As my older sister was holding onto her American passport for protection and being handcuffed by an Israeli female soldier, six words were uttered by her assailant which told her that the navy blue document wasn’t going to do her any good: “I don’t care about your ID.”
The soldier’s words speak volumes about what it means to be an American of Muslim or Arab heritage visiting Jerusalem today. It took us just 16 minutes to fully comprehend the situation.
For the first time, my family and I visited Jerusalem as American tourists during a spring break. A trip to Jerusalem, home to the third holiest site in Islam, was supposed to be spiritually nurturing, but within those 16 minutes, it turned into anything but. In fact, it was enlightening, but for a completely different reason.
My mother, sister and I had just finished praying when we stepped out of Al-Aqsa Mosque to take some photos. It was then that we heard yelling followed by shots being fired. We turned around to see Israeli soldiers running from all directions, firing into thin air, with no discernible target.
At that moment, I understood the notion of Palestinian identity, a concept that I had made myself familiar with on paper for many research projects at school. I had seen with my own eyes the catalyst that led the Palestinians to stand at the vanguard of their own revolution, transforming themselves into the symbol of defiance to impermanence. It didn’t just stop there, though. Within seconds, the number of Israeli troops multiplied from dozens to almost 100 raiding every corner of the mosque courtyard.
The soldiers entered the Dome of the Rock Mosque forcefully and with their shoes on, evacuating tourists and worshippers violently. At this point, we could hear women and children screaming followed by banging on doors; it was like a scene from a horror movie.
It became evident that the Israeli army did not care that innocent children were crying, unaware of what was happening. The soldiers did not care about the elderly women who were unable to walk on their own, let alone run to safety. They did not care about anything that we might believe constitute human values.
My sister and I, along with the crowd outside, stood with our phones in hand, documenting what we all knew would never be reported accurately on mainstream media. Our cameras became our weapons that reduced us in Israeli eyes to what they perceive to be radical, provocative Palestinians.
As our phone cameras rolled, we were repeatedly pushed and shoved back. To stay safe, we complied. We stepped back and watched events unfold. It was then that my sister rushed to the help of an elderly woman being manhandled aggressively by soldiers. She was faced with a group of soldiers who immediately thrust her to the ground and handcuffed her, tossing to the side the American passport that she was holding as she told them, “Don’t touch me.”
This was the reality that we faced as American Muslim women in Jerusalem. The Israeli army is not alone in not caring about your ID; nor does our current administration back in Washington. All that officials care about is what you look like, and whether or not you fit into the mold of the white, all-American characters we see on television; characters who represent neither us nor the rest of multicultural, multiracial USA.
We planned to catch Duhur prayer, snap the pictures, and rush to make it to the bus to Ramallah. After Duhur prayer, at 1:18 PM, I took the second picture of Nour & my mom. My mom made a comment about how today was by far the most beautiful of all the days we had spent so far. pic.twitter.com/0Nb8gxseNy
— Safa Hawash (@safahawash) April 13, 2019
The soldiers did the same thing to my mother who was holding onto my sister. I looked on in horror and attempted to help but I was spat on, pushed away and kicked repeatedly to the ground. I looked up at a blurred image of unknown hands as local men and women carried me away to prevent further harm and escalation. “There’s not much you can do right now,” they told me. “Stay back.” I did.
Then a soldier appeared, an officer perhaps, and picked up my sister’s passport before untying the handcuffs on her and my mom and giving the “golden ticket” back. For all he knew, he had successfully taught us a lesson without arresting us. He played his game right.
“Why did your sister pull out her passport immediately to shield herself from the dozens of armed soldiers surrounding her?” you may well ask. It’s fairly simple. Our government in the US — ourgovernment — continues to support and turn a blind eye to an Israeli government that treats Palestinians, people of Arab or Muslim heritage, including Americans, as second-class citizens, using, as we endured, physical aggression to enforce the brutal military occupation.
Every year, $3.8 billion of our tax money is being used to oppress us and many others. We were beaten, kicked, shackled and spat on in the name of America. My sister pulled out her passport under the false impression that it would bring her justice. The value given to nationality in this day and age is reflective of the Trump administration’s will to do anything for the sake of preserving political and financial relations. The only thing that our nationality did give us was the privilege of returning and sharing our story. Yet we were just three people among thousands of local Palestinians enduring such disgusting treatment on a daily basis with no way out and little to no recognition of their rights.
Our day in Al-Aqsa had started at 11:46 am; we finished prayer and stood taking photos at 1:18 pm. One minute later, our peaceful morning was shattered by the excessively violent efforts to strip Palestinians of their right to exist. Sixteen minutes later, by 1:35 pm, we had seen with our own eyes what defines an eternity for Palestinians. Our 16 minutes came to an end. We returned to our home, but they aren’t allowed to exercise their legitimate right of return to their homes in what is now called Israel.
It took us just 16 minutes to understand what it means to be an American Muslim visiting Jerusalem; 16 minutes to learn that “I don’t care about your ID” isn’t a statement unique to our experience; 16 minutes to grasp that such a comment is a notion fostered by our very own President towards Muslim-Americans and people of colour; just 16 minutes to become part of a historical process of deep-seated, incessant Othering.