My Baby Boy's American Freedoms Vanish In Occupied Palestine
Every mother fears the day when her children wander beyond her ability to keep them safe. There is an eternal battle between the desire to hold them close and the need to let them grow into independent adults. I am new to mothering, having first given birth only four months ago. But, when my son was only 2 months old, I had an unexpectedly early lesson in the pain of being helpless to protect him from the harsh realities of this world.
My son was born in San Francisco. He is an American. He was also born to a Palestinian father. He is also Palestinian. This summer, at 6 weeks old, he became an international traveler, with a brand new American passport, when we traveled to Palestine to introduce him to his father's family. Two days before we were supposed to return to America, we were told by the Israeli military that my infant son was not allowed to travel with me on his American passport. As a Palestinian citizen, he was subject to the regulations of the Israeli military occupation and needed a Palestinian passport and permission from the Israeli army to leave the country.
In one fell swoop, my son gained another passport and lost his freedom. Once he left Palestine, he could roam the globe, protected by the most powerful government in the world. But within the boundaries of his father's country, he could not travel from one town to another without permission from an occupying army.
For the next 10 days, we felt as if we were imprisoned. By night, Israeli military jeeps patrolled the streets. By day, Israeli soldiers manned checkpoints outside the town, restricting entry and exit. Over the hill, the Israeli army was confiscating Palestinian farmers' fields -- and ripping out ancient olive groves -- to build a towering concrete wall to encircle Palestinian towns. We called the Palestinian officials every day, but they were helpless. The Israeli army controlled all domestic and international travel for Palestinians, but the military was no longer taking their calls. I could leave, but my son and my husband were not allowed to come with me.
After many telephone calls, agonizing delays, and sleepless nights, we made it out of Palestine -- and I learned that there were things from which I could never protect my son. Outside Palestine, we are Americans together, equal in our rights and freedoms. In Israel and Palestine, we are classed in different categories: I am still an American and have freedom, but he is a Palestinian and has only the rights and freedoms that Israel decides to allow him. Whether 2 months old or 20, Israel will always see my son as a generic security threat, to be controlled and hemmed in by secret military orders and large fences. Although we share one nationality, his other citizenship stands between us like impassable chasm, stranding him beyond my reach in a nightmare of disenfranchisement and occupation.
But there is a silver lining to this existential contradiction. For I believe that it is only through the tragedies inherent in his Palestinian identity that young Hisham will be able to understand and be inspired by the rights and values that are so integral to our American identity -- things that modern Americans take for granted.
Because of his Palestinian identity, my son will understand why the founders of this nation so clearly delineated the rights of their citizens. When I teach my son about the Declaration of Independence and the civil rights enshrined in our Constitution, he will understand more than the average American student, who recites them like a lesson learnt by rote. A Palestinian is almost by definition a stateless person with no guaranteed rights, unable to travel freely, study without interference or be assured of legal protection. As a Palestinian, my son will learn early on that civil liberties are mutable and freedoms fragile. In other words, for Palestinians, the truths described so gloriously by our founding fathers are not self-evident. Under a military occupation, not all men are created equal, nor do they have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
My son's dual nationality will be a primer in freedom and its loss. He will never take civil liberties for granted, for he will see how easily they are violated and how thoroughly that can be justified. He will understand that freedom is not the natural state of man, and, therefore, one must conserve the rights that exist and work for those that are denied. As a Palestinian, he can draw upon the lessons of his American ancestors to push for inalienable rights for his father's people. As an American, he can use the plight of his Palestinian family as a reminder to others that we are privileged in our liberty, not guaranteed it.
I may not be able to protect my son from the worst of the world. But I know that, through his suffering as a Palestinian, he will understand the true value of his freedom as an American.
PNS contributor Elizabeth Price ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance journalist and the mother of 4-month-old Hisham.