Ramzy Baroud is Palestinian. He will always be Palestinian. And despite his U.S. citizenship, he’s always reminded that he’s from Gaza when he travels abroad and uses his U.S. passport—which still indicates “Gaza Strip” as his place of birth. He still gets questioned constantly at airports, he says. Just a few months ago, the Palestinian recalls security agents in Vancouver, Canada, stopping him on his way back from a trip to promote a new book, and asked him what his nationality was before coming to the U.S.
He didn’t have one, he told them.
Baroud arrived in Seattle in 1994. A 22-year-old Palestinian refugee, he enrolled in community college and eventually transferred to the University of Washington. After graduation, he penned a series of books about the Middle Eastern conflict; his fourth, The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story, came out in February. His three kids were born here. But now, he considers leaving.
With president Donald Trump announcing his plans to finally move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem—which every president since 1998 has put off—and the overall growing hostility toward Palestinians, Baroud feels less attached to the U.S. than ever before.
Most countries recognize Palestine as a nation—the U.S. is an exception. That’s what leaves Baroud, in a sense, rootless and without a country. Even as a U.S. citizen, he can’t return to Gaza to visit his sister, nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts left there. Once you leave, it’s almost impossible to return.
“The place where you feel like you belong, you can’t be there,” he says. “The places where you are, you feel like you don’t belong.”
The United Nations’ reports on Israel’s violations of international law essentially have little sway unless the global power, the U.S., decides it’s going to act on it. The U.S.’s financial and public support for Israel leaves stateless citizens like Baroud thinking that it’s only going to get worse, not better, for the refugees in occupied territories.
Baroud knows about the Israeli violence and poverty in refugee camps—he’s lived it. He grew up in a single-room house made of hardened mud. When friends would ask Baroud’s father why he wouldn’t just sell the house for more money and buy a new place, his father would say, “I don’t need money. I already have a treasure.” That common saying stuck. Because years later, it became something like folklore to the residents. In 2014, one of Baroud’s friends called to tell him nearby children believed there was treasure buried underneath the house and had frantically been digging to find it. Baroud told his friend to tell him to stop looking—there was nothing. His father had been talking about his kids.
Baroud’s own children want to rediscover their Palestinian roots. They’re learning Arabic, attending services at the mosque, studying the Koran. Ironically he has President Trump to thank for that.