Previously, if I had said this, I would receive looks of concern, disdain or in the best-case scenario,
But all that has changed, the response is immediate.
“I am so sorry, what is happening is awful, such a terrible history” or
“I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to talk about it, it is so awful”.
For the first time in my 50 odd years, I am witnessing the bloody reality behind the founding of Israel in 1948, its apartheid practice, its daily violence and human rights abuses against Palestinians, and its current genocidal actions in Gaza and the West Bank, being laid bare for the world to see and grapple with.
I even watched a Norwegian choir sing our National anthem, the Palestinian national anthem. I did not dare to dream this would be possible, and yet, here we are.
In the bombing of the Greek Orthodox Church, we lost family.
Some were killed in the blast and an older male cousin died because he was not able to receive treatment for heart problems.
We also have family in the besieged Holy Family Catholic Church.
Israeli tanks and snipers stand guard outside preventing anyone from leaving. The Church has now become a living tomb.
Slowly, those still inside including my family are dying. And as you read this, they are still there, limited clothes, food and water and Israeli snipers ready to shoot anyone that tries to leave. It’s been over 80 days of war.
This war against civilians means that my family will probably see their last moments, humiliated, disheveled, as starving terrified hostages.
The anger and hopelessness we feel has become a permanent stain.
How is this allowed to happen? Where is the international law and support from governments like New Zealand? Why are they not fulfilling their international obligations to prevent a genocide as it’s unfolding before our eyes. New Zealand is a signatory to the Genocide Convention, signed in 1948. So why isn’t it joining South Africa’s genocide case against Israel in the international Court of Justice?
As a New Zealand Palestinian I have suffered directly from Israeli apartheid and brutality, of being treated unequally and fearing for my children’s lives. I have been humiliated, strip-searched and abused, had stones thrown at my car and chased while driving in Jerusalem by orthodox Jews and settlers, fearing for my life.
I have visited my mothers stolen home in Katamon in Jerusalem- stolen in the first Nakba of 1948.
I knocked at the door and told the son of the family living there that we would one day return, that this house was still ours and we would always know where it was. Hearing this, the son became violent and abusive. After dismissing her son, I silently stared into the eyes of the Israeli mother now living in my home. We just stared, trying to understand each other as women, trying to find the humanity that connects us. She broke the silence with a few words before I walked away:
“I wondered when you were coming. I have been waiting for this day”.
Even buying food is difficult. Israel decides what food we are allowed to eat and how much. They sell it to us in our homeland at exorbitant prices, and sometimes the food is off or contaminated.
Visiting my family is not simple.
I give my passport to the Israeli officer. She looks at it disinterestedly, flicking through pages with distain.
She looks up and clears her throat. Her voice echoes to those waiting behind me.
“When did you last have sex?”
I hear gasps from foreigners behind me, unused to these attempts of humiliation and abuse.
“Oh, not for a long time” I reply as coolly and calmly as I can.
“How many boyfriends have you had sex with?’
“Three”-I answer undeterred.
She is getting agitated.
She sniffs the air around me and scrunches her nose. “When did you last have your period?” She tries again.
“I can’t remember”.
She beckons to another armed female guard to come over. They speak in Hebrew. Communication is made to an unknown source and I am ordered to follow.
“Go with her” she commands. “Next”.
I am taken to a room with one door and a line of chairs placed against a crème coloured wall.
Opposite is a one- way observation window that I can’t see out of. I am being watched by another who is allowed to restrict my freedom.
The door is slammed shut so I sit and wait. They don’t give me any reason for my being detained.
I am not offered water and I am not allowed the use of the toilet.
It has been a long flight from the other side of the world and I am tired so I stretch out along the line of uncomfortable chairs and try to sleep.
When I am asleep, an officer charges in, bangs the chairs around me to wake me up, and storms out again. The first time, I sit up startled.
But with the second entrance, that defiance and strength that characterizes being
Palestinian awakens, so I remain still with my eyes closed. The banging gets louder and they resorted to throwing chairs in the hope I will be terrified.
I don’t succumb. Finally, after 5 hours, I am roughly pushed out and let go with no exchange of words.
My life has been characterized by Israeli oppression, by denial, by anger and regret.
Regret at all that I cannot experience in my homeland, and the only experience I know is that of an Israeli uniform, a gun, a helmet and a constant threat.
We don’t see Israeli life outside of their brutality and military. We are kept apart. I see the wall, the great illegal monstrosity that separates us from ‘them’. That divides us and reminds us that we are prisoners in our own country and we are not equal.
Katrina is an actress- (last project ‘Poppy’ NZ Film)
Recipient of the Kiwi bank ‘Local Hero’ award (for contributions to the Wellington Community, as part of the ‘New Zealander of the Year Awards’)
Assistant Director Peace Foundation NGO Wellington NZ,
Member of the Blue Lines Project (they came up with the idea of the blue lines on the roads for tsunami warnings in New Zealand) which won The International Association for Emergency Managers award both its Global and Oceana Public Awareness categories in 2012,
She was a part of the Wellington City Council Tsunami awareness program,
Wellington City Council ‘Summer City’ Children’s Events Coordinator
Island Bay Festival Managing Director
Wellington City Council Seniors’ Neighbourhood Resilience coordinator,
Neighbourhood support coordinator for Island Bay. Wellington City Council, Spring Festival Children’s coordinator.