I WAS born and raised across the bridge from my homeland, just a few kilometres away. And, just like every other person I know, I am always trying to get to the closest point to spot its mountains, especially during the day, when there are clear blue skies; or simply trying to spot the lights of its cities after sunset.
This is a traditional activity done during gatherings, or while visiting cities outside of Amman that are are closer to the borders. If we are lucky enough, in some areas we can see Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Palestine.
One of the most special spots is down in the Jordan Valley, at the Holy Baptism site close to the Dead Sea, where the distance between the two banks of the river is literally ten steps crossing the very subtle river-level horizontally. But this is the longest distance, since we are not allowed to cross. My people have been condemned to exile for the past 75 years.
And I am one of the millions of Palestinians in exile who cannot return; nor can I cross the river. Thirty-five long years out of 75 longer, and, being a third generation of the Nakba, I am allowed only to find the nearest spots on my side of the border, and to imagine how the cities of Palestine look in comparison with what I see in pictures.
Sometimes, if I am lucky enough and it is a little quiet, I can imagine walking down the streets of Yafa, Haifa, Nazareth, Nablus, Jenin, Beit Jala, and many more.
MY GRANDFATHER, Eliya Khoury, was forcibly expelled from Palestine when my father was a teenager. My grandfather was the Episcopal priest of Ramallah, and was known for always standing alongside the oppressed. His commitment to the rights of our people was too much for the Israeli occupation to handle. One day in 1969, he was expelled to Jordan, with others.
He was later consecrated as a bishop in the diocese of Jerusalem, working to support the well-being of our people in exile, and being referred to even by Margaret Thatcher as a “man of peace”. But, still, the Israeli occupation has made it virtually impossible for my family to regain the status that we had before the occupation. But not only that: I am not even allowed a permit to visit and pray in my grandfather’s church.
As for my many failed attempts to visit, which were mostly ignored, the hardest part of being denied entry was during Christmas. As a Christian, originally from Palestine, I am even denied the opportunity to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, his birthplace, and in the Church of the Nativity, which marks where Christ was born. I am denied my simplest right as a Christian, my right to pray, worship, and celebrate the Holy Spirit. I am denied this because I am Palestinian. But, even more importantly, I am denied the right to follow the traditions that my family followed in Palestine for centuries before the occupation.
As is true every year, I am thankful for technology that enables me to see all the celebrations on different social-media outlets: tree lightings, church Scouts, and the mana’eesh (traditional pastries) carts on the streets, which you can almost smell. All the beautiful Palestinian women dressed in their thoub, the traditional Bethlehem dress, walking down the streets giving out sweets, while other groups dance the dabkeh to a Middle Eastern version of “Jingle bells”.
I also see people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem. But I am denied entry. I watch as I cross my fingers on my face and down my chest, praying to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that the next year I will be in between these crowds, giving hope of return to everyone who is sitting in front of a screen and making the same wish as I am.
THIS YEAR, I am still forcibly away from my homeland, but closer in faith in my right to return. This year, I am thankful for my resilience, having grown up as a Palestinian Christian, which, in some cases, has been a struggle to prove that I have the right to stand up for my people, no matter what their religion is or what the differences are. We are one people, and we are all treated as one by those who have denied my right to celebrate.
This year, I realised that being a Palestinian in exile meant that everything in me could be tested, except for my patience. This year, I shall continue to thrive in spreading the message of love, humanity, and freedom. Most importantly, this year, I realised, more than ever, how true a quotation from Mahmoud Darwish is: “To be a Palestinian means to be afflicted with incurable hope.”
Hiba Khoury is a Palestinian Christian who is living in Jordan