Thawra Abukhdier: There is Hope
*This story was collected in partnership with New Story Leadership.
Thawra is a Palestinian American from Jerusalem. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications And Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies both from Hebrew University. Thawra has previously worked on a documentary with CNN about the different Israeli and Palestinian realities. She has also worked as a Field Manager for The Minerva Center For Human Rights. Thawra created and managed the “Humans of Jerusalem” facebook page for four years. She photographed and conducted interviews with people all around Jerusalem and published them in both English and Arabic. Thawra is currently pursuing her Masters in Human Rights Law at SOAS University in London, United Kingdom.
I was born and raised in Jaffa, which is a village north of Jerusalem. It’s a Palestinian village, with a majority of Muslim Palestinians. I was born to a Palestinian father and a Palestinian American mother. My mother was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Then, she moved back to Palestine, and married my father, and raised me and my four siblings in Palestine. When I graduated high school, I was a little lost, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, because there wasn’t enough awareness around us, about where to go to school, what to study. Luckily my mom, having her American ways, she didn’t give me the option of not going to school. So, she guided me to take the required test to go to the Hebrew University, because it was close, and because my dad just preferred me not going through checkpoints to go to Palestinian University.
I didn’t learn Hebrew growing up at all, I never interacted with any Israelis or anything before I studied at the Hebrew University. The only time I interacted with Israelis was at checkpoints. So I learned Hebrew for the first couple of years. I was your normal confused college student who didn’t know what to study, so I went into Nursing the first year, and then I went to Education, I went into Sociology, and then I discovered that I wanted to be involved in Politics and Journalism to convey what my people in my family go through.
Studying at the Hebrew University was a very interesting experience at my time: it was 5% Palestinians, and 95% Israelis or people from abroad, I’m talking about 25000 students. For example, when I would be in a lecture where there would be 200 students, I would be the only Palestinian in that lecture. So whenever I ask a question or answer a question, all necks are turning to see what the Palestinians going to say. Sometimes, I felt the pressure to say something smart, because of the pressure of representing my people, in front of people that have never seen a Palestinian before. Even though, they are from West Jerusalem, which is in the same city where I live. However, the two people who have grown apart, and have not interacted as much as two people living in the same place should be interacting.
There are a lot of times where there would be protests inside of the school and the only time we would be allowed to protest was if we got permits from the dean of the school, and we did, we did get permits all the time. We would be protesting things like my cousin’s murder, and Palestinian children’s imprisonment, which is a very important subject. Every time we planned a protest, the Israeli right-wing at the University, would also plan a protest on the same day and hour. So, while we had a lot of conditions to the protest, we are allowed to carry one Palestine flag, we are allowed to only chant for 10 minutes. The adjacent Israeli protest would be them carrying 10 Israeli flags, and having a microphone and chanting out loud.
That was a very empowering experience, in my opinion, because my Palestinian identity, before I went to the Hebrew University, it was just something that was connected to my father and my mother. Especially my father, because he himself was politically active when he was younger, he was held at an Israeli prison, as a sixteen-year-old boy, during the first intifada. We grew up listening to his stories, and him just making sure that we don’t go through the same things that he went through, because of the torture and injustice that he experienced in the Israeli prison as a young boy.
It’s not the Palestinians choice to not go to Tel Aviv, or not to go to Jaffa, or Haifa, or Jerusalem, it’s a restriction that was imposed by the Israeli occupation. So, I have the blue ID, the Jerusalem ID, blue ID is a permanent residency, that means that I can travel freely throughout the country, to Israeli areas, to the Palestinian areas, to Jerusalem, to everywhere. That allows me to go to the West Bank and leave the West Bank. But in the West Bank, the Palestinians there have the orange ID, which means that you are a resident of the West Bank and that therefore prevents you from leaving the West Bank.
I would tell myself that, as cliche, as it might sound, that there is hope, and that I do have the power to change things, and that people that are making decisions are people just like me. That’s the experience of Congress, is that it makes you look at people as regular humans, they have their ups and downs, and problems and issues at home and they are just like us. So, I can be that person that makes the decisions myself.