Jane

If I meet new people like in hostels while traveling, because I used to travel a lot for the last few years, I always get the standard questions like, where are you from? and what you're doing? It's been always a question which is really hard for me to answer because I don't have one thing to name or one country. I'm not always in the mood of telling the whole story. It's always a question which already starts a very uncomfortable situation when you meet somebody. Sometimes I'll just say the country I live in just to avoid getting into all this whole complicated story.

How do you explain the story when you first meet them? I just tell them the facts that I know, which is where I was born and where I live. In this case, I was born in Germany, and I'm living in The Netherlands right now. How do you call it? That we are Palestinians, but we are not from Palestine. That we are Palestinians from Lebanon. My parents came to Germany, and I was born in Germany. Before going to The Netherlands, we've also moved to a few other countries to try to get papers, which was also--I can't remember on Norway, but we used to live in Norway, which I don't remember. We also used to live in Belgium, which I do remember a bit, and we also lived in Sweden, which I also do remember.

None of these we got the papers. In that case, we always came back to Germany, which was a bit our home base. From Germany, we moved to The Netherlands, which is now almost 20 years ago. I've been here quite awhile. It feels like I've been here very long. I don't feel Dutch or something. I wouldn't introduce myself as Dutch to people.

If I talk about my cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds, I just said that my family are Palestinians from the refugee camps in Beirut: Sabra and Shatila, which are quite known refugee camps, and their parents are from Jaffa, like my mother's family is from Jaffa, which is now Tel Aviv is built around it, and it's now Israel. At that time, my family was living there, and in 1948, they went to Lebanon.

Then my father's side is, I don't know. My mother thinks– my father passed away a few years ago, so I don't really know– but I hear different things. Some people say– Like my mother says, "Your father's family is from Haifa," which is also on the coast of Palestine, a bit higher than the Jaffa, it is quite close. Other family members say, "No, we are from Jerusalem." But the thing is because living in the refugee camps, there are not really like documents or anything like traces to find out your history because nothing is really kept or documented.

Also, many people in the camps don't have the rights to go to school or something, so my parents couldn't really read and write when they came to Germany. I mean, they didn't even have water flowing into their tents. They grew up there. And also for that reason, we don't have any documented history, so, yes, many things are unknown. My grandparents passed away quite long time ago, and I don't really know that much. But I have to also add that my father is half Turkish Cypriot, my grandmother is Turkish Cypriot, so she came probably to Palestine long time ago.

I also don't know the details about that story only that my father also spoke Turkish to his mother, and, yes, but to that, I'm just very curious about that side, but I don't know anything or anyone there, so I don't have any-- I would love to find out more about the people there, family or something, but I don't even know the name of my grandmother. That's a sad thing about this kind of refugee thing is that you have to leave everything constantly behind and then, yes, there's not much traces left. Yes, it's like something to find out for me through my life and who these people are and where.

Language-wise, yes, I speak-- My first language is German actually, and because I grew up there, I was born there, went to school there. My parents spoke-- Always spoke Arabic with us in the home, so I speak Arabic also fluent and I also speak fluently Dutch because I've been here way too long already. And so, yes, and then English. That's just something I learned. So I have three native languages, which are native to me.

And then I wonder sometimes which language I think. It's really which I'm speaking in the daytime. When I was in Palestine, I thought in Arabic, when I'm in Germany, I think in German, and here in Holland, I think in Dutch. Also, in English, if I hang around with English-speaking people. My mind adapts very fast, which is nice.

When my parents came to Germany as refugees and, of course, they hope that they will have a good future here in Europe. They got married in Germany. Actually, they met in Germany, my parents. In Germany, it was quite hard at that time that you don't get papers or passports so easily when you're a refugee in Germany. At that time, you had to have either German blood, like one of your parents had to be German, or you have to be working at 10 years in a row, like working and paying taxes, then you can apply for a German passport.

My mother was a housewife with five children, one passed away, with four children. She couldn't work. My father couldn't read and write, and he was really-- He'd seen a lot because he was in the resistance when he was a teenager in Lebanon. He worked in his own way. He was working and making money for us, for the family. He didn't work 10 years in a row like these bureaucratic roles which you had to do to be able to get a passport. My mother really wanted us to get a passport because with that refugee papers, we couldn't really travel within Europe. Because at that time, there were borders of every country in Europe. It was not open like now. The borders were like they were controlled.

Even if you go to The Netherlands, at specific roads, you have a control by the police. My mom didn't want this for our future, that we always have to live without a passport and then not really being able to fully enjoy the freedom that the other people have here or the freedom that we would need.

The main idea was that her children have to get freedom, like freedom as in a political way of freedom, like passport and status. Yes, she heard from people like, "Oh yeah, Norway, they're super solid with the Palestinians so maybe you should try there," which I don't remember. But this about Norway, she didn't say it. It's just something I assumed because my mother is totally not politically interested. But I know that Norway is very solid there with the Palestinian people. I assume that my mom went there to try, but, yes, I don't why it didn't work because I don't remember that time, my sister told me.

Then, we went to Sweden, which I do remember. We were there, and we had like-- I was quite young. I was maybe five years old. I remember going to a kindergarten in Sweden. My mother was trying to get papers for us. I don't really remember that. I only remember, as a child, playing there and speaking Swedish, which I don't do anymore. Travelling there by ship.

I don't know. The situation tore my family apart because my mama really wanted for us to get papers to go to Sweden. My father, he stayed in Germany and he didn't agree with that. He didn't want to move up to all the countries to get papers. So we came back to Germany in the end, to my father. My parents got really bad relationship because of that. Because my mother blamed my father for not working hard enough for us to get papers. They ended up fighting all the time because my mom's priority was papers, his was like as long as we can eat, we're fine, as long as we have a house, we're okay. My mother was more concerned of the future things for us. Yes, that caused a lot of problems.

That led to also my mother trying with us in Belgium. I don't know how old I was. I don't know why it didn't work there. But anyway, moving to all these places, of course, made me feel like a Palestinian, like, okay then, I'm a Palestinian, I guess, if you're not allowed to be in all these places. We go into-- In the end, finally, my mother married a guy with a Dutch passport. No one was really getting papers in Germany because I have a very big family in Germany. Like a lot of aunts and uncles. I think my mother has 10 siblings, and they're all in Germany.

I think Germany has a very big population of Palestinian people. There's so many of them. But what I see now, just to make a jump to now, but I will go back later, is that these people still don't have papers. It's like they've been-- My father passed away five years ago-- Five years or six years ago or seven, and he was 55, no, actually he was 49, and he was almost 50 when he died. He also still didn't have a passport. In Germany, it was a bit hopeless to stay there because you just don't get papers as a Palestinian from Lebanon, which is super weird because you don't get recognized as a Palestinian, no, they see you as a Lebanese. Then the Lebanese they say, "No, these people are not from us, so we will not give them any identity, any papers. We will not accept them as people from our country." There was no way of identifying yourself with the papers or with an embassy. For example, if you want to go to an embassy in Germany, we had to go to the Lebanese embassy and then we called ourselves always Lebanese. I remember now that when we young, we always said we were from Lebanon, so we're Lebanese, but we're not Lebanese. It's a bit complicated.

It's not so logic because in Lebanon the Palestinian people are not accepted, they live in the camps, and they're not allowed to work. They're not allowed to do anything in the country. They have always this temporary status, but they will not go back. I think they've been there for at least since '48 in the camps, which are now cities and which are still very divided from the Lebanese society. Anyway, it meant that we here in Europe we're Palestinian but from Lebanon, which, I don't know, it didn't work for us to apply anywhere far papers because there was no embassy really for us. I don't know, we just fell in between, always, always falling in between these rules and laws, so we couldn't really apply for anything.

Then moved to the Netherlands, we got married to this guy. He was very nice that he wanted to help us. He was an Iraqi guy. He was also a refugee. He just got his papers very recent and he thought, "I can help these people by marrying the mother." They also had a real relationship, it's not only for helping. They were together for awhile, and we moved here. At that time, I totally didn't understand as a child that we had to move for papers, and I didn't know why we were moving because also my mother doesn't really tell us anything, she just moved with us. The idea was that we get papers after three years, three years of marriage, then we get our own passport.

Then for that, you had to go every, I don't know, month maybe, I don't know. We had too many, many interviews with IND, it's the Dutch Immigration Office or something, and we had to go there a lot and also separately into interviews about our lives and about where we came from, and why we got married to my stepfather at that time. We always had a-- What is it called? Staying Permit, to stay in the Netherlands but only always like for six months or for one year. So we had to renew it all the time. The first few years was okay, we renewed it and maybe the first six months only, I don't know. It was a short time that it was okay. And after a short time, the immigration service people they didn't renew it anymore to us. They said, "No, we're not going to renew it."

They saw that my mother and my stepdad were fighting so much all the time that they said, "It's better if you go back to Germany because this is not going to work for you." They tried to send us back many times, but my mother, of course, she doesn't want us to go back and also we didn't-- Because when we left Germany it was so strange, we had give Germany back our temporary papers, so we left. We gave them our temporary papers. It was a green passport. I think it's for refugees or something. A green thing. We had to give it to them and then we moved to the Netherlands.

While you gave it to them, I think you had to say that you agree that you're not allowed to live there anymore. So we left and then the Dutch didn't want us anymore. They said, "You have to go back to Germany." We couldn't go back to Germany because they said, "No, you gave us already your papers, so you cannot go back to Germany. There's no way of you moving back to Germany again.” I don't know how that went. Then they said, "Yes, you have to go back to Lebanon.” My mom said, "My children, they were never in Lebanon before. They were born in Europe."

They said, "No, we don't care, either you go to Germany or you go to Lebanon, but you have to leave the Netherlands," because they didn't renew our papers. We got like three times a letter that we have to leave the country within 30 days, like after, I don't know. It was already a few years further. It just kept on going like this because you have to get your lawyer and with the lawyer, the lawyer does everything for you, so, meanwhile, the whole family is separated because we couldn't live with my stepdad.

Interviewer: So in the end you got a Dutch passport?

Yes, after 12 years. I just got it quite recent. It feels to me that I just got it recently, seven years ago, after being 25 years in Europe, born here. In the end, I got a passport, but I was seven years illegal in the Netherlands after that. First day renewed it and then they didn't renew it anymore. I couldn't make use of the system. I couldn't study, I couldn't apply for money to study. I didn't study. I just lived here aside, not having papers.

I worked a little for big companies, all these companies to didn't realize that I don't have papers, they paid me. I had a bank account and everything worked, but in reality I didn't have papers but no one-- I just played it very smart that no one would realize that I don't have papers because my Dutch is really good, and I just seemed like a normal Dutch person to people. No one really questioned that.

When I was 25, after all these years having a lawyer, seven years a lawyer trying for us to get anything. Meanwhile, the whole family is separated, I have my own lawyer, my mother had her lawyer, my sister, because I moved out when I was 15 from my home because of my stepdad and everyone moved out. My mom in the end, she tried to get these papers for us but it cost so much. We were all divided, everyone went to live by themselves. Now we have the papers and have a Dutch passport. I don't think I would say I'm Dutch or something.

Many people are super thankful are like, "You should be so thankful that you having the papers from them," I don't feel that.

When I was born in Germany, was a small village, there were no really foreigners or stuff. I'm referring to refugees that didn't speak the language so well. People were super racist. And at the time I wouldn't say I felt German, at that time I felt also not really Palestinian, I don't know. Looking back at it, I think it's really how people treat you and how good you feel in that environment and then doesn't really matter, of course, which your nationality is or which ethnic background is. Sometimes it becomes very important if people keep on showing you that you're that or this.

If I have felt pressured to fit a certain definition when it comes to background like Palestinian, or Dutch, or German, well, it's a very simple things like in the beginning of this conversation when you meet new people, you maybe want to introduce yourself because people always want to know. I also ask where you from, it's not like I don't do it, I also do that. I haven't felt connected to any groups. When I go to my family in Germany or the big Palestinian community in Germany, I don't feel that sense of belonging that I'm looking for maybe sometimes.

I realized a lot. If I go to Palestine or if I see Palestinian people, we are one or something, unfortunately, it's not like that. If you like, even maybe more distance to them than people here, local people here. It's hard. Then, yes, I know that I always try hard to not fit anywhere in because I can't find that feeling of belonging and in any kind of group also not in cultural groups or, yes. For me, it's always hard to put the definition on myself.

Yes. So, yes, passport doesn't say that much. My passport doesn't say so much. Religion also not really, yes.

I was so lucky to go to Palestine two or three years ago for the first time of my life and the first person after 1948 to go back to Palestine from all of our family. I just went there and I've seen the Palestinians there and the Palestinians in Europe, and they both live in very suffocating positions because in Germany they don't get really papers.

They're trying their best, their studying very hard. They try to go to school and get good grades. The parents are very strict to raise their children. And I got way but somehow I feel it's not working that well. Especially when it comes, like I said, to papers. And in Palestine, I felt the same. There were so many people who are educating themselves and they study a lot. I met young people who do two, three different bachelor studies next to each other and then Art Academy. They do so many things after each other. They studied so much. The people I met in Ramallah, for example, but, yes. Then there's no work and then they're also locked up by the military occupation. It's a very strange situation.

Then I worked here in the Netherlands because I've been here for almost 20 years, since 1999. There are no Palestinians, so I don't know any Palestinians. There are few, very rare. I heard there's a family near Rotterdam, which is not a refugee family. They came to work here like very long time ago maybe in the '50s or something, or maybe in the '40s, maybe later. Anyway, they came here not as refugees, as workers.

I don't know them, but I heard they are there. I hear here and there in the Netherlands they are some Palestinian people, but they're very, very few. For me, in the last 20 years, not meeting so many Palestinian people gave me a lot of room to idealize them. Then I travelled to Germany a few times, and when I saw Palestinians there, I started taking pictures from them in a distance or ask, "Hey, can I have you on the picture with you?" or hug them like, "Yes, I'm also Palestinian."

I went to Palestine in the end and it was very nice. I'm sorry. When I was in Palestine, I didn't have the feeling that something, that I'm not allowed to be there. Really here I always feel, okay, I don't know how I feel over here, but I know that when I was there, I felt, well, I can walk on the street and I can walk on this mountain, and I can talk to these people and no one would say… It was just a feeling like, "It's okay to be here, totally fine." It's strange because of the political situation, it's super strange to feel the freedom there because the people there are not free and the situation is not free. But I did feel free.

I remember when I was there it was so stupid, maybe it's human that you want to own territory. I was like, "This is mine, and this is mine, and this tree is mine, and this mountain is mine." It was a very stupid, naive feeling to think that you can own something. I think it's not owning, but it was more like, I feel I'm allowed to be here, it's okay. It's like a home or something. No one will tell you, "You can't stay here," because I could say, "No, I can stay here. I'm from here."

That was a nice feeling, and I don't know if I had it somewhere else, I don't think so.

In the end, I'm just also an outsider, even there I'm just someone from Europe.

That's okay. I don't mind being an outsider or something.

It that a good end or what?

Interviewer: That would be a really good end I think.

That's cool. I didn't read all the rest.

Interviewer: No, you only allowed to traveling between the Netherlands and Palestinian, you've already talked about that.

Jane: Yes, exactly.

Interviewer: So I think we're done.

Jane: Perfect.