Strip Searches and Refugee Camps
It took me two hours to travel from Birzeit to Dheisha, and luckily I made it just in time for Iftar with a fantastic family in the camp. MA is sponsoring one of the daughters (S) in the family to study English at Georgetown University this January. She has already been accepted to the program, and a big part of why MA braved the border crossing was to sort out the visa paperwork and get everything in order for her trip.
I stayed the night with the family, and practiced my Arabic a lot. S’s father is a political leader in the camp and was deported to Jordan during the mid-80s. There were allowed to return to Palestine sometime in the 90s. He was been imprisoned more than 10 times. S has an older brother who has been in Israeli detainment for 22 months without a court date. Her grandmother was one of the first casualties of the First Intifada . . . you get the idea. In spite of all of these hardships, it is obvious that the family is very close, and also very open to outsiders.
There was a bit of a conflict going on between S and her father when I arrived regarding her upcoming studies abroad. In fact, they hadn’t spoken in a month because he was so angry at her. He was angry because she was beginning to have doubts about traveling to the US and was considering turning down the opportunity to study at Geirgetown. Now, S has traveled to the US before, she was in a documentary called Promises that was nominated for an Academy Award. This 18 year old from Dheisha Camp has been to the Academy Awards . . . I’ve never even been to LA.
MA and I talked to S for a while, trying to figure out exactly what the problem was with studying abroad. At first, I thought it was the distance from home; then I thought it was the cultural differences, but I was way off base. Turns out, the last time she traveled away from home was when the Israelis placed Bethlehem under curfew and had the siege at the Church of the Nativity. She was stranded abroad while all hell was breaking loose at home . . . the Israelis entered the camp repeatedly and at one point entered her home and shot it up. She is afraid that something similar will happen while she is studying abroad and she won’t be with her family when they need her.
After a while of talking – not persuading, just discussing options and fears and life in America – she decided that she wanted to go ahead with the study abroad. She will be arriving in DC in January if the visa process goes smoothly, and I have promised to show her around and introduce to the cool places and great people that I know in DC (translation: I will need people to show me cool places so that I can take her to them).
I also think it is really amazing that MA, who is only an Assistant Professor at a university in the US, has put aside enough money to fund S and her studies, not to mention arranging housing and dealing with the mountain of paperwork necessary to get a Palestinian student a visa, not to mention the paperwork necessary to get a Palestinian from Bethlehem permission to go to Jerusalem for an interview at the American Consulate. Did I mention that Bethlehem is less than 20 minutes away from Jerusalem, but most residents aren’t allowed to travel to Jerusalem? It makes me wonder about what other things I can do to help out, even if it is only helping one person at a time.