in 2005 the computer automatically changed my birthplace from “Jerusalem” to “Ramallah.”

My cousins were born in Detroit, have never lived in Palestine and do not have Palestinian passports. With American passports, they are allowed to visit Jerusalem and to travel freely throughout the country.

My brother and my sister and I were born in Jerusalem and have grown up in Palestine and possess Palestinian passports. We are forbidden to enter Jerusalem or any other city without written permission from the Israeli government-a permit that, as of a few years ago, is impossible to get.

According to Israeli law, my American passport gives me the freedom of movement.

It awards me basic human rights.

It awards me respect.

But this respect is fragile-it is conditional.

My American passport has a stamp on it with my Palestinian identification number to distinguish me from other Americans.

When an Israeli official becomes suspicious of my identity and notices the stamp, my Palestinian identity will be discovered.

I will be blacklisted.

I could be jailed.

I could be exiled.

I will be punished severely for daring to take advantage of the rights of “true” Americans.

My grandfather, Nabeel, was born in Detroit in June 1934 to Palestinian parents. He became the first natural-born American in his family.

But he is not an American.

When Nabeel was one he moved back to Palestine with his mother.

When he was 15, Nabeel was sent to Detroit to live with his uncles and cousins.

He attended American public schools and grew up in the streets of Detroit.

But he is not an American.

When he was 18 he was drafted. He served in the American army.

But he is not an American.

When he was 26 he returned to Palestine. He met my grandmother-a native of Jerusalem.

They married and had four Palestinian-American children.

But they are not Americans.

I was born in 1988 and received an American passport from the American consulate courtesy of my mother and my grandfather- two natural-born citizens.

I moved to Maryland in 2001 but was quickly reminded by my classmates that I am not an American.

I was singled out by my accent, my ability to speak another language, my dark and curly Arab hair, my Arab eyes and my “Arabic perspective.”

“Where are you REALLY from?” they would ask.

I have always wanted to respond by asking, “Where are YOU really from?” and wondered if any would be able to tell me.

Their attempt to alienate me and cast me as an outsider was stimulated by my natural tendency to alienate myself.

I knew that I was different.

They knew it too.

Consequently, I was surprised when people in London were convinced based on my accent and my passport that I am an American.

“But I am a Palestinian,” I would say. “I am not really an American.”

Confused, they would say “But you have an American passport. The only ‘true’ Americans are the Native Americans.”

“You are an American,” I was told over and over again.

I got goose bumps.

I shivered.

I was touched that they think I am equal.

I was comforted that they think that being a Palestinian should not strip me of this equality.

I look forward to returning to London and hearing them say “You are an American,” and, for a night, pretending that they are right.

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