It is a terrible feeling to be in exile. Even from a country I have only called home for 9 months. As I sit here in Amman many questions fill my mind, not least among them the question of how all the Palestinians exiled for life manage to accept this injustice. I have come across enough of these cases in the last week to make me try and be more realistic about my own frustrations. The first example was at the Bridge crossing where I sat with an older Palestinian man who very sympathetically asked me if I was being turned back. I said yes and launched into my tale of sorrow: how everything I owned was in my home in Ramallah, how I had work and friendships and projects half-started, how I had a cat who is only six months old waiting for me. He kindly comforted me and then told me his tale. His family was in Hebron. His wife, children and land. He had been turned away six times in the past two months. His wife bore his fifth child in October and he has not yet seen his son. He shrugged his shoulders and said “I hope. I keep hoping and that is why I am here again.”
For the next two hours he walked up and down the waiting area, chatting at times to the security officers, never revealing the terrible stress he was feeling. At times he came up to me to ask how things were going and in shame at my earlier complaints I kept assuring him that I was fine. Yes,they were sending me back, but that was only going to break my heart and not that of a loving family
I was glad to see that he got into Palestine as I was being packed into the bus returning to Jordan.
On the bus was a young 16-year old boy who was also being sent back. He came to Jordan to visit his sister who is married in Amman. His mother and father are in Bethlehem and he was denied entry to return to them. Dear boy! He also shrugged his shoulders and said he would just try again the next day.
Today as I caught a taxi to the Australian Embassy the driver asked me where I had learnt to understand a little Arabic. I said Palestine. He said “welcome!” and then told me he was from Bethlehem “near the church” and he used his hands to show the church spire. “I am from that part of Bethlehem” he said. The way he spoke made me think he had left there a week ago. I asked him how long since he had been home.
“I have never seen Palestine”, he answered.
As we wound our way through the traffic we discussed Bethlehem and I assured him how beautiful his home was. He seemed very pleased to hear this and I could not bear to tell him how scarred his city was in reality by the Wall. When we arrived I said I hoped he would one day see Palestine and he said “insha’allah”.
I found myself repeating this phrase as well as I walked home. Insha’allah I will also be allowed to see my home again…one day.
While I was away the army invaded Ramallah. I watched the TV coverage in horror as army jeeps roamed around the center of the city shooting and causing chaos and death. As army bulldozers crushed cars and fruit stores in the market where I always bought my fruit and vegetables. I wept as I saw familiar faces flashing past the camera, shouting and crying in disbelief.
I cannot explain my feeling of guilt because I was not there suffering with the people who had become my brothers and sisters. Because I could get out and they couldn’t. Yesterday I read an article in Maan News that named Khalil the coffee vendor of Al Minara as one of those innocent bystanders killed in that invasion. How many times had I stood by his store and enjoyed a street coffee and his hospitality. In the course of my stay in Ramallah I had come to know him quite well. There was the time his son was hit by a car and I would sit with his family in the hospital passing the time. There was the time when the Israeli army invaded Ramallah in May 2006 and I was standing shell-shocked in the middle of Al Minara not sure what was happening and Khalil rushed up to me and grabbed my arm and dragged me to a garbage bin behind which we both sheltered as bullets flew in all directions.
And now he is killed.
I am sorry, Khalil! For you and your dear son who was so loved by you. For your city whose pain and joy and life I cannot share in anymore.
I imagine as time passes I will get used to the fact that I am not going back. Get used to waiting for some future peace deal that will allow the Allenby Border to be monitored by Palestinian forces.
Then it will be an exciting time as all the thousands of people in my position make a journey back to the country that is their home or in which they were always welcomed, to celebrate.
To lay wreathes for those friends who didn’t live to see the freedom of their homeland, to collect belongings dust-covered, clothes years out of fashion
Insha’allah we will live to see to see this day.
ELIZA ERNSHIRE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org