Issues surrounding the occupied West Bank are nothing new, nor are the stories of repression that have emerged from it over the years. However, while the Western media tends to present these stories in the distant, desensitised fashion that we have gotten used to, I hope to offer here a more humanized glimpse of the situation through a Palestinian’s eyes, one who felt he had to leave it behind to make a life for himself elsewhere.
Maryam Elika Ansari: When did you leave the West Bank?
Hamza: I had already applied twice before for a student visa in Europe, but, not surprisingly, had been rejected every time, as it is an unnecessarily long and tiresome bureaucratic process which requires permission from both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities.
The third time I applied, it finally went through. It was just under two years ago that I got a letter saying I had been granted a student visa for Spain, but the catch was that I only had five days to get there. I was enrolled onto a university course in my city at the time, but I didn’t waste any time. As soon as I got the letter, I started getting my things together and set off in less than two days. There were many people I didn’t get to say goodbye to.
You say you had been refused a visa twice already. What was different last time?
I guess I spoke to the right people. For a Palestinian to get a visa for Europe it really helps to know people in government positions who can put in a good word for you to be granted access to Jerusalem. That was the problem the last few times, that I kept being refused access to Jerusalem due to, in their words, the ‘security’ threats that my entering the city would supposedly pose.
You also said you were already enrolled into a class when you decided to leave. It seems despite the difficulties, you were still getting on with your life. So what spurred your decision to leave?
I had to leave because it felt like the whole region was closed off; I really couldn’t do much there. Once the Israeli officers even came into our house claiming to be looking for someone. They ended up staying there the entire night while we were forced to sit outside in the cold waiting for them to leave.
But it was the everyday life problems that wore me down the most. It felt like we were under constant surveillance, we had to go through so many Israeli checkpoints sometimes even to get to class or work. People were forced to relocate houses, moving right next to the school or work, even though the track distance from their previous houses would have been no more than a thirty minute walk away. I once left at 3 a.m. to make it to work on time, because I knew how crazy it could get at the checkpoints. I have also seen people get shot at these checkpoints for no reason. I didn’t want to be one of them, I didn’t want to die.
What about the Israeli settlements? What restrictions did they impose on everyday life?
There were illegal settlements all over, with more and more popping up on a less than yearly basis. The settlements meant that we had limited access to places in our own city. Like the mountains, they had taken over most of them, so we could no longer go there. It also meant they controlled many of our resources, like water, which sometimes gets contaminated by the settlements, making it dangerous for the rest of us in the area. It is funny, I left just as the U.N. acknowledged Palestine’s statehood, at last. Yet in my Spanish papers it still says ‘state not recognized’. Despite their occupation of our land, it is still our state which is not recognized by the rest of the world.
What about your family? How did they feel about your leaving?
My family supported my leaving, and still do, but at the same time they miss me dearly. I am trying to look for a job at the moment. That way I have a better chance of getting the rest of my family to come and live here with me, Inshallah.
And what was it like when you first arrived in Spain?
It was difficult at first, of course. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t speak the language. I remember when I first arrived at the airport and saw the heavy rainfall which was so foreign to me, and the unfamiliar airport where I didn’t recognize a single face nor a single word being pronounced around me. But things picked up eventually. I met other Palestinians who helped me find a place and settle in. And with regard to the language, I feel much more confident to speak it now that I have been here a while.
Couldn’t you have just applied for political asylum?
No, not while leaving the country at least. You can apply for asylum when you get to your host country, but still run the risk of getting sent back, especially if you are Palestinian, given that the conflict has been going on for so long and has become somewhat ‘normalized’ in the West. There were also other reasons for ruling out asylum, as it meant that I couldn’t leave my host country for years until given a passport, and I didn’t want that. What if something happened to my family and I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t go back home to help?
It is very inspiring to see the courage with which young people in your situation have faced and continue to face the struggles in your country. Thanks very much for sharing your story.
No problem. I feel that Western media attention is very disproportionate regarding what is going on in the West Bank at the moment. I hope to have done my bit in giving a slightly less biased picture of how things really are over there from a Palestinian’s point of view.
The views expressed are the interviewee’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Your Middle East.