Hierarchies of Identity at the Allenby Bridge by Zainab Ramahi

Hierarchies of Identity at the Allenby Bridge by Zainab Ramahi

It was nearing 11 pm as I was escorted onto the empty, dark coach bus to be driven just five minutes across no-man’s land, back to Jordan. The bus driver looked at me, surprised. “What happened?”

I was supposed to arrive at my Tete’s house in the mid-afternoon; I had visualized it all day. I would guide the servees to our house and pay him the few extra shekels for taking me past the city centre, mentally patting myself on the back for not mixing up my “yamins” and “shemals” while giving him directions. I would pretend I spoke Arabic and say “ya’tik el’afi” when he would take my luggage down from the roof. I would pull my heavy suitcase up the steps, Tete would buzz open the door, and she’d cover me in her soft arms. Maybe I would go for a walk later in the evening to stave off the jet lag.

Instead, my naive reverie was firmly snapped when, eight hours after I had arrived at the Israeli border terminal, upon hearing my name, I sprang up from my seat with an exuberant bounce in my step only to be informed that I was being denied entry into the place that I feel most at home in the whole world: Palestine.

Back on the bus, the driver asked me where I was going and whether I was traveling alone, and as I responded I could feel his sympathy sear a hole in my stomach.

“Inshallah khair,” he said, despairingly, before he reclined a passenger seat and took what was to be a two-hour nap.

“Inshallah!” I said, as my voice broke.

When we consider how a person’s multiple and complex identities are stratified and hierarchized at critical junctures by those in positions of power we might better be able to understand the inherent fluidity and constructed nature of identity. I alluded to hierarchies of identity and the construction of difference in my previous column introducing the idea of multiplex identity, but my experience of being denied entry at the Israeli border (ironically, cruelly, and in accordance with its land-grabbing policy, Israel actually has yet to declare it’s ever-expanding borders) has also forced me to reflect on the ways I myself organize and prioritize my multiplex identity in my presentation to others.

How did it come to be that representatives of the State of Israel, which dispossessed my relatives and destroyed my grandfather’s ancestral village, were asserting that I was Palestinian above all else? In asking me who my father was, and my father’s father, and his father, the Israeli officials were ironically confirming the historical presence of my family in Palestine, which the State so vociferously denies. So much for “a land without people.”

All the while I counted on my supposed Americanness to restore my person-hood and grant me the right that I would otherwise be denied as a Palestinian, the right to enter Palestine. I crafted my identity at the Israeli border terminal in a way that placed ‘American’ at the top of the list, ready to embrace my citizenship for the benefits it would bring me. In contrast, Palestinian identity is arguably one of the most burdened ethno-national identities today. Palestinian identity suffers the immense weight of the suitcase of the dispossessed refugee, bearing the giant key of Return. My Palestinian heritage, which I have always valued deeply, was given particular emphasis by the same oppressive power structure that adamantly denies the collective existence of Palestinians altogether.

Why is it important to discuss identity and its complexities? In our hyper-politicized world, our identities often negotiate our interactions with people, places, and power, before we have the chance to intervene. These critical junctures where identity challenges power can include borders, media representations, or the academy, for example. I learned that sometimes, faced with oppressive power, you cannot extricate bits and pieces of your identity to suit your ends, regardless of how much you may want to, and that trying to do so might leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. And sitting at the Allenby Bridge crossing, in a flash of panic and a minor puddle of tears, I had little control over anything at all. Later, as I tried my best to reflect and learn from the experience, I see that I was granted a window into the illogic of Israeli racial politics and the often contradictory negotiations of identity that frame our interactions with the world.

Reposted from: http://www.qahwaproject.com/archive/2015/9/28/hierarchies-of-identity-at-the-allenby-bridge

Illustration by: Omamah Ashmeel

Author Bio: Zainab Ramahi is a law student at UC Berkeley. Zainab is interested in building inclusive communities and in change through education.  Despite her disdain for national identity in general, Zainab’s Palestinian and Kashmiri heritage has intensified her passion for issues of social, political, economic, and gender justice and has infinitely complicated her attempts to understand herself in the world.

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