An unclassifiable identity

Palestinian students participate in a graduation ceremony at Birzeit University near the West Bank town of Ramallah, 23 June 2006. (MaanImages/Mushir Abdelrahman)

I have just found out that I studied in Jordan. I swear I did not know that. Well, that is not the only recent discovery I’ve made about myself. I have been learning many new things about myself as a Palestinian individual, all by coincidence. For instance, a few minutes ago I learnt that I took my BA degree from Jordan. No, I am not losing my mind. Or maybe I am.

It is funny how when we Palestinians are striving to prove and maintain our Palestinian identity others still perceive us as aliens. It is as if the concept of “Palestine” only exists in our heads. Well, that was actually a comment I heard by a Jewish American comedian several ago. I can never forget that show. It made me feel as an invisible entity although I was still in elementary school. But since then, lots of struggles to try to make our voices heard have materialized. Nevertheless, our attempts to make the world recognize us as Palestinians seem to be all in vain.

Two weeks ago, a colleague from work asked me for some help with a visa application. The place of origin was filled with the word “Jordan,” though he is purely Palestinian, and has never left Palestine. Apparently he noticed my astonished facial expressions, and before I uttered anything, he said, “all the travel agencies consider us Jordanians.” I did not spend much time thinking it through nor arguing it.

However, for the past month or so, I have been filling out some schools’ applications. Most of them are American. It gets easier by time to repeat what you first have trouble in articulating and then jotting down. All follow the same pattern, yet not when it comes to the nationality part. Of course, “Palestine” is never provided as an option. It crushes one’s feelings to find out that you are not considered what you believe you are. It is like hallucinating while the whole world mocks you.

For some schools, I have to select “Israel,” for others “the Palestinian Authority,” or “the Palestinian Territory.” Note that it is singular — territory rather than territories.

Anyhow, we have got used to those variations. And finding that the notion of “Palestinian,” whether authority, territory, or any other affix is provided, lightens us up. It still somehow reveals part of our identity, as long as it is declared. It entails that we are visible, and we Palestinians are accepted and respected as well. It brings back the feeling of being an internationally acknowledged national.

But what really struck me the most is this last joke: we are Jordanians. According to this last application in my hand, Birzeit University (my school) is in Jordan, and my BA degree is awarded, for that matter, from Jordan. For someone who has never been outside the West Bank, it makes me really wonder just how I got my degree from abroad.

The concept of being nameless and without an identity once sounded surreal to me when I was submerged in the world of literature and novels. It is like the classic English literature during Queen Elizabeth’s reign when women were nameless, or the African-American literature where human beings are alienated. I heard that history repeats itself, but didn’t realize that literature could be made literal.

Dana Shalash is a student of English at Birzeit University. Her blog is Stranger than Fiction.