In a free Palestine, a free Lebanon, or a free Iraq, we hope to meet again. But oddly normal, our first meeting was miles away from these nearby countries, our countries. The program, which I joined this summer in the US about democracy, leadership and new media, included students from these war-torn countries.
The nineteen participants were like a mosaic of different faiths and backgrounds, and unlike what these differences cost us in our homelands; it was the key that brought us closer.
Unexpectedly, the forty day trip was enough to create a family-like relationship among us. In the course of forty days, we almost did everything together. Starting from our breakfasts in the UCLA’s cafeteria, to hurrying up to catch classes, then rushing up to catch the bus to explore the area.
On weekends, we had our free time to go on our activities, mostly, we went for shopping sprees in one of the giant malls.
We went to Disney Land, a childhood dream for me. And we went to Hollywood, a distance of an overrated reputation. Thinking of all the things we did and the places we went to, the only certain thing is that it would not have been worth to be the best days of my life; if it had not been with the beautiful group I was with.
But I should mention as we tasted some America, we brought for our American friends some Middle East foods, tunes and stories. We had two cook nights in which some of us made dishes from their homelands. We shared our accounts and situation which are darkened by experiences of war and occupation.
After we left LA, our studying tour began in one of the most beautiful places one can ever visit, San Francisco! We discovered the humble Twitter quarter, the famous Google, and the always controversial the Wikimedia foundation!
We went on a sea cruise to see the reddish Golden Gate Bridge and in the process we saw, what I call, Gaza’s look-alike the Alcatraz prison. As more memories were crafted t, our bond grew tighter and tighter.
But everything has a beginning has an end, and it was the time for us to go home. Knowing that once we leave, it will be hard, if not impossible for us to meet again, made the goodbyes heavy on our hearts and minds.
The West Bank meets Gaza in the US
On the Departure Gate of the Jordanian airport, Tears were overwhelmed with hugs, words of love and support, and wishes for a better future. The Palestinian way of saying goodbye goes as if a reunion is a fantasy. Looking at facts makes it so; it takes Palestinians from Palestine elsewhere BUT Palestine to meet. Indeed, for the first time in my life I face to face meet, talk, eat and sleep with fellow Palestinians from the West Bank though it is takes only an hour or two drive from the Strip.
The people I was looking forward to knowing the most were the guys from the West Bank. We virtually knew anything about each others. The media has never been reliable enough to see what is like to be in the West Bank and vice versa .
We knew we were from the same country. We even introduced ourselves to be from Palestine.
But the Palestine they lived in was different from the Palestine I and my other Gazan friends lived in.
Even in our speech, we had the “you” and “us” used frequently. Our questions to each others could indicate for someone, who does not the realities of separation between the two places that we are from two different universes not from two places in one country.
The Israeli Occupation is mainly to blame; its deliberate policy of separating the two areas is creating a yawning chasm that seem impossible to be bridged. And to add insult to the injury, the political division is also helping this chasm to grow.
But, it is up to us not to fall in the trap. It is true that we are forcibly seem to be different on so many levels. But as we got to know each others better, we learnt that what unites is stronger than some rifts, what unites is the struggle; it is the land, Jerusalem and the aspiration to be free. And even if the politicians lost the sight of what is really important, we, the people, have not, and will not.
A trivial memory is conjured but once Tala, from RamAllah, and I without any planning were wearing the “I ❤ Jerusalem” tee. To me this was a small incident, but with big implication that what is important for us, will always be formidable against the forces of separation and political distrust.
But I can’t help to not to think that in an ideal world, how nice it would be if we arranged a trip where our West Bank brothers and sisters come to enjoy the sea in Gaza, then we escape the humidity of the cost by going for a lunch in mountainous RamAllah, then our last stop would be a beautiful evening in the holy city of Jerusalem.
Such a dream is painful but beautiful, the Occupation makes it hard to even imagine. But it gives the sought freedom another dimension. It is not just cutting Gaza loose from its prison, or shuttering a wall that is suffocating the land and the people of the West Bank, or saving Jerusalem from the fierce attack on its identity, but it is to bring us the Palestinians together. We want to enjoy what this land offers of beauty and blessings together as one people.
Thick tears and thicker borders
Getting to know fellow youth from Lebanon and Iraq was one of the fruits of this program. A life-loving people as the Lebanese group were added much fun and hype to the trip. Not to mention their deep- solemn look at life and politics that made our discussions always rich with new ideas and insights.
As they beautifully and sorrowfully spoke of Beirut, my love and eagerness to visit it grew. My roommate was a Lebanese, a girl that is dear to me as if she is my sister!
Same goes for our friends from Iraq. First thing came to me when I saw them “GOD HELP YOU IN IRAQ, it is worse than Palestine!” Probably not the first thing you would love to hear, but it is true.
But as I mentioned knowing that once we leave the US, it will be very hard if not impossible to meet again made our last moments together in the overcast Washington as hard as the one in Jordan.
The distance between Palestine and Lebanon is much shorter than the one between LA and SFO, for example. But the thick borders, restrictions, traveling procedures, visas, passports…etc make the US a more convenient place to meet.
Back to the ideal world, a sea cruise, like the one we had in San Francisco but in the bluish Mediterranean can sail us from Palestine to our beloved Tripoli in Lebanon for a reunion. Yet, it is a form of fantasy that brings with it much sorrow and sighs.
In the meantime, we are keeping in touch through social media, Facebook for most, not our preference but that is the only way to keep in contact.
Despite the grim realities mentioned, I would love to keep believing in the idea of a reunion in free Jerusalem, Beirut or Baghdad.
And “opaaa ya wadiiiii3”
😀 I miss youm,guys!