Away-sickness?

What do you call homesickness when you miss a place that is not your home? Being away from the U.S. has never been difficult for me. I never miss it and frankly would be happy never to return, except that there are many people I love who live there. But it is difficult for me to explain, and even more difficult for people to understand, I imagine, the deep feeling of pain that I experience when I’m not in Phalasteen. It feels like what I imagine homesickness might feel like, except it’s not my home. Of course, like the U.S., there are many people there whom I love and miss when I’m not there. But it’s more than that. It’s the feeling like so much is happening every day and that I’m only an hour away (sans checkpoints and borders) and I can’t do anything about it. Not that I can single-handedly change anything if I’m there either, but at least I know that I’m there supporting people, standing with them in solidarity. People here, Palestinian or otherwise, live their lives and can’t or don’t want to think about al alwda (right of return) or they go back and visit family and friends and then return to their life here. But given that this is a big city it’s easy to get lost in work, life, family just as one would in any big city. It makes me really sad. I don’t expect everyone to run their lives based on what is happening to people in Palestine, but I honestly have difficulty not thinking about it from moment to moment.

And there are so many reminders every day. Today some of my cohorts from ISM were on Democracy Now! talking about the occupation of Palestine. Then I watched a brief film clip of an ISM demonstration that I couldn’t attend, but I did go to the court hearing for the three women who were arrested. And then there are those news stories that both break my heart and make me angry beyond belief when I hear things like a solider is acquitted after shooting a thirteen-year-old Palestinian girl 30 times. Or hearing about a new film playing in Europe and the U.S. that actually represents a Palestinian family and humanizes them. It’s called Private, but I don’t know much more about it.

But all of these things that I am deeply concerned about slip away from reality when I see what Jordan is becoming. At first there were guards and metal detectors only in hotels, government buildings, malls, banks and places like that. Now you find this in regular restaurants as well as the French Cultural Center, where I take my Arabic classes. Not metal detectors everywhere, but certainly guards who look through all of your bags and things. Of course, it is not as ominous as it is in the U.S. and Israel where they target specific groups of people based on their ethnicity and/or religion. But I wonder whether that will happen here. Many people can tell who an Iraqi is by the accent. I’ve already heard one friend say to me that she hates Iraqis and she wants them all to leave or die. The pattern that is so familiar to me in the U.S.–of government policy creating an environment where racism and hatred flourish–and I don’t want to see it here. It is utterly depressing.

Salam–

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8 thoughts on “Away-sickness?

  1. Oh, no! Jordan is taking security measures to protect themselves from the people who just attacked them! How truly awful. Why can’t they be like France, a country that takes a week of violent rioting to declare a state of emergency, let alone do anything to defend themselves?

  2. Being away from the U.S. has never been difficult for you; you never miss it, and would be happy never to return.

    You know the great thing about the United States? You’re free to leave it at any time. It’s easy to see that you are struggling with your allegiance. Perhaps the time has come for you to “put your body where your mouth is” and renounce your American citizenship and apply for Palestinian citizenship.

    I wonder if you connect so strongly to the alienation (to say the least) that the Palestinians suffer, because as a child of 13 you were sent to live with your biological father and do not remember your life prior to the age of 13. This lack of memory alludes to great emotional and/or physical abuse. Your suffering must have been profound indeed. Your empathy for the Palestinians is commendable.

    With all of the horrors that the Palestinians have suffered, do you think they ever forget that they are Palestinian? How can you forget that you are American? You may not be homesick for America, but “we’re” homesick for you. When just one of our citizens has lost their faith in their country, we all suffer. Please try and re-connect with us, we miss you.

    A former student

    There was an article written about you a few years ago by (I believe) a Grad. student. It mentioned you going to live with your father at the age of 13 and you having no memory of your life prior to that age. It also mentioned how your step-mom was a very positive influence in your life. I could not find this link on your site any longer, or I would have quoted this person directly.

  3. The targeting and pigeon-holing of people based on ethnicity and/or religion is indeed ominous and, unfortunately, something that is occurring everywhere. We find it in the US, in Europe, in Africa, in the Middle East—in Jordan and Lebanon and Egypt and Palestine and Israel—and in you.

    I enjoy your site, your perspectives, and your investment in these issues. Unfortunately, I have a hard time understanding how you can denounce the practice of ethnic/religious targeting when you yourself seem to be a purveyor of the same sorts of behavior. Whether you’re targeting And stereotyping those ignorant Americans who are perfectly happy being American, or the young female Israeli soldier on the bus who is simply doing a job she’s mandated to by the government. You denounce the Jewish special privilege in Israel/Palestine that allows freedom of movement/speech/choice to Israelis and simultaneously disallows it to Palestinians, yet you somehow feel cheated or scorned when you don’t enjoy that same privilege (“So much for a homeland for all Jews!”).

    There seems to be this disconnect between the ideals you espouse and the way you do and do not live them yourself. After all, “You can talk of great philosophy, but if you can’t be kind to people every day, it don’t mean that much to me…”

    Hope you respond—love to have a discussion about this issues in activism.

  4. Certainly the U.S. grants many freedoms, the freedom of movement being one of those important freedoms that all human beings should be granted regardless of where they are from or where they reside. I agree absolutely that it is my identity as an American that allows me to do the things that I am doing and go the places I’m going. I am acutely aware of this everytime I pull out my passport. I often find myself feeling very sad, for instance, that my Palestinian friends cannot just go to Syria or Lebanon for a trip because upon leaving Palestine they would have an Israeli stamp in their passport; this would prohibit their entry into either of those two countries. Or, just even traveling within Palestine, which is made much easier for me with my American passport than it would be for a Palestinian with an Israeli huwia (identity card). This is the primary identity paper that Palestinians carry, by the way; some have a Palestinian Authority passport, but this is not common and others have Jordanian passports. Palestinians living within the 1948 territories have Israeli passports.

    I’ve never said that I hate being American or that I no longer want to be American; this is my identity for better or for worse. Even if I choose not to return to the U.S., that doesn’t mean I would give up my citizenship. Many people in the U.S. and abroad maintain dual citizenships. Nor have I ever said that I could or would forget that I’m American. What I’m expressing here is a visceral reaction to a place that I feel connected to.

    My empathy for Palestinians has nothing to do with my home life (and, I was never physically abused, by the way, the article you recall never said any such thing). It has everything to do with being Jewish. As a Jew I was taught two main things growing up: Zionism and Shoah (the Jewish holocaust). The lesson of the Shoah was instructive: that history should not repeat itself; for me this meant that no other people should dominate another, should make another people suffer. The lesson of Zionism was that this ideology negated the lesson that everyone should have taken from the Shoah.

    In college when I first became friends with Palestinians, and first learned a more accurate history of the region, and now after having spent time in Palestine, I became far more empathetic. The remarkable generosity, kindness, and love extended to me by Palestinians, regardless of class, made me feel this desire to help even more strongly.

    *********************

    As for the charge of targeting or stereotyping groups of people, there is quite a difference between a state targeting populations and an individual doing so. I think it is difficult for people to understand, outside of the context of Palestine/Israel, what an occupation looks and feels like. While I agree with you that perhaps my anger that day, directed at an Israeli soldier on a bus, may seem misguided, the frustration and anger from which it came was very real. When you live under the occupation everyday and see how the soliders treat people it’s difficult not to lash out sometimes. I’m not saying that this is advisable, but I am sharing my real feelings as they happen on this blog. This is what I felt that day. In reality, I now know many Israelis who served in the military, and many Israelis who have refused to do so. But anger towards the soldier, I feel, is a bit different than anger towards a group of people based on religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc. Because the soldier represents the state. And when the state decides to make it policy to oppress people by not allowing them to live their daily lives (by working, going to school, hospitals, shopping, visiting familiy and friends) those people in uniform bear the brunt of the frustrations that people feel who come into contact with them. My interaction with that soldier, for me, seemed to represent the sense of entitlement that many Israelis, especially soldiers and settlers express: the ability to be wherever they want even if it means displacing someone else. My point of menitoning this was that there were many empty seats on the bus, but this girl insisted on taking the seat next to me; I was perfectly kind to her as I requested that I would prefer to sit alone; she was the one who escalated things and forced me to move. Mostly I objected to sitting next to an M-16 weapon, but after seeing her response, for me it was indicative of the Israeli state taking whatever land they wished to take regardless of who was there first.

    Israelis do have a choice whether or not they want to go into the army; yes, saying no would mean serving time in prison, but it is still a choice that can be made and is. I think that this is one of the most important ways that Israelis can help to end the occupation.

    I’m not sure what you mean about my feeling scorned or cheated about enjoying a privlege that limits my freedom of movement; I can’t recall where I’ve said such a thing. On many occasions I chose to do just this when I stood beside Palestinians who were not allowed to cross a checkpoint, even though I could have crossed because of my U.S. passport. As for a “Jewish homeland,” I would proudly give up my “Law of Return” (the Israeli law that allows all Jews around the world Israeli citizenship) if it would grant just one Palestinian refugee al awda (Right of Return, granted by UN Resolutions 194 and 242).

    I think if you read closely you will see that there is not a disconnect between what I say and what I do. Of course, I absolutely agree with the Ani DiFranco lyrics you quote, but I am human, after all, and I do have moments when I break down as I did that day on the bus.

    I will end with an Ani DiFranco quote from her song “Animal” that I think speaks to my feelings about the issues raised in both of these comments today:

    “[…] and there’s this brutal imperial power
    that my passport says i represent
    but it will never represent where my heart lives
    only vaguely where it went

    cuz i know when you grow up surrounded
    by willful ignorance
    you learn that mercy has its own country
    and that it’s round and borderless
    and then you just grow wings
    and rise above it all […]”

    Salam–

  5. I have just recently knew of your blog, Dr.Newman. I can particularly relate to this post since it has been formerly discussed in Tololy’s Box. I think now is a crucial time for Jordan to try to set things straight, I would hate to see racism have the upper hand because of what has happened and what security measures have been taken.

  6. Hypothesizing about someone’s childhood as a way of trying to minimize their opinion is objectionable. I find it particularly objectionable when done by lay people who often don’t know what they are talking about. (yes I am a psychotherapist) Aside from the fact that the writer isn’t Marcy’s therapist and has no idea what happened/didn’t happen in her childhood, the fact is, people who have had less than perfect childhoods are often skeptical about authority figures. That can be a good thing, for them and for society. It isn’t a negative. (If you want to read more about the benefits of social action for those who have been traumatized, I suggest Judith Lewis Herman’s “Trauma and Recovery.”)People who can use their experiences to identify with others, to gain a broader perspective, and to put their ethics into practice are healthier than people who think they had wonderful childhoods and spend their free time eating junk food, watching tv and blindly following their “leaders.”
    I criticize the U.S. government and aspects of U.S. society all the time but that doesn’t mean I think the U.S. is a terrible place. I did, however, publicly renounce my “rights” under the Israeli “Law of Return.”

  7. Thank you for your response, Elizabeth. It’s sad that those of us who try to teach people about Palestine–about the whole history and about the reality on the ground–often find ourself trying to justify our positions through ridiculous questioning.

    By the way, I have read Herman’s book on trauma and it’s quite good. For my dissertation I read a lot about trauma and even wrote an article based on trauma theory when examining the effects of chemotherapy several years ago.

    Salam–

  8. Sounds like a good Difranco song, I’ll look it up.

    I don’t mean to insinuate that you are not entitled to those missteps that allowed to each of us within “being human”– I do imagine, though, that those human missteps are more resounding from people trying to accomplish super-human things and encourage others to to as well.

    I admire what you’re doing, and your investment in accomplishing what you’ve set out to, even if I don’t always agree with your standpoint on or interpretation of the issues.

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