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Hands

December 5, 2013

A previously lifeless phone is resurrected.

“In Israel to dial US…” proclaims an iPhone that has not worked since I crossed the Atlantic over a month ago.

Crossing borders into a sphere that my cell phone company recognizes is nothing peculiar, and yet…

Three minutes pass, and another phone is resurrected.

“Welcome to Palestine!” proclaims my Egyptian Vodafone.

The dichotomy between my two cell phone carriers would act easily as a metaphor if a cheap explanation of a “conflict” were something of interest. But, I’m tired of black ink and overused pseudonyms.

The war between my cell phone carriers erupted as I sat uncomfortably on a large Jordanian bus in my first attempt to cross the King Hussein bridge.

I’ve made no secret of the difficulty I encountered upon my previous exit from Israel at the Eilat-Taba border crossing. I knew this border like the back of my hand, it was familiar. Its process had become as predictable as the flashy bathing suits adorning the Russian bodies that I always found myself squished between. Being questioned at the border was not so uncomfortable compared to such visions of sun burnt flesh.

Yet, in July 2011, while making a dash from Birzeit to Cairo, I ran into the tallest of walls, despite having leapt over the most damning less than six hours before.

“Where are you from?”
“Why were you in Israel?”
“You studied Arabic?”
“Where?”
“Did you participate in any political organizations?”
“Are you Palestinian?”
“Do you have Palestinian family?”
“Are you Palestinian?”
“So, are you Palestinian?”

These were all nothing new and, still, nothing unexpected. But what followed a rambling of questions and answers was.

“If you try to come back to Israel, you will not be let back in.”

Smack. That wall hits hard. I ran back into Cairo’s arms and away from that demon.

I’d grow old telling this story if I were to believe it, and if I didn’t listen to the countless others who were told similar variations when exiting Israel. But, I’d rather not grow old pondering the strength of a man’s words. I’d rather put them to the test, because, at this point, what do I have to lose?

The rumbling Jordanian bus was packed with giggling children and vacation-goers. While they all discussed non-trivial matters and travel plans, I was anxiously pulling threads out from the bus seat. I was overcome with adrenaline, and fear was a non-issue.

Those familiar visions of fleshy Russian bodies were replaced by an army of Malaysians with backpacks. Time passed slowly in an endless line to handover luggage for inspection, and then there was the first interrogator’s box.

“Passport.”

Flip, flip. Eyes up, eyes down.

My passport is pushed back to me and I am ushered to the next box made of steel and Plexiglas.

I share an intimate twenty minutes with a middle-aged Israeli man who asked me a series of personal questions that I submitted to in a Yat-like ramble. My tactic: drown me in your questions, but I’m going to drag you down with me with enough words to make your head spin.

Smack.

It was not a wall, it was my passport. My small identity book, which I previously assumed to be my biggest hurdle to moving pass this steel box, was dropped before me for the taking.

“Welcome to Israel.”

It only took me a few steps forward to break down, overcome by a sense of relief and guilt. I can test these borders when others cannot. Identities carry such heavy baggage. We assume them without knowing anything of them, and it is only with time and challenge that we learn to adapt to these preconceived notions of ourselves.

Through rolling hills and white brick buildings, the minibus carried me back into the arms of Jerusalem. A Jerusalem I never thought I would see again. For two year it had become a dream, a distant memory filled with moments of trial and error that shaped my understanding of a difference in stories between two peoples. She was unrequited love, a love I felt guilty for having attempted to possess while knowing so many whose unrequited love for this place grows stronger with each passing day of dreaming of return.

What transpired during my week in Jerusalem does not match up to the hands of strangers I took into my own when I crossed back into Jordan. Sitting on the Jordanian bus, crossing no man’s land once more, I possessed pocket change of dinar that did not add up to the amount needed for a bus ride back to Amman. And, as luck would have it, the ATM was broken.

“Do you have a ride?” asked the soft voice of the man who sat next to me on the bus. He was returning from a brief trip to Ramallah where his uncle had recently been admitted to the hospital.

Abandoning all reason, and warnings, I accepted his offer of transportation to Amman. In the hour it took for us to travel from the Kind Hussein bridge to Amman he told me of his family’s flight from their homeland. His father fled from Jaffa to South America, before settling in Beirut. There the man’s father met his wife, who had fled from a village north of Nazareth. In his old age, the man’s father was given the news that he would die of cancer. Knowing this, he made a promise to himself that he would die in Palestine, and that he did, in his brother’s home in Ramallah.

Upon exiting my new friend’s car, I shook his hand, and in his hand I felt the hand of his father.

Walking the nighttime streets of Amman, a friend introduced me to a man who had fled from Jerusalem decades ago, not knowing that the road he traveled would be a one-way street. He would never see Jerusalem again. He would not be able to test the words of men as I had, because the walls surrounding him are taller. I shook his hand.

In the hour-long drive to the Amman airport, at the early hour of four in the morning, my taxi driver told the all-to-familiar story of his family’s flight from Palestine. I shook his hand.

These hands will still hold onto what is more tangible than soil or home. They cannot grasp walls, but they can find solidarity in the hands of others who share a similar fate. A shared identity, a shared idea. With each handshake, we offer recognition of this identity and make it stronger. At least, I hope. How could I not, knowing that these men have held onto hope for so long.
Screenshot 2013-12-05 16.16.59

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