Be Whoever You Want To Be! by Samah Eitah, Israel\Palestine

An unrecognized Palestinian walking in Israel:

I’m a Palestinian woman living within the Israeli borders. I wasn’t religiously dedicated throughout my life. I’ve had my ups and downs.

If you are a woman, Arab Palestinian who is included in the Israeli borders you are more likely to face doubled judgmental looks, racism, discrimination and harsh stereotypes. A woman living in a patriarchal society is always prepared to counter every surprise on her way home, work or other places. As a woman you learn what places you should avoid, you learn to avoid walking in certain streets at certain times. You also learn to develop tactics with time. In university I learnt from my Jewish classmates that girls serving in the IDF army are obliged to carry pepper spray for protection. I decided I should buy one too, I carried it for 3 years during my studies, I felt safer though I never used it.

As a Palestinian woman you get judged by your community on the choices you make. For example: you get judged on what you wear, if you are born in a secular family and decide to dress modestly you get judged and if you are born in a conservative family and wear revealing clothes, you also get judged. As a Palestinian born within the Israeli borders I mix a lot with Israelis on daily basis. I got the weird suspicious looks and the silly comments about how ‘Jewish’ our accents are, how we are unrecognizable as Arabs either because of our looks or skin tone. So we are considered a “hidden threat”. Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel stereotype each other all the time, it is unfortunately something that both sides do.

This is the background of my story.

Wearing The Hijab:

I only started wearing a hijab 2 months ago, adopting the turban modern style at the beginning. A lot of people showed verbal disapproval on my personal choice (though again, I didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion). After wearing the hijab I started getting judgmental looks and comments whenever I walked into Jewish public places. At some point I was verbally attacked.

Wearing the turban apparently made me a hypocrite for conservative Muslims and a hidden threat for Jews, because I was not recognizable as a “real” Muslim. The turban (which essentially is Hindu) is considered too ‘Jewish’ for Israelis and Palestinians. A lot of people asked why I was wearing the scarf and if I’m married. Arabs are stereotyped for getting married early, especially girls. I didn’t mind these stereotypical questions anymore; although I did at the time when I was younger. It was really frustrating having to answer all these people who had no business in the choices that I made. I answer every question casually, even though these people were strangers at the mall or in the street, at work etc.

One day a lady in the supermarket came up to me and said “You look just like those haridi women in Jerusalem”. She kept arguing that I was unrecognizable as a Muslim, but because of course I spoke in Arabic with my friend she had recognized me. I thought it was a strange and ignorant comment, really. I liked the turban because it is stylish and comfortable, I didn’t care if it was a threat to anyone. These experiences are part of living in communities under constant conflict and wars. After living within the two, you either get frustrated or get used to it or one can choose to fight back against mainstream stereotypes and refuse to be silent.

Such experiences have only increased my motivation in participating in dialogues and projects that include Arabs and Jews. And still, many people don’t like cooperating with the other side, in terms of social and political events. One thing I learnt, is that you shouldn’t adjust your identity to what is acceptable in your community. It is ok to be different in your views, gender, sexuality and race. It is ok that you are a minority within your community; it is ok to have a different identity and you don’t need approval from anyone to be whatever you want to be.

 

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