My name is Hiba Yesbeq. I have met Israelis my entire life because I’ve lived there. But I have never met people from Gaza. And, as a Palestinian, I am ashamed to say that I have never met someone from Gaza. But, now, I have two very close friends from Gaza, I have a close friend from Jerusalem and a close friend from the West Bank. That I couldn’t have met otherwise. It is very ironic that we got to establish a friendship in DC, in a completely different country across the world, while we live an hour away from each other. The circumstances don’t allow us to interact usually or meet.
Everything that I am today, is due to everything my father has taught me from his own tragic experience. I grew up listening to his stories every day, he would drive me to school, and he would just tell me every day a new story. Of Palestine, of his parents, of his siblings, of his time in Kuwait, or in Germany, or in Italy. My father’s stories gave me the motivation to go out and make my own stories, so I can tell them to my children someday.
My father was born in 1946, in Nazareth, and in 1948, they were forced out of Nazareth due to the occupation in the War. My grandfather worked in Haifa after Haifa was conquered, he lost his job, he had to go look for a better life, and that meant going to Jordan, as many like many Palestines did because it was the closest. They went to Jordan, my grandfather found a job and before they could ever come back, the borders were closed. My father grew up in Amman, till he was 18, or 19. And then he started his journey of traveling all around the world, to find a purpose. And he ended up in Kuwait for twenty years, and that is the closest he has ever gotten to settling down. He always tells me stories about Kuwait, about the Palestinian intellectual community, in Kuwait. There was a huge community fo Palestines in Kuwait that really was able to find the closest thing they can find to a home.
So my grandparents lived in Nazareth, and my mother was born in Nazareth, she has an Israeli citizenship. When my father married my mother, he was able to get a residency, which he gets renewed every year since. Its been twenty-three years, every year he has to go through the same process of going through the department, giving them papers, proving that he has no criminal record, that he has a daughter going to school there, that he has a job, everything like that. So that can allow him to stay one more year. And every year its the same process as will he stay another year or will we have to pack our bags and leave for Jordan. It’s not that he wasn’t to get Israeli citizenship, it’s that he wants to stay in Nazareth. And staying in Nazareth is that you have to accept the fact that your passport will say Israel on it, just like I do, just like my mom does, just like her family does.
Its 73 years of accumulated stories that I experience through him, that I carry with me every day, especially during my time here. Our life in Nazareth, I would say, is easier than other Palestinians, and we are very fortunate and lucky because we are in the middle, we don’t get attacked, we don’t get any immediate threats from the wars. But we are a minority in our own land. We experience micro-aggressions every day, we are told that we don’t belong there, even though our parents were born there, and our grandparents were born there, and our great grandparents were born there. And living in your own land, but feeling like a second or third class citizen, your whole life, is a mental occupation at the least.
So my first goal, is to bring awareness, and I know that usually bringing awareness is not something that will create much change, but in our case, every person that I have spoken to, and have said “I am a Palestinan citizen of Israel too”, have been so confused. Because no one realizes that there is 1.8 million Palestinians living inside Israel, with Israeli citizenships, that are still Palestinians. No one realizes that 22% of Israel’s population are Palestinian Arabs. And we are so ignored in the discourse of the conflict, not only here in Capital Hill in DC, but also in Israeli politics and in Palestinian Politics. No one ever talks about us when they talk about a solution to the conflict. No one says, “What are we going to do with the people in Nazareth? If they are two-state, will they go here or there? If there is a one-state then…”. No one ever recognizes our daily struggles there. I think back home, identity is more controversial then it is here. Here I can just meet an American and say I’m Palestinian, I live in Nazareth. And they wouldn’t know that Nazareth is in Israel. So they will just go with it. They won’t ask me, “Wait how are you Palestinian and live in Nazareth, isn’t Nazareth an Israeli city”. But back home, if I say I am from Nazareth, that triggers a lot more questions and a lot more suspicions. “Do you support Israel, do you support Palestine? How do you live in Nazareth but are Palestinian? How do you speak Hebrew?” Especially in Arab countries, in Jordan, my identity is extremely controversial. As soon as they know I have an Israeli passport, they look down on me. But here they don’t know, so they don’t care.
I feel less pressure to constantly explain myself and constantly defend myself here. At the same time, I feel more responsibility here, to bring awareness, to explain my identity, in a way that will be understood properly, and not misunderstood basically. Whereas back home, no matter how much I explain, the preconceived notions will still be there. I am a minority in my own land, and I am so much more than a Palestinian citizen, of Israel. But if I were to choose one takeaway it would be that we exist and that you should find someone like me, and talk to them and ask them about their daily lives, because you will learn a lot from them.