I’m fairly certain I exist.
Descartes tells me so, and before him, Ibn Sina. And when my son drags me out of bed to play with him in the pre-dawn hours, I really know I do.
So you can imagine how distraught I was when my existence was cast into serious doubt by a major airline.
After booking a flight online with British Airways out of Cairo (the nearest accessible airport for Palestinians here, eight hours and a border crossing away from Gaza), I attempted to enter my “passenger details”, including country of citizenship and residence.
Most people wouldn’t give this a second thought. But being the owner of a Palestinian Authority passport (which one can acquire only on the basis of an Israeli-issued ID card), I have become accustomed to dealing with Kafkaesque complications in routine matters.
And sure enough, in the drop-down menu of countries, I found the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Isle of Man and even Tuvalu - but no Palestine.
Now, I understand “Palestine” does not exist on any western maps, so I would have settled for Palestinian territories (though Palestinian bantustans may be more appropriate), Gaza Strip and West Bank or even Palestinian Authority, as my “pursuant to the Oslo accord”-issued passport states.
But none of these options existed. And neither, it seemed, did I.
I was confused. Where in the world is Laila El-Haddad if not in Palestine, I thought? Certainly not in Israel (as one of many customer relations representatives casually suggested).
I sent an email of complaint to BA humbly suggesting that they amend the omission. Several days later, the reply came: “We are unable to assist you with your query via email … please call your general enquiries department on ba.com, then select your country from the drop-down list.”
Frustrated, I sent a follow-up email and was told to contact my “nearest general enquiries department” (if I was to take that literally, that would be Tel Aviv). Instead, I opted for customer relations in the UK, whose web support told me there was no guarantee I would ever get a definite answer.
I relayed the tale to my friend, whose own status as an east Jerusalemite is even more precarious than mine as a post-disengagement Gazan. “Could it be,” she posited, “that there is no definite answer because we aren’t considered definite people?”
I’ll leave that for British Airways to answer.