I seem to always do the same thing each time I have to register for something online though I know deep down my country is nowhere to be found. Each time, I open the drop down menu of countries and keep scrolling up and down past all the listed countries, hoping I can find it, up and down again, squinting my eyes at the screen, and then I pause to remind myself of the fact I don’t need to go up and down since countries are listed alphabetically. Disappointed, I scroll up to the letter “I” and choose, albeit reluctantly, “Israel” as “my” country. But, “Israel” is NOT –and will never be- my country. Palestine is.
I have had this very issue since the moment I came to the US and had to attend an orientation meeting. In the first day of the conference, the Fulbright scholars were all handed out a pamphlet where we could find our names under whichever country each comes from. I looked through all the countries but didn’t find mine. I found “Gaza” instead listed right after “France”. I headed off to one of the organizers and asked him how “Gaza” was considered a country amongst others when in fact it is a tiny place in a country called “Palestine.” He smiled because he didn’t have an answer. Periodically, the Fulbright Staff would host a Q&A webinar which I never attended for the mere reason that when I had to register, neither Palestine nor even Gaza was there in the list. I just wonder how I was supposed to represent my country in a place that doesn’t acknowledge the place where I come from.
In the US, each time I introduce myself, people seem to hear me say, “I am from Pakistan.” After I clear up this linguistic confusion, the following question I am so often asked that it could be one of the FAQs is “but where is Palestine?” I sometimes go on to explain the geographical and historical background of Palestine, and other times, when I am tired of correcting people, I just briefly say it’s the same country that they stole and called “Israel”.
On one occasion, while chatting with some friends over lunch, a friend started off telling us an interesting story about a Pakistani friend. While narrating the story, she was directing her eyes towards me. I had to interrupt and say, “Hey, I am not from Pakistan. Why are you looking at me the entire time?” She said, “Oh, I thought…” I cut her off “No, I am from Palestine.” I then felt bad I sounded so offended that I sat there absent-mindedly sipping my coffee and ended up not knowing the rest of the story. Not that I feel offended because of Pakistan per se, nay, it just irritates me when people mistake “Palestine” for “Pakistan”. I do have many wonderful Pakistani friends, one of whom is so Pro-Palestinian that she even calls herself a “Pakistinian.” I laughed really hard when she first told me while on our way from NYC to Washington.
One night, while boringly looking through a list of all the Spring-term courses, I was so sleepy my eyelids started to flutter close when all a sudden they stretched wide open upon glancing at a course titled “Creating Palestine.” I was so provoked that I immediately looked up the professor’s email address and wrote him an email asking what he meant by “Creating Palestine”, and that he’d rather teach “Creating Israel” on the blood and agony of the Palestinians who were dispossessed, expelled and displaced then they were denied the right to return to their land. All that night long, I kept thinking of the professor’s reaction upon reading my words –and am still thinking since I haven’t yet received any response from him.
The other day, while I was window-shopping, the store owner asked me curiously where these eyes of mine come from. I answered him with a smile. He looked perplexed “but wasn’t it previously called Palestine and now it’s Israel?” I told him it’s still Palestine yet occupied by Israel. I felt thrilled that –at least –he knew it “was” Palestine. After then, he must have realized that Palestine still exists and so do we, the Palestinians. Very curious, I once browsed the Google map to locate Palestine, but, sadly, the name did not appear and Palestine could not be found on the map. It is a shame that Palestine isn’t acknowledged in this world despite the fact that Palestine, though under the Israeli occupation, is a country with a people, a language, a culture, a heritage, and a flag.
I sometimes wonder whether the country, the place of birth, defines who we are; that is, if I were born somewhere else, would I have grown into someone different? What if the Palestinians succumbed to Israel and never fought in the name of “Palestine” for their land, their identity and their being? What if Palestine was utterly forgotten after Israel came into being by ethnically cleansing the land of its inhabitants, then who would the Palestinians end up being! If Golda Meir, an Israeli PM, says “there were no such thing as Palestinians. They did not exist”, then how I, a Palestinian, do exist!