Palestinian women cry during the funeral of four young men...

Palestinian women cry during the funeral of four young men killed by the Israeli army in a raid on the town of Tulkarm. Four Hamas militiamen were buried in the West Bank city of Tulkarm.

(Photo by Israel Fuguemann/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

My Deep Sense of Dread Living as a Palestinian American

Imagine if you can what it means when those around you refuse to see your family members living under constant occupation as real human beings.

“I’d rather be stabbed by daggers than be ruled by a rogue.” This line comes from one of the saddest and most beautiful folk songs released from Palestine.

I thought about those words constantly when I was in Palestine this past summer. After four years of estrangement, as a plague swept across the planet, I finally returned to Palestine. I got to see my family again and I lived with them for less than a month while also traveling to every corner that I could. I even made it to Jerusalem for the first time in my life, after being continuously denied, and saw parts of Israel. After everything I bore witness to this summer, I can understand why someone would sing such a song.

I wanted to see Nablus. I wanted to go there from the morning after I made it back to my village, but we had to stay home because the Israelis launched an operation in the city where they killed three Palestinian fighters. I waited another day patiently and went to Nablus. I ate and drank with my uncle, who paid for my food. He showed me a building in the old city of Nablus that the Israelis destroyed during the Second Intifada. It was in the process of being rebuilt, but it still had an empty feeling to me. Just as we left the old city, hundreds of people poured into the streets to commemorate the killing of Lion’s Den fighters. An Israeli operation took place and the IOF killed someone else. I watched his funeral as people poured into the street.

Despite how awful it was living in such a dangerous place without any real rights, I cried when I left.

I wanted to see Khalil. Khalil is what the people who live there call it but it is typically referred to as Hebron. It is the city that is home to the Ibrahimi Mosque. The Mosque, part of the Cave of the Patriarchs, is said to hold Ibrahim, who is the progenitor of the Abrahamic faiths and the ancestor of both Jews and Arabs. I went with my mom. The Israelis have set up a checkpoint to control Palestinian entry into the Mosque. My mom was racked with anxiety as we passed through metal bars and showed our IDs in order to pray. I prayed and we went into Khalil’s old city. The last time we went to Khalil we passed under a small chain link ceiling that separated the Israeli settlers perched above us. The ceiling acted as a barrier so they could not throw garbage at us. Often, the barrier itself fills with garbage thrown by the settlers. I was happy not to pass through that part of the city again.

I wanted to see Bethlehem. So we went there too. I insisted we go see Solomon’s Pools and I stared into them. Some of the pools had enough water for people to (illegally) swim in while others stood empty. At the pools, I had a medical emergency and felt very awful. I told my mom on the way to Ramallah that I needed to go to the hospital. My mom told me she would take me right away, but the Israelis placed a checkpoint to Ramallah which caused traffic. I began to slowly panic and thought something serious might happen to me since I was in a lot of pain. Our driver knew another path on an unpaved dirt road that led us to a portion of Ramallah with thin streets. How many other medical emergencies must be put on pause for the all-mighty Israeli checkpoint?

When I got better, I wanted to see Jerusalem. I have heard about Jerusalem all my life and this was my first time there. We tried numerous other times when I was younger to enter, but I never was able because the Americans recently pressured Israel into accepting Palestinian Americans. As my mom asked about whether our new visa would work, someone we asked replied that our visa was even better than theirs! I could not help feeling somewhat guilty and I could not stand the idea that I need to be “allowed” into a place Israel is illegally occupying.

I wanted to see Haifa. I used to have a family there. My mom wanted to go with a tour bus group because she was afraid to travel alone. We entered the bus at the border, but this time we had people on board with us who were only Palestinians—without an American passport. There’s apparently a difference between me and them in the eyes of Israel because we waited an extra three hours on that bus so Israel could send them back to Palestine. Soldiers boarded the bus carrying rifles and eventually left and our tour bus finally took us to see Haifa. I saw Akka that same day. In Akka I wanted to see some historical sites, but the most fascinating thing I saw was on the road. Along the highway there were empty buildings and chunks of debris hidden under some bush. I knew very well what I saw. Graveyards of communities, memories of people with their own little villages like mine, people who had to leave everything behind as they fled for their lives or died during the Nakba where Israel ethnically cleansed over 500 Palestinian villages.

Every gun pointed at my face was bankrolled by the United States and the arrogance expressed by Israel’s government, the arrogance to oppress an entire nation, is allowed to run free under the aegis of U.S. policy.

Despite how awful it was living in such a dangerous place without any real rights, I cried when I left. I was leaving people who fed me, who let me live with them, and who showed me kindness no one on this earth will ever show me again. I try to do my best to return the favor by asking people here, in America, the free, beautiful, and brave, to change their minds. In this effort, I see the bad faith stereotypes against people like me, that we are presumptively antisemitic as Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians. It couldn’t stop me, because if you were in my shoes it would not stop you, but it’s disturbing how much credence this bigotry is given. When I go home to America, I feel a sense of dread that I must live in a country that does not see my family as people. And while things get easier for me, I can not help but feel a sense of guilt at all the privilege I have here. Every gun pointed at my face was bankrolled by the United States and the arrogance expressed by Israel’s government, the arrogance to oppress an entire nation, is allowed to run free under the aegis of U.S. policy.

As part of the effort to fight against all this bad faith and studied ignorance, and the Islamophobia we face in this effort, the Rutgers University School of Law Center for Security, Race and Rights just released a report about exactly this subject. The report Presumptively Antisemitic: Islamophobic Tropes in the Palestine-Israel Discourse, explores the pre-speech restrictions that Arabs and Muslims who dare to remind the world of Palestinians’ humanity face in the United States. As a Palestinian and law student, I was asked to make contributions to this report; I hope you will consider the conclusions the authors have reached when assessing the decades of Israeli terror, theft, dispossession, and indignity suffered by Palestinians for merely wanting the same things Americans all too often take for granted.

As historic Palestine reels from an unprecedented re-opening of the conflict that settler-colonialists and their enablers long believed they had forever closed, I understand deeply that feeling expressed in that old Palestinian folk song. I’d rather be stabbed by daggers than be ruled by a rogue.

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