Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

What's My Identity?

Spending time in West Jerusalem is usually a terribly conflicted experience. It's comfortable because I can buy an tall americano and walk down a pedestrian shopping street, with English being spoken by many passerbyers. It's uncomfortable because I am able to access West Jerusalem with ease; whereas the great majority of Palestinians are denied from accessing any part of Jerusalem, even East Jerusalem which lies inside the West Bank, east of the border with Israel.

Last weekend I found myself sitting in Sacher Park. Sacher Park is a park in West Jerusalem which boasts exercise equipment and lots of open green grass littered with even more cigarette butts. A group of people were gathering to celebrate a birthday, play ultimate frisbee, and play kickball. The ultimate frisbee and kickball certainly contributed to the “comfort” side of my conflicted state while in West Jerusalem. The group that gathered to play was largely comprised of internationals and Israelis, with several Arab Israelis (one name given to Palestinians who remained on the land that became the State of Israeli in 1948). So after the Americans present explained the rules of kickball to the Israelis and Palestinians who were unfamiliar with this apparently American (maybe North American or Western) game, we split up into teams.

I began met some of my teammates: Israelis, Americans, Canadians, Brits, and the mystery man.

“Hey, what's your name.”

“Hey, I'm Tarek. What's your name?” There was a slight pause because I was caught off-guard. He did look Arab, his name certainly sounds Arab, but he spoke English without an accent.

“My name is Sam...Are you Palestinian?”

“I don't know what I am.”

“Are you from all over or what do you mean.”

“Well I guess no one knows what we are, and I don't know what I am. I guess I am Palestinian, but I am an Arab Israeli, an Israeli Arab, a Palestinian living in Israel, a '48 Palestinian, call me whatever you want.”

The conversation trailed off quickly, salvaged by Tarek beginning to talk about his journey through medical school, and me relating by sharing about the experience of one of my good friends going through medical school in the States. We talked about the differences in requirements and structure between medical school in the States and in Israel.

After kickball began I found myself thinking about Tarek's identity. There was clearly some angst, and some confusion in his response to my question, “are you Palestinian?” I realized the marginalization that an exclusive religious state has created for Christian/Muslim Palestinians. I also sensed the disconnect that has been orchestrated between Palestinians living within Israel and those living in the Occupied Territories (Gaza and the West Bank). The disconnect and confusion of identity has been orchestrated in such a way the Palestinians living within Israel aren't sure what they are. They are 25% of the population, but at the same time, are a forgotten anomaly living in a Jewish State.