Image Credit: Flickr/Marcel Masferrer Pascual. A view of Nablus, a city in the West Bank, at night.

Your Country Doesn’t Exist, Therefore You Don’t Get to Have a Tax Number

This was the conclusion we got to, applying for a tax number last year. Now that I want to try to apply again, I wanted to share my story.

Around this time last year, I went through the full process of applying, interviewing and providing all the documents needed, however I got a letter saying I need to provide a proof of identity which I had provided earlier when I applied. But I went ahead and sent the documents again anyway (My visa and My Passport) along with my California ID that was issued at that time, only to get another letter that it’s not enough, even though that’s what their website said would be enough. I followed up with a phone call to ask what went wrong.

I have to admit that the phone call made me really angry, I have never thought I would face a situation like this one. Someone trying to convince me that I am not from the country I am from (Or the one I think I am from, according to him)!

He kept asking me questions like, if I am sure I am not from Jordan?! That was the weirdest question anyone has ever asked me (Including being asked if I said Pakistan, whenever someone from the US asks me where I am from, and I reply with Palestine).

I didn’t know how to deal with this, I replied that I am pretty sure I know where I lived my entire life, and where my parents, grandparents and friends are from. He would tell me to calm down, even though I was acting calm because mostly I was just shocked by these questions, I didn’t really have a room to show any emotion but frustration at the moment.

I moved to the US last year, after getting married, and got an H4 dependent visa because my husband who’s also a Palestinian has an H1B work visa sponsored by Google, where he works now. We both lived our entire lives in Palestine, specifically in the West Bank. Him being from A refugee camp in Hebron, and me being from Tulkarm. Both lived in Ramallah for a while because our college was there.

To give you an idea, I lived the “normal life” every Palestinian lives in the West Bank. Checkpoints, curfews, shootings, protests and arrests, along with hanging out with family and friends, celebrating birthdays and holidays, and having a life other people recognize as “normal”.

I remember creating a book called “Intifada Memories” which I think translates to “The Uprising Memories”, in the year 2000, documenting what was happening in Palestine with the “Palestinian Intifada”. I was 12 years old. I remember the cover being pink, and having a rose on it. It was a gift from my grandpa. I filled the book with stories on Palestinians who were killed (Now that I am writing this it sounds very disturbing) and how they were killed, pictures of families crying their lost sons, arrested family members and their demolished houses, along with pictures of protests all over Palestine (A lot of the traditional ‘throwing stones at tanks’ images). I would never forget my dad’s reaction when I tried showing him the book, I was so proud of myself, I spent long hours making it and gathering pictures from newspapers, trying to decide which story I should use, since they have stories on both sides of the page, I also imagined being a journalist at one point, but my dad was all like, we’re so fed up with all of this, just try to stay away from it, just forget about it. My dad usually makes me feel awesome about anything I do, I had another book before that, maybe when I was 10 or 11 years old, that I used to draw cartoons in, following the steps from a show on Spacetoon kids channel (A very different idea than documenting the uprising), and he would ask me what I drew the moment he arrives home, and make sure to look astonished by my awesome drawings. This was a new reaction to me, and I didn’t understand the frustration he felt at the time. I also didn’t understand how to “just forget about it”. It was all around me, either stuff happening in my neighborhood or town, or what I hear about in the news.

Some happy pictures I drew in my book following “How to draw cartoons” show

Something else I vividly remember, is the curfews at the time, how my heart beat so fast whenever I heard the Israeli soldiers calling for it outside my house, and how everyone would comply instantly, the streets would become so silent and empty. There was also times when I heard shootings and would sneak to look out of the window to see Palestinian workers who illegally worked in “Israel” running away from Israeli soldiers who were shooting at them (It was of course accompanied by my mom shouting at us to stay away from the windows). I also remember acting strong and fearless whenever the Israeli soldiers pass by my elementary school, or call for a curfew while we’re at the school, fantasizing about getting in a fight with them, it was mostly verbal, the way I imagined it. I don’t really believe in violence in any situation and I do believe that we have brains to use in order to come up with better solutions as violence is just the easy one, at least that’s why I think animals use it (I don’t believe that was the reason I didn’t like violence as a kid though).

All of that happened in my country, Palestine, the one I grew up in, and where my entire family still lives. The country I have listed on my birth certificate, ID, Passport and Visa. I never thought I am from a country that doesn’t exist in the perspective of other people like the US for example. I guess it didn’t exist in the eyes of more than that before the UN finally recognized it. But I was too naive to think of it as suggesting Palestine doesn’t exist when I read the news. I didn’t even know how to respond to such claims. Like how can you respond to someone telling you that you’re from a country that doesn’t exist? How does that work? Do I exist from the point of view of the US? I mean if they don’t recognize my country, they didn’t accept my identification papers and denied me the ITIN, does that mean I don’t exist as well? Does a country exist if the UN says it does? Does it still exist if the US says it doesn’t? If we decide a country doesn’t exist, does that justify treating the people on the land that’s not recognized as a country in an unjust way and getting away with it? Does that make the life I had justifiable? I really don’t know how to answer these questions.

Before dealing with this, the most complicated thing I had to deal with growing up is that “the jews hate us and want to kill us all” (Don’t judge me yet, I will explain why we say jews later) because all i’ve seen from them is violence. Never met an Israeli who’s not armed until later when I was at college at some startup weekend event I attended in Israel (And hated because I couldn’t work well with all the journalists asking me what I think of the peace process. I didn’t know how that’s related to startup weekend).

I had horrible memories as a kid, and most of my checkpoint experiences as an adult is just complete and utter humiliation (I wrote about one when I applied for my visa) or Israeli Soldiers randomly choosing people to arrest or breaking into houses (including mine), that was all I knew and didn’t really think of the other side or if there’s really another side except for people always armed and trying to kill us. I didn’t even bother to look or learn about it. I didn’t see the point then. But I also didn’t know that our side is unknown or not recognized by others. Maybe it’s easier this way. I don’t know, I just know that I still have no idea how someone can deal with such a situation. I know the conflict won’t be solved any time soon, that’s if it will ever be solved.

Going back to using the term jews when we talk about Israelis, I believe it’s just people being ignorant. Palestinians refer to Israelis as jews, I hardly hear the word Israelis from the older generation, I only hear it from the younger one, and I grew up hearing it constantly referring to the Israelis. I had a discussion the other day with my baby sister “9 years old”, when she was expressing her fears of “the jews” trying to kill my dad (I don’t remember what happened exactly to make her feel this way, it might be one of the incidents of breaking in random houses in our neighborhood by IDF, it also happened to our house the other night, but luckily she is a heavy sleeper!). After comforting her, I was trying to explain the difference between Israelis and Jews, I told her about the different religions, and explained how Israeli is the correct word to use, but all I got is her frustration of “too much information” to learn on the spot. I am gonna have to talk more about it I guess ( Though I prefer our conversations when she tells me about her plans of inventing a time machine).

My awesome baby sister, who I miss so much ❤

Back to my ITIN, some people, including my parents recommended issuing a Jordanian passport, you get to apply for one if one of your immediate family members have one, even if they don’t have the Jordanian citizenship. I was way too frustrated last year to do anything about it, or to explore other options, after emailing different parties about the situation. I don’t like politics and how much it complicates our lives, but it’s something we need to deal with and I am gonna have to face it again this year. Not sure if I will have same result as last year, since it was a new challenge I never thought I would have to face, but I am hoping I won’t need to rely on having papers from another country that I have never lived in, or had family members from. I think I would like to have a decent explanation that makes sense on why I was granted a US visa and a California ID then denied a tax number despite using same documents to prove my identity.