As a 26-year-old guy, my dreams were born and raised in a village between others scattered in the northern hills of Tulkarm (West Bank). There is one persistent dream that is sealed with a high wall and metal thistles. My grandfather would always tell me about Haifa (now Israel) and how it was the most beautiful city in the world, even though he never saw the world’s cities and I had never seen Haifa.
My purpose in getting to Haifa and the other occupied cities is now mixed with childhood dreams and economic necessity, since salaries there are much higher than they are in the West Bank. Before the second Intifada, entering Israel used to be without conditions for Palestinians, but now I must be holding a work permit to be able to find a job and then work. But the thing is permits are issued for only married people. So, I have to go visit my grandfather’s garden secretly during which I could lose my life. It’s harsh to say, but in other words.. illegally.
The first stage of the voyage was from my house to a secret crossing point (a few kilometers from home). I travelled in a crowded mini-bus until we arrived at a place located on a hillside, the place where a group of private cars were supposed to get us to the smuggling point. A quick check by the smugglers themselves is carried out before they go. We are told to wear plastic bags on our shoes. We were getting ready to walk in the mud through the olive trees to the crossing point. Now I see a rusty ladder pyramid widening its legs open, one in the West Bank and the other in Israel. At my turn to climb the ladder, I look down to see the rest of the guys taking their shoe covers off. Turning my heavy head back to the ladder, I felt like I couldn’t walk. We cross the road without the bags on, and there I realized the purpose of the covers was not to be discovered by any patrol through the tracks. Now, we head to a café where the smugglers wait for the next ride by an all-purpose rented car. The car I got in with eight fellow passengers was just a four-seater one. The car sailed into the mystic on waves of fear and uncertainty, it was more than a car, it was an idea.
I did not have any hesitations, and I was certain that I was doing the right thing. I needed to improve my life; back my family with some money, and help my little brother to complete his studies at the university. Everyone in the car had to cope with certain economic goals in their mind. The car dropped off its passengers one by one on the road to Nazareth while I and two other guys stayed who had already been in Nazareth. As soon as I got out of the car, I glanced at an old street manhole cover cast in Arabic lettering which brought me back 70 years or more. Falling into a spiral of time, I knew this place is, somehow, close to Haifa. Walking into the streets of old Nazareth, between the brown yellowish stones of the buildings, I felt as if the Nakba had taken place yesterday. I was not even afraid of the police arresting me for existing in this land of mine, but I was saddened by the absence of my family. Because the obsession of imagining Haifa was staggering, it washard to restrain an epic scream that was knocking my chest. However, I hid it in my backpack and instantly walked up to the nearest restaurant looking for a job. I came to the first bakery I found, and the owner found me a flat and gave me a notice period of ten days until I would get a special type of permit that costs 2000 shekels a month (less than 600$). However, I could not get it because the permit-issuing was suspended until further notice. When I told him that, he said he could not be risking his shop since he might be charged 50,000 shekels (14K$) if I were caught in here, he added. After ten days of work, I left with 1800. That amount of money could never have been earned for a month of similar work in the West Bank.
On my last day in Nazareth, I packed my stuff and just decided to go to Tel Aviv. I left my backpack in the flat so that I would be less suspicious and went to a minibus station that goes to Tel Aviv for 35 shekels. The Christian Palestinian driver, the African Israeli woman, the far right Jewish man in the car and I were all heading to the common destination of Tel Aviv-Yaffa.
Tel Aviv and the sea off Yaffa were passing me by as were the images of my first and only trip to the sea when I was 5 years old and my father took us there with his friend Moshi - a Yemeni Jewish Israeli man. After I had finished swimming I told my father that the water of this sea is salty! They both laughed, but it was my first experience with the sea.
We arrived at the central station in Tel-Aviv. I am totally lost and worried. My only concern then was to get a job as soon as possible so as not to be discovered.
I ask pedestrians about a street where a restaurant would be found that hires Palestinians from the West Bank without permits. But after asking an Israeli worker if I could get a job and the owner wasn’t there I took the business card to call him later.
The way back to the West Bank territories was easy in an unexpected way. I rushed to the central station where the taxi from Nazareth dropped me, but there were no cars to Nazareth. I asked pedestrians where I could get a bus and they guided me to the new station. At the station, I happened to ask a taxi driver for directions. I talked to him kindly but he didn’t like it, he turned out to be an Israeli, probably a soldier. I left for the station as it was 20 meters away but it took me one hour to cross the street because it was tense with police present, so I had to wander back and forth until the police went away. I was going to Nazareth to grab my backpack, then to find a way to get home. In Nazareth, cars go to a checkpoint with workers. The outgoing passengers go back through the checkpoints without being checked. The workers and me now are entering the checkpoint and once we are out we are in the West Bank.
The thought that comes to mind, is how many people are there without permits inside?
Marwan Hamad is a freelance Palestinian graphic designer.
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