Today I met a new friend who saw the mediterranean sea for the first time when he was 23 years old - he started working for an american company that sponsored his ‘permit’ to travel outside the west bank into present-day israel. he was bittersweet about it - at first going to the sea every weekend, but then realizing that he shouldnt have to be happy that he has a permit to visit the sea - his family could have freely accessed it before the occupation..
“what does it feel like to be free?" this man told me he asks himself from time to time. and i wanted to cry. here we were sitting at a restaurant eating kebab and i, on one side of the table, can access most of the world by obtaining a visa upon landing at the airport; he cant even go to his family’s original home without a permit, much less leave palestine. i told him i dont think the occupation is sustainable - and that even if the ideals behind our activism dont make things change, the combination of israeli settlements in palestine, and the evergrowing palestinian population means israel will inevitably have to confront all of this.
and i said i dont think we’ll see a 100th anniversary of the nakba where palestine is still occupied. (the nakba is the palestinian term for ‘the catastrophe’ - or the day israel declared independence and symbolic of the expulsion of 750,000 palestinians. even though the amount of land palestinians control is steadily shrinking (and increasing for israel), my friend and i agreed that as people, they cant disappear. israel will not wake up one day and find that all the palestinians have left. so something has to change…). then i did the math from 2013 to 2048, realized that the hundredth anniversary of the nakba is 35 years from now, and that this friend and i would either be past or approaching 60 and shuddered. he said he doesnt like asking himself that question (“what does it feel like to be free?”) because he fears he may never know.
ive had a lot of heartwrenching conversations with palestinians about how the only place they can really travel to is jordan. everywhere else requires a visa and europe/the US make it really hard to get one. the mobility i take for granted is nowhere close to being a universal experience.
this man (a friend of one of my friends and colleagues) told me i can stay with him the next time i come here. that his house is my house. and as i felt in detroit, where i spent the summer before coming to palestine, i really pray i can return this hospitality one day. i told him this.
my friend then touched upon this hospitality and linked it to experiencing common humanity - to something that were all capable of giving and experiencing. and i thought back to the first book i had to read for college—homer’s odyssey. (so much of my journeys this summer - sitting far from home, across various seas, in the living room of someone i just met and drinking tea - have felt like a modern day odyssey). but in the text, hospitality was the most honored and important thing a human could give to another human.
and while ive had my share of difficult impersonal experiences in palestine, it is this cornerstone of humanity - hospitality - that ive experienced in every individual encounter ive had.
i really pray that my friend and i - before 2048 - can gather at the same restaurant, look back and laugh that we even doubted whether and when peace with justice could come to this region. i hope we can sit across from each other as equals in terms of global mobility. i hope that - within the constructs of whatever systems exist around us - we can each say to each other we know what it feels like to be free.
this conversation was one of the best ive had while in palestine - i have many more reflections to share about it coming soon…