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Trip To Palestine

My name is Fatema Jaffer and I am a first year law student at Harvard Law School. On March 12th, 2022, more than 100 Harvard graduate students and I went to Palestine through a student-led organization named PalTrek. In one week, each of us experienced a similar yet different program. Similar in the sense that we all saw the same horrific tragedies the Israeli government inflicted upon the indigenous Palestinians, but different depending on whether we were labeled as a “threat” because of our name, race, or religious background. Illustrated below is my 2022 spring break trip to Palestine

Welcome to Israel!
Welcome to Israel — the lowest place on earth, literally and figuratively.

“Wait, I thought you went to Palestine, not Israel?” To get into Palestine, one must fly into Israel. If you are white, Jewish, or an Israel citizen, this is not a big deal — getting past border control takes roughly 10 minutes, as your only barrier to entry is how many people are standing in line with you (shown on the right). If you are Palestinian, have an Arabic name, or are easily identifiable as Muslim, your luck isn’t so great. With the name, “Fatema Jaffer,” I knew my unfortunate fate of questioning was coming for me. As soon as I presented security with my passport, the guard immediately asked for my father and grandfather’s name. I only made it so far to saying my dad’s name—Mohamed—when the guard immediately took my passport and told me to take a seat in the corner of the airport. In that corner, I was surrounded by other “threats” to the Israeli government (left and middle pictures). We waited in that corner for three hours while Israel’s border patrol scanned our passports, took notes, interrogated us with questions (“why are you here?” “who are you with?” “where are you staying?” “what are you studying?” “why did you choose today to come in as opposed to any other day?” etc.), and had us fill out forms gathering all our personal information. After three hours of waiting and getting questioned, I was finally met everyone else in PalTrek at the hotel.


As we traveled throughout the land, we saw green fields covered with rich soil and agriculture. This fresh, green land is Israeli territory (left)— a sharp contrast from what is remaining of Palestinian territory (right). In certain areas of Palestine (such as Gaza), Israel sucks the water from the streams flowing through rich Palestinian land and transports it to legally-recognized Israeli land.

Because we were from the United States, traveling across Palestinian and Israeli territory was not a problem— regardless of the Israeli checkpoints we came across every few miles. For local Palestinians, however, crossing a checkpoint could take hours, as the process of checking whether a Palestinian exceeded their “permitted” hours of roaming within Israeli land could lead to arrests or even death.

Speaking of water, can you see those tiny black water tanks on those white buildings? You know you are in Palestinian territory when you see these water tanks on buildings. Israel also limits the amount of water and electricity Palestinians have; leaving the distinction between Palestinian-owned buildings—ones with water tanks—and Israeli-owned buildings—ones without water tanks—clear to those overlooking a skyline or driving by. Why are they plastic water tanks, when leaving water outside in a plastic container leads to health problems? So Palestinians can easily replace them if Israel shoots them down.

This is Haifa: Palestinian land now gentrified by Israel. Thousands of Palestinian families were forced to move out of their homes as Israeli’s moved into the area and constructed new houses and buildings. On the left, a new Israeli house lies in the middle of old Palestinian homes. On the right, the process of demolishing Palestinian houses continues as buildings are left in pieces and replaced with Euro-centric architecture.

Sights of colonial settlement continued in Haifa with cypress trees, which were brought from Europe during Israel’s invasion of Palestine.

Look at this beautiful beach in Haifa! Unfortunately, Palestinians can only see this beach once a year on Eid-al-Fitr: the celebration after Ramadan. To say the Palestinian genocide is separated from Islamophobia is to neglect Israeli’s policies that view Palestine as a majority Muslim country.

Refugee Camps

During our trip, we had the opportunity to visit a refugee camp specifically made for children: Aida Refugee Camp. This camp is located near the wall Israel built to separate Israeli territory from Palestinian territory, and is often the at the center of Israeli shootings and bombs. On the right, an empty tear gas bottle remained on the street. Refugees formed the habit of immediately seeking shelter from these tear gas bottles thrown by Israeli soldiers, although there is only so many times one can seek shelter before health problems start taking effect. The key at the entrance of the camp (left) symbolizes the Palestinian’s Right of Return.


Addameer provides legal services for detained Palestinians. Speaking up against Israel, even in schools, is a crime. If students are caught creating activist groups in schools, they are taken from their homes and arrested in front of their family members. This is an example of punishment for peaceful protest.

Because of their helpful services towards Palestinians, Israel labeled Addameer a terrorist organization

Palestinians are activists, but not necessarily by choice. When you are forced out of your home and everything you love is taken away from you, you have no choice but to become an activist.

Given to us by Addameer, these books contain small descriptions of inhumane tactics used on Palestinians at the prisons.

The Wall

Israel controls Palestine’s water supply, electricity, housing supply, and travel with this wall. Palestinians depict their everyday tragedies and expressions on this wall.

The genocide began in 1948 when Israel was officially named a country. With country status, Israel has the ability to create laws, policies, and regulations of the land without considering the lives of Palestinians. Israel can “negotiate” with Palestine, but how effective can a negotiation between a world-recognized country and a war-torn neglected territory actually be?

The similarities between how Native and Black Americans were/still are treated the United States with how Palestinians are treated by Israel are hard to ignore. Israel uses tactics taught by the United States, and vice versa. Because of the allyship between the United States and Israel, anyone not in favor of an Israeli state is labeled as a terrorist by the United States.

Ahed Tamimi—Palestinian activist who is constantly threatened, harassed, and detained by the Israeli government.

A billion-dollar army partially funded by U.S. tax dollars, against a territory that is practically in pieces trying to fight for liberation.

But we should “look at both sides,” right?

Going Home

After an eye-opening trip, I began to make my way back to the United States.

To my surprise, the Tel-Aviv airport made the leaving process more difficult than the entering process.

To begin, they labeled all passports with a number beginning from 1 to 6*— the lowest level of “threat” labeled as 1, and the highest level of “threat” labeled as 6*.

All Muslims, Palestinians, and Arabic-named people were labeled as a 6 and told to stand in a separate line from everyone else.

Where can I put on my resume that not only was I a 6, I also had an asterisks next to my 6, labeling me as the highest possible threat.

Despite arriving to the airport 12 hours early, we still were late for our flight. For every “6” let into security, an entire line of non-sixers was let through. It did not matter that I had a U.S. passport— my name trumped any privilege I might have had as an American citizen.

My flight boarded at 8:40PM. By the time Noor (my friend pictured above) and I were allowed into the first security point—sixers had two security points—it was 10:15PM. The entire plane already boarded and was waiting for us, but we were told to be appreciative of the Israeli guards calling our captain and telling him to wait for us.

After Noor and I got through regular security, we were told to go to the back for another security line that was only for those labeled as a 6.

Every single item we owned—including hair ties, nail polish, lip gloss, etc.— was scanned and swabbed. Some people in this line were told to go through a third security measure where they were strip searched. All this was happening while our flight was waiting for us.

After we were finally released at 10:45PM, we were told to “better make our flight.” We sprinted across the Tel-Aviv airport to our gate and were the last ones to arrive on the plane, regardless of us arriving 12 hours early.

With this experience, my spring break trip to Palestine concluded and I was on the way home to the United States.

In instances of injustice, there is always an oppressor, and there is always the oppressed. To disregard this and to say otherwise to is to be complicit and part of the problem.

Here, Israel is the clear oppressor, and Palestine is clearly the oppressed. My spring break trip to Palestine taught me how to become a better ally for Palestine, even though I am still learning how this allyship may look while living in a country that has taken sides with the oppressor. I do not have to have a solution, other than to keep fighting for Palestinian liberation in ways that I can. This includes sharing my experience in Palestine, showing up to protests, and educating those that refuse to acknowledge Israeli colonialism. Even if I am not Palestinian, I can still manifest. I know that from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.

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