It was around this time a year ago, when I gave away the keys of my newly renovated apartment back to its owner. After having lived in the U.S. for more than 12 years, I had decided to return home, to Jerusalem. I packed my belongings in a rush, afraid that the more I stay, the more time I would have to think about it and never leave.
All these years away, I had romanticized the homeland: the smell of coffee in the mornings, the old city and its warmth in the winter, my mother’s food, and every memory of my childhood. I thought that when back home, life would be the same as I left it back then. During my first weeks however, I realized that things had changed, and home wasn’t the same place I once knew. During these days, and as I was juggling with my emotional discoveries, I had to face the reality of being a Palestinian Jerusalemite and the extra layers of complexity it adds including the non-ending visits to Israeli agencies to prove my residency and to retain my health insurance. As I searched in my papers for proofs to submit to the government that I belong to this land, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was it the distance that made everything seem so beautiful from afar?
It was during these days that I started my job at the World Bank in the West Bank and Gaza country office. The World Bank’s involvement in the Palestinian territories dates to 1992 when it provided the blueprint for donors’ subsequent involvement in the West Bank and Gaza. Because the Palestinian territories is not a member of either the International Monetary Fund nor the World Bank, it is ineligible for the normal sources of financing. The Trust Fund for Gaza and the West Bank was established to channel the Bank’s financial assistance normally available to member counties, and is replenished on annual basis.
I was excited to join the World Bank in my country of birth and contribute to its development. It wasn’t until I was subject to some of the “normal” incidents that locals here are faced with, that I realized the true uniqueness of working here and all its challenges.
It happened one Friday evening when I was driving with my mother back to our family house. As we passed by the settlement near the house, I heard a massive noise of what then felt like an explosion. I realized rocks were thrown at our car breaking the entire rear windshield; luckily, we weren't physically injured. Perhaps what struck me most about what happened wasn't the attack itself, but the routine, nonchalant way with which it was received. "Is this your first time being attacked by settlers?" was a question few Palestinians asked when they heard what happened. When I insisted that I wanted to report the incident, people laughed. “Where do you think you are living”, my friend told me, “welcome to Palestine!”
I knew all of this before coming here, but I guess things are never real until it happens to you. I felt disabled as I was incapable of even sharing my own story. That evening, I realized how “Palestinian – Jerusalemite” I am: It didn’t matter where I worked or studied, I am not immune to the fragility of this place.
But despite all of this, each morning as I drive to work, I am more reassured that I made the right decision. I can see the results of the work I am doing first-hand, I am part of something that is helping procure a better future for the ones I care about the most. Every morning, I am filled with energy. Perhaps when you are so powerless to advance change in your surroundings, you pour all of what you have into the things you can impact, hoping it will make some difference. Working in fragile countries could be difficult – it could be more difficult when it is your own country and it is not a choice - but so far it has been the best thing I have ever done.