The Dream: A Palestinian Migrant Who Yearned for More
The Old City of Jerusalem has recently been deemed a new wonder of the world. This may be because of its profound religious history and its acknowledged and esteemed religious sites such as the Dome of the Rock, the Temple Mount, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Or it may be because of the pure ancient beauty the city holds. But maybe the entire Palestinian/Israeli region should be considered a wonder, because it truly is a wonder how the most religiously inclined place in the world has been transformed into a golden war zone, being fought between the Palestinian and Israeli people, struggling for power and territory and leaving millions in despair. The burden that has been placed upon the Palestinian people as a whole has caused many to become refugees or displaced in their own country, with their land being destroyed or stolen and given to newcomers from abroad. It has also caused millions of Palestinians to seek a better life elsewhere in the world, somewhere away from the hate and the physical, mental, and historical destruction.
My father, a Palestinian native turned permanent American citizen, is the perfect example of someone who has lived and breathed the Palestinian struggle and migrated to America in search of a better life. His story is among the other stories of 3 % of our world population who make the decision to migrate, but his reasons have placed him among those who have respectfully succeeded in their endeavors. We will come to understand his reasons for migrating and see how his decisions have made his life respected by his family and peers still living in his homeland as well as in America.
Early Life and the Six Day War
My father was born in 1961 in Jerusalem, Palestine to a middle class family that owned clothing stores throughout the city, in both the Muslim and Christian quarters. During his childhood he and his family lived in a rented house that was eventually demolished to make room for a parking lot for the well-known Wailing Wall, but before this occupation and reconstruction of land, they moved to their own house on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Although my father was very young when many historical events took place during his life in Palestine, he remembers them vividly, mainly because the outcomes of these events eventually helped influence his decision to leave. For example, he has many recollections about his experience during the infamous Six Day War, which occurred when he was, ironically, six years old. This was among the first experiences he endured that influenced the formation of his feelings towards the Israeli people and their mission, a feeling that was mutually shared by everyone else he knew that endured the struggle alongside him. My father remembers being in kindergarten at the time. The day the war began, he recalls seeking shelter in a small basement underneath a carpenter’s shop near his house with 25 other members of his family, living on canned foods for six days. Luckily, none of the family’s property was destroyed during the war, but the mental destruction and complete disregard of the Palestinian nation was just the start to the ongoing resentment and violence between the masses.
I had always wondered why my father and his family did not become refugees or displaced after the war like so many other Palestinians who had been forced into surrounding countries such as Egypt, Jordan or Syria. Fortunately, my father’s family was among the lucky ones who lived within the borders of East Jerusalem. Inhabitants of East Jerusalem, which was under civilian rule after the war, were left alone and untouched by armed forces, and were given a form of identification by the state of Israel that would give them what my father calls “preferred status." This preferred status prevented them from having to leave their homes and businesses, as opposed to civilians in other Palestinian cities that became under Israeli military rule. These other civilians were forced to flee because their homes and businesses were being destroyed or taken by the Israeli military.
Although my father and his family were among the lucky souls who did not have their lives and everything they owned stripped of them, they witnessed the anguish that the Palestinian people were going through because of the ever increasing Israeli occupation and domination. And there was always the fear that one day, their luck would run out. This fear was not to be felt or tolerated by my father, and he knew at an early age that leaving the country for a better life elsewhere would become his destiny.
Social Impact of Six Day War
After the Six Day War, Jewish settlement in Palestine became more abundant throughout my father’s time in secondary school. During this time, from the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s, my father recalls the social impact the Israeli occupation and constant arrival of Jewish settlers had on the entire Palestinian community as a whole. This impact played a crucial role in my father’s migration. The infiltration of Israelis and the increasing power of the Israeli government caused a growing feeling of resentment within the Palestinian community, giving many the incentive to migrate to safer and more opportunistic countries.
There was a huge refusal of the new Israeli state because, as my father recalls, even though Israelis tried to gain Palestinian acceptance in the beginning by injecting the Palestinian economy to make people “forget” about the war, eventually they became more aggressive toward Palestinians. For example, they started using more intimidating tactics to gain territory and power for incoming settlers, thus causing more civilians to become refugees or internally displaced persons. This cycle of kicking out Palestinians to make room for Jewish settlers made life for the Palestinians who weathered the storm and remained on their entitled land that much harder to bear, and that much more harder to succeed as a Palestinian in an Israeli occupied country.
In Search of a New Life
Because of the diminishing freedom of Palestinians and the growing violence between Israeli armed forces and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) during the late 1970’s, and as more settlements were being built on Palestinian land, my father made the decision to seek a new life and higher education abroad. He knew that if he were to stay in Palestine, the violence would only get worse, and he could not obtain the education he desired to get ahead in life. He chose to seek education before seeking work; he always had the option to migrate to, say, the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, which at the time were emerging as prime locations for migrant workers in the oil and construction industries. However, education was the most important priority for my father, and he knew that an American education would benefit him in very valuable ways.
So, after graduating high school, my father applied for a student visa to the United States, and after being accepted into San Francisco State University in 1981, he had obtained his visa and made the life-changing journey to America. He was the only member of his immediate 70-member family to migrate to America.
Many immigrants who come to America experience a major culture shock when they first arrive. After all, the ever so distinctive American grind of life that we follow in order to survive does not necessarily correlate with life in the Middle East, as well as other regions of the world.
For my father, however, adapting to the West was not a huge battle. He was already familiarized with Western ideas and ways of life because he found Jerusalem to be an increasingly Westernized city due to the tourism growth during his childhood years. He knew that the culture here was going to be very different, but he was eager to build a good future for himself and adapt to life here as quickly as possible. When he first arrived, he was not fluent in English at all (his mother tongue is Arabic). But after three months of studying the language and working in a restaurant while living with an Americanized cousin, he became extremely fluent and could pass for someone who had been in the country for years. Nowadays, after living in the United States for 31 years, my father speaks English about 95% of the time, but still remains very attached to his roots.
During my father’s time in college, he met my mother, who is an American-born Palestinian. After they were married, he gained permanent American citizenship, thus giving him dual citizenship in Palestine and the U.S., an accomplishment that nowadays is becoming increasingly difficult for many immigrants worldwide. He worked in various minor professions during and after his schooling until he eventually settled into owning his own business in San Francisco today, which has shown him remarkable and ever-increasing success.
Initially, my father had the prospects of returning to Palestine after finishing his schooling, but when he made a short visit back to the Holy Land with my mother in the early years of their marriage, he only witnessed the Arab-Israeli conflict worsening and causing even more devastation to the Palestinian people. This made him value his life and his accomplishments in America so much more and thus had no incentive to leave.
A Living Revolutionary
The story of my father’s migration from Palestine to the United States has opened my eyes to the depths of what it actually means to immigrate. People make the decision to immigrate for various reasons, whether those reasons are social, cultural, economic, or for survival.
All immigrants, however, share an important trait: the hope for a better life and the courage to seek it. My father developed that courage at a very early age and has established himself in the so-called Land of Opportunity, and for that I consider him to be a living revolutionary. He left everything he knew in Palestine with a one-way ticket and five hundred dollars to his name in the hopes of achieving a better life. This was a life that he already knew would transcend the prospects of a decent life at all in Palestine. He took the risk along with millions of others to find something new, something better, something worthwhile, and he succeeded in his endeavors.
My father has accomplished what all immigrants seek to gain when they make their move, and that is a life of prosperity, a life of contentment, a life of happiness and stability. Although it took many years and much hard work to get to where he is today, my father determined his own destiny. He has made a name for himself and has gained the respect of so many for his struggle, his journey and his many achievements as a Palestinian immigrant who actually made it in America. And when it comes down to it, that is what being an immigrant is all about. That is the dream.
© 2013 Ameera Nassir