‘The occupation feels like it is here to stay and that I should forget my dreams’: snapshots from three young Palestinians

Palestinian teens mark the International Day of the Girl-Child in Gaza City - October 25 (Youssef Abu Watfa - APA Images)

Jeff Wright

Mondoweiss  /  December 20, 2021

Three Palestinian young people share the tremendous challenges they face due to the Israeli occupation.

The following articles appeared in the 2021 Christmas Alert compiled by the Christian Palestinian Initiative Kairos Palestine. This year’s alert—”Highlighting the Palestinians unity in struggle, resistance, and hope”—featured glimpses of life across the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza, and Israel. Below are the excerpts of three young people we shared with our members over the last month. One is from Yasmine, a 25-year-old from Bethlehem, and two are anonymously published accounts from teenagers who live in the Hebron area. Our aim in sharing their stories is to show the everyday challenges and realities these young men and women face.

Palestinian Life Without an Identity Card

I am 25 years old. I have a law degree. 

And I am one of many “stateless” people living in Palestine. 

Why? My parents have different residency statuses. Born in Jerusalem, my father carries the blue Jerusalem ID (issued by Israel), and his mother is also an East Jerusalem resident. But, my mother has a green ID (Palestinian), as she was born in the West Bank. Due to complications, my mother was in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, when I was born. At my birth, I was issued a Jerusalem ID number and my parents were told that I would receive an official Jerusalem ID when I turned 16.

Not much thought was given to my ID card until my parents planned a family trip to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. I went with my father to Israel’s Ministry of Interior to get the necessary documents for traveling. That’s when I heard of the shocking news. I had been withdrawn from Israel’s system without ever receiving an official notification.

Excited to travel for the first time, I was devastated. How would I tell my mother? I wanted to be strong for my family. I didn’t want to show my disappointment to my friends. On the outside, I took the news well. But at age 14, I was depressed. I told my mother this was only a temporary problem, that the lawyer would fix it. I encouraged my family to travel no matter what, in order not to lose the fees paid for tickets and hotels. And while I unpacked my bags, I didn’t put my clothes away hoping that any minute I might get a call that I could pick up my ID card. That call never came. I stayed with my grandmother while my family traveled.

Lawyers that my parents hired promised that I would receive my ID soon. Two years later, my school planned a trip to Switzerland. But when my schoolmates left on the trip, I still didn’t have my ID. 

I still don’t. So, I am only one of many “stateless people” living in Palestine. I have lost hope of ever leaving my hometown. My parents continue to spend their savings on lawyers fighting for my citizenship, for a normal life.

Think of anything for which you need an ID – getting a driver’s license, opening a bank account, applying for a credit card, getting health insurance, owning a home, traveling abroad. I can’t travel to complete my Master’s degree. I can’t think about having children, because without my citizenship my kids could end up like me: stateless. 

I studied law to become a lawyer and defend people’s rights. I work in an attorney’s office. I hope to pass the Palestinian bar. May the time come when I can successfully argue my case to obtain a residency ID card and live in my city Jerusalem.

Yasmine Awad, a Christian living in the West Bank, has been stuck in her hometown for 25 years. Having no citizenship, she is denied many basic human rights.

 Stop the demolition orders

  1. chose to share his story anonymously.

I am 16 years old. I live in Susiya, a village in the South Hebron Hills, south in the West Bank, Palestine. In Susiya there are around 450 residents. People in my village depend on farming and herding for a living. Due to the situation, some work with NGOs to document and report what is happening here. 

We have been living in this area since before 1948 and have the evidence to prove it. Our families were kicked out of their original homes because Israel claimed we were living on an archaeological site. A few years later my family was removed again when the Israeli authorities loaded everything on trucks and dropped it off 15 kilometers away. Our water wells were destroyed. We were forced to build our homes on our grazing lands. This is where I live now.

As a student, I go to a mixed school in Susiya. The school structure is built from aluminum. In the summer, it is too hot to sit inside and during the winter it is freezing cold. If there is any rain, we are unable to hear each other or the teacher because of the noise of the raindrops hitting the aluminum roof and walls. A storm during the winter could damage the school structure and disrupt our studies entirely. 

As our school is in Area C, the Israeli military issued a demolition order on our school. Every day my sisters, cousins and I go to school on foot. Each day we walk 1.5 kilometers, risking the harassment of settlers and the Israeli military, as there is a settlement near Susiya. 

When I was in the sixth grade something happened to me that I cannot forget. As I was returning home from school, I noticed that an Israeli civilian car passing by. Suddenly, the passengers of the vehicle exited and started following me. I started running home but it turned out that those chasing me were actually police forces dressed as civilians. They forcefully entered our house, pointed their guns towards me, and physically attacked my mother. The settlers and the military around here are really violent; they are not afraid to attack women and children. 

As a child living in Susiya, all I ask for—I think this is the request of every child here: stop the demolition of my house, stop the demolition of my school, give us permission to build structures and develop our village. I want to continue my education and live in safety and peace.

Daily Life in Hebron

  1. chose to share her story anonymously.

I am 17 years old. I live in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood in the city of Hebron. When I am not in school, I volunteer for a Human Rights Defenders association. I document the settler and IDF attacks against the people of my neighborhood and participate in some of the gathering’s activities, such as organizing English and Hebrew language courses with the aim of using them to present the Palestinian cause in the region.

In Tel Rumeida, there are three military checkpoints, so my life in this area is completely different from the lives of people who live abroad. For example, when I go to school and come back, my experience differs from that of other students in more normal situations. Soldiers at the checkpoints search me and my bag. 

When I was 13, I used to wake up to the sounds of bullets. It may not sound scary when I tell it, but for me, there is nothing more difficult than hearing the echo of bullets. You close your eyes in fear and when you open them you see a blood-drenched corpse on the ground. I’m not attempting to narrate a graphic story; I’m sharing with you my normal life. These examples are only a small part of what we experience and what others are experiencing in this region.

I aspire to become a doctor in the future, but day-by-day I feel the obstacles of the occupation increasing in front of my dream. The occupation feels like it is here to stay and that I should forget my dreams. 

My daily life

When I wake up in the morning, sometimes I wake up normally, and sometimes, like as I wrote, I wake up to the sounds of sound bombs and bullets. Suffering as I do with breathing problems, sometimes I awake to the smell of teargas.

Stopped and searched on my way to school, I am often late. And I’ve learned to expect the same treatment on my way home.

As for my family, my father suffers from mobility issues and cannot carry the things we need for the house. Cars are forbidden by the Israelis from reaching the area that we live in, so simple tasks like refilling our gas bottles are a significant problem for my dad. My mother worries that something bad will happen to my brothers as they wait outside for my father to return. Being late can make the difference between life and death. We have known a number of young people who were killed for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I am here writing and sharing with you the tip of the iceberg of what our daily life looks like in Hebron. If I were to share the full details of our daily life, I couldn’t finish the paragraph. It would go on and on. I hope you will understand that I cannot describe what we are experiencing in words. Because living something is completely different from describing it.

Jeff Wright is a retired pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves as a mission co-worker appointed to Kairos Palestine