Palestinians in US feel pull of homeland. Palestinians who make their home in the US still maintain a strong ethnic identity. If anything, it is growing. A four-part series starts today.
HAZEM MONSOUR is an American. He is also a Palestinian. Born in the West Bank village of Deir Dibwan when Palestine was under the British mandate, Mr. Monsour has been an American citizen since birth. He has lived in this country for more than 30 years. His father was an American citizen who lived alternately in his native Deir Dibwan and the United States. He brought Hazem here as a teen-ager.Skip to next paragraph
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``This is my home. This is my country,'' says the younger Monsour, who owns a jewelry store in Albuquerque. He also serves as a deputy with a local reserve sheriff's force, and often goes by the American name Mike. He is nevertheless proud of his Palestinian identity.
Monsour speaks throughout the US for the Palestinian cause, particularly since his arrest by Israeli authorities during a 1984 visit to his mother in Deir Dibwan. Despite a three-week imprisonment, the Israelis never brought charges.
The incident reminded Monsour dramatically that he is a Palestinian. ``I felt nationalism more so than at any other time in my life,'' he says.
Monsour's dual love for America and his original homeland is typical of the vast majority of Palestinians in this country. They number somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000.
The degree of assimilation among Palestinians varies widely, but there seems to be little variation in the degree of their Palestinian consciousness. Monsour sees no contradiction in being at once loyal to the US and an advocate for a foreign cause.
Most Palestinian Americans have immigrated since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. They tend deliberately to maintain a Palestinian political consciousness.
Those Palestinians who immigrated earlier, particularly those who came before 1948, seem to be better assimilated and somewhat less political. But even they tend to be active in Palestinian church or mosque groups and Palestinian social clubs that help maintain a distinct ethnic identity.
For the minority who fail to assimilate, the reason is sometimes extreme cultural alienation. ``Ibrahim'' (not his real name), a Los Angeles physician, socializes only with other Palestinians and sends his children home to the West Bank for schooling during what he calls the ``dangerous'' early teen-age years. He worries that his son, now a high school senior here, will make too many American friends.
``This is what is going to change his mentality and make him do against his father,'' Ibrahim says.
For others, the alienation is political, arising out of a strong sense of Palestinian nationalism combined with a cynicism about the US and its support for Israel. True alienation is not the norm, however. Few Palestinians are happy with US policy in the Middle East, and few are not Palestinian nationalists. But most have been able to integrate themselves easily into American society.
Hazem Monsour thinks of himself as an American first. Others juggle their identities differently, considering themselves Palestinians first but still loyal Americans.
``Just by being here,'' says ``Rafiq'' (not his real name), a San Francisco grocer, ``we mix, we pay taxes, we speak the language, we vote. We are taking part in the social culture - in social aspects that do not negate the fact that we are Palestinians first.''
Palestinian Americans - of whatever degree of loyalty - express almost universal disappointment with the US attitude toward them and the Arab-Israeli situation. Many have experienced prejudice.
Essa Sackllah, a restaurateur in Houston, born in the US of Palestinian parents, says he was often hassled growing up in Dearborn, Mich. ``We were always called the sand niggers or the camel jockeys, that sort of thing. But God blessed me with a lot of size,'' he says, smiling. ``So I didn't have much trouble.''
For others, the prejudice has been subtle - a tendency on the part of Anglo-Saxon Americans not to allow others to join in fully.
Muhammad Busailah, a retired Reynolds Tobacco executive in Los Angeles who has lived in the US for 31 years, says, ``When I came here, I came to be an American.''
But he finds himself categorized as an Arab. ``I'm a veteran, I vote, I served on juries, but I'm not accepted by the society.''
Whatever their disappointment with the US politically or culturally, the majority of Palestinian Americans are active in the political system at least to the extent that they vote, seemingly in higher numbers than their non-Arab fellow citizens.
Jesse Jackson's candidacy this year sparked a great deal of interest among Palestinians because of his support for a Palestinian state. But a surprising number of Palestinians are Republican loyalists, despite the administration's record of support for Israel.
Balancing a Palestinian and an American identity can be difficult for young people. Many cannot cope adequately with the kind of stereotyping that identifies all Palestinians as terrorists or with other kinds of ethnic prejudice.
But most youngsters have been able to strike a balance. Grocer Rafiq's 15-year-old daughter explains, ``I was raised to be in the middle, between those who totally reject the fact that they're Palestinian and those who are so totally involved that they don't fit in here.''
What would most Palestinian Americans do if an independent Palestinian state were created in the West Bank and Gaza? A great many say they would go to there to live, either immediately or upon retirement. They do not see this as abandoning their American identity.
Palestinians are grateful for the experience of democracy gained in the US. Many say they would expect to translate that experience to a new Palestinian state.
A weekly series. Next Friday: Life in exile.