"You speak Hebrew, and you're not Jewish?"
The surprise in the man's voice alarmed me, despite the fact that most people respond that way upon learning that yes, I speak Hebrew and no, I am not Jewish. In this case, my last name made it obvious that not only am I not Jewish, I am Arab-American.
"Yes," I responded. "I learned in high school. It was taught just like any other foreign language."
"But isn't this a bit...unusual?"
"I suppose so." My insides tightened. This was no ordinary conversation, it was prefaced by three hours of questioning and searching that occured before I could board my El Al flight to Israel. What little I knew of life in Israel didn't prepare me for my first visit. I felt shocked, and angry. I expected my knowledge of Hebrew would be an asset, a sign that I had opened myself to Israeli culture in a gesture of understanding and good will. O.K., I was ignorant, and wrong.
It was the fall of 1989 and I spent four months travelling in Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and Jerusalem. Part of the reason for my trip was a search for myself and my identity; for communities where I might feel at home. Identity is a complicated subject, and it is always hard for me to say who I am in a few words. I identify myself as a living being, a human being, a woman, a lesbian, a Syrian/Irish-American, and a feminist. My feeling that there is rarely room for me to claim all of who I am increased on this trip. The most noticeable parts of my identity were those which made me different from the people around me, and people usually viewed these differences as negative. For example, in mainstream Israel our common humanity felt less important than the fact that I am an Arab, an American, a lesbian, and a feminist. Among Arabs, my Arab identity came into question because I am part Irish, and an American; my feminism and lesbianism also seemed to set me apart. I don't believe it is my identity that creates these divisions,