While standing in line at the passport control at Cairo International Airport, my friend and I were made to follow a frowning, uncommunicative officer who took our passports. “What’s going to happen to us?” I asked repeatedly. He avoided eye contact; instead, he busied himself accepting bribes from other travelers in return for easing their passage through customs. Finally, he responded “You’re Palestinians? There is no way you are going to pass”. What followed was a long night of humiliation and pleading with the Egyptian officers to let us pass to the Gaza Strip. We were heading home and had no intention of staying in Egypt, we only needed one night’s rest in Cairo as we had slept in another European airport the night before and had been traveling for three days.
They finally agreed to let me go, but my friend was detained at the airport as he was to be escorted by security personnel to the Gaza border in the morning. After they allowed me passage, I stayed at Cairo airport for four additional hours in the middle of the night with no idea what to do and where to go, at a time when many Egyptians harbored great animosity towards Palestinians. This was shortly after the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was removed from office; he had been regarded as being relatively sympathetic to the Palestinian people. During those hours at the airport, strangers harassed me and propositioned me to leave with them. This is the sort of humiliation I had come to expect while traveling, but could never become accustomed to.
We were never supposed to travel through Egypt; rather, we were supposed to fly to Jordan and take a land route to Gaza from there. However, as Palestinians, we were denied the necessary prior approval to enter Jordan. I stayed in Cairo that night and left for home (a perilous 6-hour road journey) the next morning. I was the last person to cross the Rafah border gate before it was closed by the Egyptian authorities for another extended months-long interval during which Palestinians in the Gaza Strip remained virtually sealed off, with nobody able to leave or enter. This episode illustrates what it is like to be a Palestinian traveling in the Middle East. Nowhere am I confronted with the perils of being a Palestinian than when I stand at a border crossing point.
As it happened, I was returning from the United States after I had spent a summer attending a journalism exchange program at Washington State University, where I was motivated to write about my life’s struggle as a Palestinian. The incident at the airport was a classic example of the nature of these struggles. In this case, however, it was also a trigger to put my newly acquired training in journalism to good use.
As a Palestinian, my sense of identity has always been nebulous. I have been defined by war or by the one-dimensional images of CNN reports and New York Times editorials. My own personal identity is something I had never explored, as I only strove to present myself as a person who can be accepted in my society. Still, I was raised on certain values; my family instilled in me the ability to think and act according to my own persuasions, which were those of a free-thinker. I had always been an intrigued girl who wanted to know everything.
Thus, from my besieged city, I began using social media to explore the outside world, follow politics, and interact with people from different cultures. Through my small screen and poor Wi-Fi connection, I opened brand new horizons of knowledge and critical thinking. I read many blogs and articles by activists, journalists, and political writers such as George Orwell, Noam Chomsky, and Edward Said, whom I came to greatly admire. These experiences culminated in an unwavering ambition to achieve in words what such accomplished writers once did or still do.
I am now a 24-year-old woman who recently completed my bachelor’s degree in English Education at Al-Azhar University of Gaza, a major I grudgingly settled on because of the extremely limited educational options in Gaza. However, the courses I took during my studies enhanced my English language skills dramatically; moreover, I took the opportunity to actually teach English to children and teenagers for a year. Additionally, I engaged in multiple freelance tasks while a student, and have already published articles in major media outlets as well as my own blogs [URLs of some of my articles are listed at the bottom of this essay]. I have also presented my experiences to various audiences. I thrive on being critiqued; I think of myself as an achiever, someone who tends to be both realistic and idealistic, rational yet creative. People go through various phases of life searching for what they love to do. Discovering journalism was the turning point in my own life; I no longer needed to find myself, as my own writings found me.
At CUNY, I will be able to greatly widen my intellectual and academic horizons,and journey deeper into the world of ideas, theories, and history. I will be better able to understand social, economic, and political relationships and how they affect our day-to-day lives. I am enticed by the academic rigor and interdisciplinary philosophy because, as an aspiring writer, it is necessary for me to acquire as wide an array of knowledge as possible. If accepted, I look forward to being among ambitious and intelligent students who would challenge my thinking as I would theirs. It is for these reasons that I apply to your esteemed institution, and look forward to this next chapter in my life.
Links to selected articles and some profiles:
Walaa Al Ghussein on the power (and vulnerability) of Palestinian journalists. Published in Mondoweiss on April 12, 2015 [http://mondoweiss.net/2015/04/vulnerability-palestinian-journalists/]
My profile for Aljazeera English Web [http://www.aljazeera.com/profile/walaa-ghussein.html]
My profile on International Business Times [http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/reporters/walaa-ghussein]
My story of Al-Hashash family as part of the web documentary Obliterated Families[http://obliteratedfamilies.com/en/story/al-hashash/]
The Arab Journalism Project – USA [https://arabjournalismblog.wordpress.com/students/walaa-fatma/]
Featured in Gaza’s Female Fixers on Aljazeera English Web. Published on Sep 11,2015 [http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/09/gaza-female-fixers-palestine-150910060213178.html]
Hosting local session from Davos 2016 in Gaza – organized by Walaa AlGhusseinon January 26, 2016. [https://www.globalshapers.org/news/hosting-local-session-davos-gaza]