I waited in the long queue at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, having shaved my beard so that the security officers would not stigmatise me as a “terrorist”. Unfortunately, carrying a Turkish passport is quite disadvantageous at airports these days. I was interrogated for half an hour and consider myself lucky; some of my colleagues have been held for more than 6 hours.
“Do you want to leave Palestine?”
On this trip I was fortunate indeed, for I arrived in Palestine just one day before the calamitous terrorist attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, from where I had left my country. Not only that, but since my departure from Turkey there has also been a failed coup attempt, which was followed by the declaration of a state of emergency. I found myself trying frantically to follow the news from Turkey, while also making sense of what living “under occupation” in Palestine actually means.
“Do you want to go back to your country?” one of my Palestinian friends asked, knowing that some of my secular-minded Turkish friends want to leave the country, where the government is apparently increasingly authoritarian post-coup. “Do you want to leave Palestine?” I responded, leaving his question unanswered. “I want to leave, but I think I will not.”
As a well-known quote from a Turkish movie goes, “Why does someone love his country? Because he does not have any other choice.” I cannot imagine how difficult and emotionally taxing it must be for him as a Palestinian to have to pass through checkpoints every day in his own country. Even one bad experience at a checkpoint was more than enough for me to have at least a basic understanding of the inhumane restrictions that the Israelis place on free movement.
While travelling with my colleagues to the other side of the “Separation Wall” (more appropriately called the “Annexation Wall”) in order to visit one of the Bedouin villages that the Israeli authorities want to demolish because of so-called “security concerns”, two fully armed Israeli soldiers got on the bus and checked our passports and IDs. Although the passengers were from various parts of the world, the soldiers — surprise, surprise — only asked the Turks and Palestinians to get off. They searched our belongings and interrogated us briefly. Eventually they let us go, except for one of my Palestinian colleagues. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank must have a temporary permit to travel to the other side of the Wall and although my friend had a valid permit for every day of the week, the commander at the checkpoint did not let him through on the basis that “it was Saturday”; he used his discretionary power to violate my friend’s basic human right to free movement. Unfortunately, the checkpoint was in the middle of nowhere and because my friend did not want us to stay with him, he ended up walking for more than 2 miles in the desert heat before hitchhiking to the nearest village.
“Welcome to the club!” he told me cheerfully while repacking his bag at the checkpoint. This is a common attitude amongst Palestinians who maintain their positive outlook despite the gross injustices inflicted upon them. They can still laugh at their situation. Maybe this is one of the few things left for them to rely on. For example, I met an elderly refugee at the Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. Hajj Abu Sabri had to flee from his village in the aftermath of the Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948. Now he has to live in a camp, where the inhabitants suffer from the lack of even basic services. He is still hopeful that one day he will be able to return to his village. “I am older than the state of Israel,” he laughed.
Five disturbing facts
Although visitors are shocked by what they see in occupied Palestine, daily life goes on, albeit under extreme circumstances. Here are five disturbing facts about life under occupation; it is not a comprehensive or definitive list:
“I love Turkey!”
I felt at home in Palestine. Saying “I’m from Turkey” was the key to be treated as a fellow citizen there. “I love Turkey!” and “I love Erdogan!” are possibly the two sentences that I heard most in my daily conversations with locals. In this sense, carrying a Turkish passport is a privilege in Palestine. The Palestinians are one of the few nations to have expressed their solidarity with Turkey and its people following July’s failed coup attempt, by rallying on the streets and carrying Turkish flags.
“You have been here for more than two months,” my Palestinian friend told me. “Do you want to leave Palestine?”
“No,” I replied without hesitation, “I do not want to leave, but I have to.”
I love my country.
I love Palestine.
And I do not have any other choice.
On 23 November 2019, EuroPal Forum and Middle East Monitor co-hosted a conference at the Holiday Inn Bloomsbury in London on the relations between Europe and Palestine. A first of its kind, the conference brought together individuals at the forefront of discourse on Palestine in
As the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rules that European Union countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, MEMO and EuroPal Forum are hosting a conference to discuss the EU’s position on major issues related to the occupat