After my father died in Jordan in October, it was so important for me to visit my extended family in the city of Jenin, to mourn his death with them. Unfortunately, I was prevented from doing so by the Israeli government.
Whether or not the Israeli government agrees with my work — and, of course, I know it doesn’t — I still should have been able to take part in those most human of activities: mourning my father and celebrating his life.
My father, Azzam Jarrar, died last month. He was a proud Palestinian, a refugee, a civil engineer, a farmer and an entrepreneur. He was also my friend and mentor. He taught me the multiplication tables on our way to school in Saudi Arabia. He taught me how to question authority when we lived in Iraq. He helped me finish my master’s degree when I lived in Jordan. Above all, though, he was the gateway to my Palestinian roots and identity.
My dad fled his home with his family in 1967, when Israeli soldiers invaded and occupied the West Bank. He went first to Jordan and then to Iraq, where I was born. I was the first Jarrar to be born east of the Jordan River since our family was established on Palestinian land centuries ago.
I didn’t have the chance to visit my relatives on the West Bank until 2015, when I traveled there for a short work trip while working for a Quaker nongovernmental organization. Being in the diaspora meant that I wasn’t given the opportunity to connect with the land and people. My only connection to my family history was through old stories and a few blurry pictures that my father took with him when he left as a teenager.
I had visited Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip two more times since that first trip in 2015. Like most Palestinian-Americans, I was questioned at the border about my family and personal life for hours before being admitted.
My latest visit was different.