Gina Wanless, Displaced Palestinian
Interviewed by Shanaz Deen virtually, 07/23/22
Transcribed by Shanaz Deen, 07/24/22
(00:00) Shanaz Deen: Hi, this is Shanaz Deen interviewing Gina Wanless on July 23, 2022. This oral history is taking place over zoom. So why don’t you start by telling me where you’re from, where you were born and what your childhood was like?
(00:17) Gina Wanless: So I was born in London. And we stayed there until I was about probably three and a half, four. My parents got divorced. And so my father stayed in the UK. I ended up moving back to Jerusalem with my mother. Because she didn’t want to stay in the UK at that point. She wanted to be around her family and feel comforted by that. And so we moved back to Jerusalem. And my father ended up moving to the States because he was working with a computer company got up… that no longer exists, but he basically transitioned from the UK to the US because of that.
(01:07) Shanaz Deen: So tell me a bit about what it was like living in Jerusalem — some of your earliest memories. What was it like being with your maternal family there?
(01:16) Gina Wanless: Oh my… I think my best memories are probably driving to and fro from the West Bank. It never… later it became more of an actual ordeal, but at that point in the I want to say early 90s, It wasn’t too difficult to get to and fro the West Bank, at least it didn’t seem to be from a child’s point of view. It was always nice to be around my mom’s aunt’s family because they had a really nice property in Ramallah and they had a lot of land. And so she would plant different things. And they had olive trees. And so we would help with that. And my grandmother actually lived on the Mount of Olives, so overlooking the Old City. We could walk to her house from the Old City, which was always fun, and so we would visit her a lot, obviously. We actually lived with her for the first I want to say maybe a year before my mom found an apartment and house. So we lived in my grandmother while she was still looking for a job and a house and all that kind of stuff for herself and for me. I have very vivid memories of my grandmother making creme caramel because that was her favorite dessert. And so there was always creme caramel in the fridge no matter what, you know. And she made this chocolate cake that was… we ended up finding out was a very old American recipe because she had missionary neighbors. So she made this very decadent chocolate cake and uses mayonnaise instead of eggs. So it’s really, it’s a really interesting cake. It doesn’t require a lot of effort, and it was always ready to make because as long as you had a jar of mayonnaise and some flour and cocoa powder, you’re good. So food memories are important, which is really strange because my grandmother doesn’t she is no…by no means the greatest cook, but she learned a handful of recipes that were her recipes.
(03:31) Shanaz Deen: Yeah, I love hearing people talk about food, it always comes up…some of the best memories. I’m wondering, could you describe a bit about the different neighborhoods that you spent time and you mentioned Ramallah and the Old City? Could you, yeah, describe a bit more about your memories there?
(03:49) Gina Wanless: Um, okay, so we ended up living in what I guess is Palestinian suburbia of the Old City and Jerusalem being Beit Hanina. And so, that translates to just a sprawl further away from the nuclear Old City and it, you know, had more houses not everything was confined not…you know, you could have a house and yard you, you know, could do all these things. The houses in the Old City are very much all stacked on top of each other it being such a small confined space. And there, I mean, it’s very Syrian, or I guess Middle Eastern in general style with lots of courtyards, you know, all you see is walls and all that kind of thing, but the moment you step through a door somewhere you’re…you know, there’s a courtyard there’s a fountain or beautiful trees. You know, the house is built around that it’s all very picturesque, but you don’t see it from outside so you have no idea all you see is just as [indescipherable] door and wall. The Mount of Olives was a little further away from the Old City probably a 10-minute walk, if you’re walking briskly, probably 15 to 20 if you were just taking it at an amble. And when my grandmother first when we first went there, there wasn’t a lot of people that lived there and actually knew most of the people in that neighborhood and ended up going to school with a lot of those…same the kids or the people that lived in that neighborhood. And it was very, it was very safe and family oriented. And so you know, everyone would be playing out and I guess, the yard in front of the houses, and we everyone would look out for each other. And it was pretty safe. I don’t know if that answers the question?
(05:41) Shanaz Deen: Yeah, definitely. Tell me a bit more about school because you were there basically up until college, right?
(05:47) Gina Wanless: Yes, I was there for all of…I think I went to primary school in England. Yeah, I probably went to, K-4, K-5 in England, which I have no memory of, really, except for some boy that was very strange. And I went to Jerusalem school. Yeah, it was weird. He would suck on his hands. And he rubbed all the skin off of it. It’s one thing I remember at that. I don’t know.
(06:14) Shanaz Deen: That would be something to remember. Yeah.
(06:16) Gina Wanless: It was gross at the time. But yeah, I went to Jerusalem school from first grade, basically, until I graduated from high school. And that was fun. It was definitely more of a challenge for the teachers that came to teach at the school as opposed to kids who are at the school themselves.
(6:39) Shanaz Deen: Why do you say that?
(06:41) Gina Wanless: Because I feel like the teachers came into a situation not having a full picture of all the facts of the place they’re going into. So all these teachers were coming as missionary teachers. And of course, they’re coming from the US, and it was American school, and they’re, you know, here to help, you know, in all lessons — convert the heathens. They don’t realize that, you know, a good chunk of the population that can afford private schools, which is what that was, are mostly Christian and mostly, you know, come from educated family backgrounds, and they’re not heathens in any way. Also, because it was one of the only English speaking schools, it was also a pretty big, I’m not gonna say hub, but it was the alternative to America…to a different school in the area. So we had a lot of foreign students, we had a lot of diplomats for people who work for the UN or for the EU, or, you know, they had all those kinds of kids there, so not necessarily, I think, the native plight, that they had been indoctrinated in their churches when they first came over. So I think reality was a different thing for them. But I enjoyed school. It was fun. It’s definitely very religious. But we tried to ignore that as much as possible, just because it didn’t mean anything to us. That type of, I guess, evangelical Christianity didn’t really have, any meaning to our lives. So it didn’t…it bled through a little bit, but it wasn’t anything that touched you and change you in an essential way, because all of us had our own background. And my mother, my mother’s family aren’t very religious to begin with, but my mother would go, my grandmother would go to Mass a lot, I think, more as a social activity really than a religious activity. But she enjoyed it. And she kept us all kind of contract with all went to Easter mass and Christmas Mass in Bethlehem, you know. We did all that for her. But we weren’t necessarily very religious. And the school definitely tried to rein you into that they tried to have Bible studies, they had tried to have activities where we would pray beforehand, where you they’d have Church Night activities, where you come to the sermon, and then you play games and hang out and socialize afterwards. So they definitely tried as much as possible with that, but I don’t think most of it stuck for a lot of people. And then people obviously you have the other side of the coin people who are not even Christian to begin with, who you know, are pretty offended at this point of view of you’re coming to a country that you know, nothing of and are coming to tell me that I’m wrong. Cool, you know. I don’t know, it felt very tone deaf, especially. Especially at the time because of the time and even now it’s tone deaf.
(09:36) Shanaz Deen: Do you have any memories of maybe your peers who came from Muslim or non-Christian background sometimes at odds with the teachers?
(09:46) Gina Wanless: Definitely. We would definitely push back even more even the Christian kids…and the Muslim kids, we push back on a lot of the stuff that they were saying and we challenged them And you’re so basically you’re saying this is wrong. So basically, this is what’s happening. So this is what you are telling us. So I’m standing in front of you, and you’re telling me that I’m going to hell and that kind of thing. And for us, it wasn’t necessarily, or for I don’t know, for my Muslim friends, but it definitely felt like we were challenged and challenging these teachers more. And they had no answer for us at that point. Because what do you say to a kid who’s afraid to you saying, really, you think I’m gonna go to hell, just because my religion isn’t your religion? That’s really your point of view on this? Aren’t you supposed to love everybody? Isn’t this, you know, doesn’t God love everybody, really God’s so limited? And so there was a lot of antagonism from the students towards a lot of the teachers because of that. And I remember very clearly, I think in 10th grade, one of the teachers who was very full of himself, started some sort of spiel in that vein, and he very got quickly taken down a few pegs by all of the students in his class and got well they put into place. We didn’t take that lying down.
(11:21) Shanaz Deen: That’s refreshing to hear students push back especially, I don’t think I had that confidence in high school.
(11:33) Gina Wanless: That’s refreshing to hear students push back especially, I don’t think I had that confidence in high school.
(11:51) Shanaz Deen: Thinking of conflicting with authority, so you mentioned earlier that, at least for the early 90s, it was pretty easy to be in and out of the West Bank, kind of travel across….
(12:04) Gina Wanless: It definitely seems harder. As I got older, it seemed to get harder. So maybe, I don’t know, as a child that didn’t seem like a big deal. It never, it never felt like we were waiting for a very long time to get into the West Bank. But as I got older, more and more checkpoints and more and more things became more difficult.
(12:20) Shanaz Deen: Yeah, I guess what would be your earliest memory of not only the checkpoints, but of the occupation? And what was your first initial impression of it? Did you know immediately what was happening? Did you have conversations with your family?
(12:39) Gina Wanless: I think probably the earliest time that I realized that we were different, or we were being treated differently, was at the airport, not necessarily a checkpoint. Because at a checkpoint, if you’re in a car, and you’re all family…and so even though my last name was different from my mom’s last name, my name appears in her blue ID underneath, like, I’m her daughter. So I’m her daughter through a divorce. So if you’re in the same car, and you’re all related, they don’t make anybody get out of the car to walk through the checkpoint, so there’s some level of not feeling necessarily so much. I think the first one I really felt it was…the one of the first times I traveled by myself as a child, I was an unaccompanied minor. And my mom wanted to go with me, through the security to sit at the gates and let me do that. And they absolutely refused. They took her aside, they searched her thoroughly, they took all of my luggage and searched that thoroughly. They were very harsh to a child who doesn’t understand what’s going on and doesn’t know why they’re being treated that way. And so I remember being on the plane just after that had happened, and we were taking off and it was really weird. Why did that just happen? I didn’t necessarily know. I didn’t talk about it, or I didn’t know how to talk about it as a kid. But as we got older, it became there were other instances of just walking around either Jerusalem or you know, being at a checkpoint or doing other things or I started to pay attention to okay, we’re at a checkpoint. Oh, they’re making us open our bag. They’re asking all these questions. Some people are getting waved through and some people aren’t — why is that? What’s happening here? And it just became apparent that there really wasn’t a reason why some people got waved through and some people didn’t. It was more of a what level of humiliation when I like to wreak upon whichever individual I feel like or I’m in the mood for that day really is the IDFs general MO. there’s no real reason why they pick certain people to do things. It’s just like, oh, yeah, you’re here, okay, I’m in a bad mood, I’m gonna, you know, make you wait for the next four hours of your life and humiliate you as much as possible. And one of the last times I went back to Jerusalem, actually, recently, there was a woman, I was being searched at the airport, so I was leaving. And there were two women. And there, one was obviously just… she was training her. And she was training her and how to be humiliating to another human being. And to watch that I was like, I looked at her and I was like, I don’t know how you sleep at night. How do you guys go home and sleep at night? You’re imparting this knowledge on her to do this to me? That’s normal? Okay, cool.
(15:50) Shanaz Deen: Yeah. It just reminds me of the videos I’ve seen on TikTok or the internet of really just young people being so indoctrinated into the IDF.
(16:04) Gina Wanless: And be like, they’re taught that we’re, you know, horrible people that were this, we’re that we have tails and, you know, horns or whatever it is that we’re taught, and they don’t know any better. They’re also, you know, it’s a cult basically, at some level.
(16:20) Shanaz Deen: I’m curious of what these conversations with your friends look like probably more towards high school. You know, what does Palestinian history class look like in that context?
(16:35) Gina Wanless: Well, funny that you mentioned that. Because the school that we went to was an American missionary school, we didn’t really take Palestinian history. We took American history, we took European history, we briefly covered some of the Middle East’s history very, very briefly, we didn’t actually learn a whole lot about our own history at school. Our own history, it was learned at home. We didn’t, that wasn’t a thing. And if…I, unfortunately, did not get a lot of that at home, because my mother was number one not a very good communicator at the time and had her own issues that she was dealing with, and basically, just wanted to get through day by day, but when things would come up on the news, we would talk about them. And in high school, I don’t know if Zaina told you this. But from about ninth grade, almost to 10th grade, she came and stayed with me, because going through the checkpoints was getting so difficult that her and her family could not… they’d have to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to get to school on seven, right. And it just was not sustainable. And so what ended up happening was that her mother and father rented a very small apartment in Jerusalem, and stayed there with her youngest brother. And then their daughters basically lived with their friends for a year in different places. And that was I think, probably the most impactful thing to me in high school was that having to watch my best friend struggle to get across the checkpoint, even though she had a blue ID even though she was half British, just like me even you know, they just because her father was Palestinian because she had a Palestinian very predominant, Arab classic name. There was so much more discrimination wreaked upon her and that was hard that was hard to watch, that was hard to be part of, that was hard to…one of the things that I came out of high school with and still sometimes do is I had nightmares of walking through graveyards and seeing all the people that I knew on tombstones because you never know what day your friends weren’t going to come to the checkpoint because something had triggered the you know, police or the soldier and they got shot. What if they took it one level too far and decided to beat the crap out of you know, you never knew what the mood was going to be. That was…That was hard.
(19:35) Shanaz Deen: Yeah, I don’t even want to say I can imagine because I really can’t. And I also forgot to mention earlier that we can pause at any time. These are difficult memories to go through. But super grateful that there’s enough trust in this Zoom Room to kind of unpack some of those. But let’s change topics just slightly. Tell me about your decision to come to the States for college, what motivated that?
(20:13) Gina Wanless: For college, it was truly as simple as wanting to swap parents for a period of time. I love my mother very dearly, but we didn’t get along very well at that point. And I didn’t think that I didn’t think that being in Europe was for me. And honestly, I wanted to be in a space that I was at least somewhat familiar with. And I’ve been going to the States to Austin, since I was probably 15-14. And so I was very familiar with it. And it didn’t seem like such a huge leap to go to college there. Because, you know, my father would be 30 minutes away from me, it was it was a culture and an area that I was sort of familiar with and comfortable with. And I just was like, you know, I just want to hang out my dad a little bit more, I want to get to know him more. And so I decided to apply to the schools that were in his area. And that’s, that’s really as simple as that decision was, for me. He had also, at that point, got his citizenship, and applied for my green card, so my college tuition wasn’t anything outrageous, because I paid as if I was a local, so that worked out for everybody. And the college was a struggle. College, I mean, as much as I say that I’d come here and been here for my summers living here was a whole other kit and caboodle. I struggled because our high school was super small. We, you know, our graduating class was 24 people. And, you know, transferring into a class of 500, who are you nothing but a number on a piece of paper to you know, the professor. And that was really hard. And so my first year in college, I did really badly to the point where I was put on academic probation. And I decided to take a semester off and go back home to Jerusalem, regroup, and then came back and did all the summer classes of all the classes that I’d failed and everything was fine and aced that because the classes were you know, 10 people. It was better after that. But first year was definitely a culture shock. It was definitely hard. Didn’t really have any friends only made maybe two friends didn’t really have much friends in college though either because just different breed of people. But the person who I was best friends with in college is you know, now living five minutes away from me and I’m the godmother to her two daughters to her two twins worked out.
(22:50) Shanaz Deen: Yeah. Were you living on campus during these years? You said you were 30 minutes away.
(22:56) Gina Wanless: I was living on campus. My dad [indescipherable].
(23:00) Shanaz Deen: I guess could you talk a bit more about the culture shock of adjusting to college life, American life during that time?
(23:09) Gina Wanless: American life I feel maybe if I had lived here at a different point in my life. Definitely coming to the US at a later point, like now is different than what I first experienced. I think being thrust into a college experience where everyone’s kind of on the same page about how transient this time in this process is. There was a lot of fakeness that seem to exude from a lot of people and I’m not trying to say that I felt like the entire American population was fake, but it felt pretty fake to me. All the things that mattered to different people were not things that mattered to me necessarily they were something that were just really inconsequential things just…a culture of drinking and partying and being a college was never my scene. It was…people tried to get to know you and even just the way that they approach a conversation was very superficial and I think being in a space where you literally known everybody around you since you’ve grown up everything is just instantly deeper to a level but you don’t have to necessarily explain yourself and I think I had a hard time, not gonna say presenting myself, but just being around people that I didn’t necessarily share anything with. So, you know, I found it really hard to talk to a lot of people and talk to them because they had all lived in their own bubbles, since they were children there, there was a lot of people that they knew from college that they had been to high school or middle school with. And it was the same process, but just taken out of a different bubble. So you know, everyone had their own bubble that they were living in. And it felt really hard to relate because I didn’t have anything in common with most people. So I think that’s probably I struggled with that a lot.
(25:25) Shanaz Deen: Yeah, where did you find a support system? Did you talk to your dad a lot, since…
(25:30) Gina Wanless: just talked about that a lot. My dad came to visit me three times a week almost. We would hang out, we would get dinner on a Monday, he would sometimes come down on a Wednesday, and then he would always come on Saturday or Sunday. And we would take a drive, we would go shopping, we would go to bookstores together, we’d get you know, lunch or dinner somewhere we would, you know, we really got very close during college for me and which was really generally something when I originally wanted. That was one of the main reasons why I was there make to me anyway, was to just to get to know my dad a little better, and it was good. I don’t know that I necessarily found other support systems really until I became friends with the friend that I mentioned earlier. She grew up in Houston, and a lot of her friends came from mixed families. She is probably as American as American could be. You know, she’s got red hair. She’s pale-skinned. She’s you know, of Italian dissents. But she’s American as apple pie, really. But she had a broader view of the world because of the people that she had interacted with. And so when I said to her I’m Palestinian, she knew what that meant, because she had friends who were also Palestinian or Egyptian, or, you know, from the Middle East and so she’s like, oh, cool, I didn’t know that. She asked the question. And also, who are you and where have you been? And basically, and so there was a connection formed there because of that, because of her, her own background in I guess, being exposed to different things. Whereas a lot of other people hadn’t been exposed to it, you know, no fault themselves or anything about that, but they just didn’t know. And it’s hard to explain, some things are hard to explain off of that.
(26:01) Shanaz Deen: Absolutely. So what happened after graduation, take me through your timeline.
(27:36) Gina Wanless: So after graduation, I, I really enjoyed being around my dad and being there. But I, in my head, I knew that living in the States at that point was not for me, I didn’t want to live there. Didn’t want to work there. My anthropology professor was very disappointed. He was kind of hoping that I would stay on and continue under him. And I was like, No, I don’t, I don’t want to stay here and I’m going to move back to Jerusalem, I’m going to see if I can get a job at a museum there. I’m just not, I don’t want to be in the US at all, for any reason. So I moved back. And I ended up posting on Facebook, something like, oh, I’m going from full-time student to a full-time unemployed, it’s great. And within two days, I had a job. Somebody had reached out and said, Hey, and this was during the recession. , this was like 2009, early 2010 when nobody had a job. And we’re always here in the US. And you know, a friend reached out, he’s like, hey, my dad works for travel agency. He’s looking for basically a personal assistant. You know, if you wanted to do that, while you were looking for whatever other job it is that you wanted to do, you know, he’d be more than happy to have you. And this was also this was another friend who had lived in the same neighborhood as my grandmother. And I had known and so I knew his father and I knew him. I knew his whole family. And I’m like, okay, cool. It was cool, check out this is gonna, we’ll see what happens. So I did that for a minute. And I very quickly realized that the Palestinian discrimination card was being played heavily across everything, even though I didn’t present as Palestinian my last name is not Middle Eastern anyway, and I have a British passport and but they, it’s like…forgive me, but it’s like, they could smell it. They just knew that there was something other. And so then they’d be like, Well, what family are you from? What’s your Father? who is your mother and of course, that everything unraveled from there, right? But I couldn’t get the job in any museum in Jerusalem, to even mop the floor or clean the glass. It was just not something that was gonna happen. And so I ended up working at this person’s tourist agency for a really long time, and then ended up moving to a different tourist agency. And I was like, you know, I actually kinda don’t know that I like the administration side of this. But I’ve, you know, I love history and archaeology and all that kind of stuff. Why don’t I apply for a tour guide license. And then I could be the person that, you know, walks around your city says, Hey, Jesus, led there and passed up there, he died here, he did this bit, whatever, I’ll be that person. I’m totally fine with that. I’m really good. No, obviously, I don’t like talking at all. And I went to go apply for that. And they had. So it’s a very long process to apply for a tourist agent, or tourist or tour guide licensed in Israel. I mean, it’s it’s not easy anywhere else in the world, either. But it seems there are extra hoops that you had to go through for the Israeli tourism license. And, of course, luck of my luck. At the time that I had decided to do this, there had been a new policy, that wasn’t a lot. But it was more like a very recommended decree that they didn’t want people who didn’t have Israeli passports to be tourist guides. And I remember applying to this was also one of my classmates that I’d gone to high school with. And him and I applied together. And we studied for the test together, and we did everything together. And they ended up taking him and not me. And when they called and said, you know, they broke the news. And I was like, oh, can I ask why? You know, I’m not being considered for this right now. And they were like, oh, we think that you’re too young. And I kind of paused and I was like, what you’re taking somebody who I went to high school with. So that’s clearly can’t be true. And the woman just was like, sorry, it’s just didn’t work out, hung up, basically. And I didn’t at the time know that that classmate had an Israeli passport. And so when I called him and asked him, and I was like, What did you do? How did you get in? What, what trip did you use? And he was like, I didn’t I don’t we don’t want to talk about this. But we have Israeli citizenship. And I was like, Oh, okay. Cool. Well, good luck with that. I mean, I didn’t, I didn’t know it. At the time, it was kind of like, well, that’s great. Um, so that was really disheartening, to be honest. And I kind of like took a hard look at what I was doing. And then also, you know, do from above, right? The people who I was working with, the reason they hired me was because one of their favorite people who was working with them decided to go to Germany and try his luck there. And about after a year and a half, almost two years, he decided that it wasn’t for him, and he was going to come back. And so they basically let me go to hire him back. Which is, you know, fine, but it’s kind of shitty. And I would just kind of probably took a couple of weeks and like was, what is it that I want to do? What is it that I could do that I am somewhat drawn to that I can do for an actual job, and that I’m not going to beat my brain down, Jessica, because the nine to five is not for me. And so it ended up being food. Because I had a lot of supper clubs, basically, almost at my house would be like, hey, everyone come over and try out some new recipes. And it all stemmed from, I think, one of the first Christmas parties that I had. And then it was just a friend’s Christmas party where we just, you know, I made a lot of food, if one part drinks play a couple of games. And I was like, it’s kind of fun to do this again. And so we ended up doing it a lot. And I ended up inviting a lot of people to random things, and all these different people would bring other friends and show up. And so it sort of became it became a separate club kind of thing. You know, as long as you’re bringing alcohol on. I don’t like I’ll cook if you’re somebody else, please. I’m no problem. So yeah, so it kind of evolved from there. And then I was actually going to apply to culinary school back in the US because I was like, this is crap. I can’t you know, I don’t know if I want to stay in Jerusalem right now. This is our first feeling very demoralized about a lot of different things. And so I decided to apply to culinary schools in the US. And while I was doing that, my mom and I took a trip to Jordan to visit some family who lived there. And they heard about what I was doing, and they were like, Oh, why are you applying to the US? There’s a fancy new European culinary school. It’s just opened up down the road. Why? You got to look at it. No, luck has a way of coming around. And we did. And it was so fancy. And it was so nice like it would just been built. And it was everything, all the stainless steel was still shiny with gorgeous. In a kitchen, that’s really important because you can’t ever keep anything shiny and clean for very long. It instantly like goes away. But you know, beginning is always nice. And so I ended up applying to the culinary school there and I got in there and I got a discount because I applied like local even though I wasn’t but they were like, oh, well, your mother has a Jordanian passport. And so we’ll accept that and blah, blah, blah, and ended up working out really well. And I ended up was probably one of like most emotional, not most but one of the higher emotional days where I called my dad and I was like, Dad, I’m not coming to the US. I’m gonna stay here and go to culinary school in Jordan. And he was like, Okay, well, it sounds like it’s a better degree. And you won’t be like, because I was planning to take out loans to go to culinary school. And he’s like, so you won’t be in debt. That’s great. No, he’s like, that’s always a good thing. You don’t want to do that if you don’t have to. So I ended up living in Jordan for two years after that and going to culinary school. And then going back to Jerusalem, actually after culinary school and working at the American colony hotel for also about two years. And pausing for questions.
(36:33) Shanaz Deen: Yes. So you went back to them two years, and then but you’re in Texas now. So just walk us through that.
(36:42) Gina Wanless: So I worked for the hotel for a while. And that was pretty good. And then I think this was in the end of 2014. And most of 2015, my grandmother went downhill in a hurry. And she took a trip to Jordan and something happened and she fell and she broke her… in her right shoulder blade. And she had to you know, be very careful with that. And then a couple of months after she ended up having a stroke. And they found her on the floor and her house and like Beth like basically break down the door. And it just t snowballed and she just got sick and unable to take care of herself very quickly. And so everyone in the family kind of stepped in to do what they could. But because I had the most flexible schedule, and didn’t have necessarily an office job. I was the one that was always more available. And so I would help, you know, chauffeur her around a doctor’s appointments, I would pick up the medication, I would, you know, drive to get my mom because I would end up having the car. And so we had one car between us. And I would get my mom from work when we would go after she had the stroke. She stayed in the hospital for a really long time. So you know, I would go to my mom’s and we go straight to hospital, we’d spend time in hospital. And then she had to go through rehabilitation just to be able to like, use her arms again, because the left side and the right side, we’re not so great. And when she passed away in October of 2015 it was it was a relief. Because she was no longer in pain. She was no longer suffering. She was I guess at peace, I hope I’d like to think. But it also meant that nobody needed me for anything. And a lot of the violence in 2015 had really been escalating to the point where a lot I don’t know if fewer members are aware of this, but there were a lot of stabbings that happened in the street basically. And that all happened in front of my work. Most of that was either somewhere on the same road where I worked on so going to work or coming home from work was really stressful. Because I didn’t look enough of one or the other. And I was always really worried that I was gonna get jumped by a group of you know, really religious or fanatic Israelis or unfortunately Palestinians we’re gonna see me as a you know, lighter skinned blonde person and be like, oh, she’s from the other side and also decide to attack and I remember I didn’t I didn’t really leave my house. I didn’t go out and socialize. I didn’t go and do anything. And I didn’t do anything because I was scared. I was just like I don’t know you said but you But I don’t want anyone to, like stop me and like harassing me for any reason. So I’m just not gonna look into anything. And that was that was really stressful. And so after my grandmother passed, I was like, you know, nobody needs me. I need to get out of here right now, I really could use a break. I don’t know if I’m gonna stay. But I definitely know that I don’t want to be here right now. And I ended up moving to Austin with no plan to stay in Austin mind you. The plan was to go to Miami and find fancy hotel and work there and do all the food scene stuff and but I ended up not liking the culture of Miami too much. It felt very, I don’t know, party-ish, which was not again, my vibe. So my dad was like, why are you trying to do all this stuff stay here with me, I thought this you know, got a pretty big house, you’ve got your room is all set up. He’s like, get a job here. Stay here for a while I live with me until you you know, have to or want to move else. Why are you rushing the call because I don’t want to be a burden on you. Pregnant. So um, so I ended up staying living with my dad for about five years. And at law, six years almost, I moved into the apartment that I’m living in right now. almost exactly a year ago. Independent. But every day was difficult for close to three and a half years because I would call my mom every morning to see how she was. And she would emotionally dump on me every morning. And you know, she just lost her mother. Her only daughter had moved away. She was feeling very lonely and very upset and very event. And she didn’t understand why I was trying to get away from everything. She’s like, you know, why would you move from somewhere that you have family? Why would you do this? And then like, I don’t know. I don’t know if my mother ever felt the occupation necessarily in the way that I felt it. She feels it now to be sure. But I don’t think she really had too much stuff into it before because it because of where we live, we didn’t actually have to go through any checkpoints for any reason unless, you know, we wanted to get into the West Bank. And so her day-to-day life was all in Jerusalem. And so she has vitiligo and if you know what that is, it’s like a melanin draining skin. Yeah, she was almost the same skin tone as you when she was younger. And by that time, she’s almost sure why she basically looks Russian. Because she’s still got super dark hair and dark eyes. And oddly enough dark eyebrows. Even though the aren’t the hair on her arms and legs are white, which is weird. So she looks very Russian. So like nobody really harasses her or talks to her about anything of anything, they approach her and start speaking to her in Russian. Which is really weird. So I don’t think she felt it as much. I think and I had a lot of friends in the West Bank and I went to the I didn’t like to socialize on the Israeli side as much. So I would go to the West Bank to from Ramallah to Bethlehem to all these different places. And I would drive or go through public transportation through the checkpoints, and I saw, I’ll think a lot more than she ever did. Because even when she lived in Jerusalem as a kid, it was just beginning I don’t think the restriction of movement was as difficult as it became later.
(44:09) Shanaz Deen: Do you ever see yourself returned back to Jerusalem in the future?
(44:18) Gina Wanless: That’s a question I asked myself every day. Because nobody actually leaves their homeland for no reason. Right? You know, you don’t leave somewhere that you love. Why wouldn’t people ask? Ask me that. Or they say, Oh, you’re applying for an American passport. But does that mean that I mean, you’re gonna be here forever. Are you ever gonna go back? Are you gonna do this? And I think myself, nobody leaves their home willingly. Even if the circumstances aren’t, you know, maybe not the best. If there is some reason to stay you stay for the most part No, but nobody leaves their family for nothing. And then the answer So right now it’s I don’t know, the answer right now is I hope and pray for something to come out of anything, and for there to be some sort of stabilization. And then maybe, I mean, honestly, it’s a beautiful country, the Old City is gorgeous. The reason why, I mean, it’s a white city truly there, you’re not allowed to build within the city except for anything in limestone. So it’s truly a white city. The countryside and like, just like the natural beauty of it is, is gorgeous, we have you know, hills and mountains and desert snow when waterfalls and everything in between you can think of the ocean that you know, or, or the sea and no snow and you know, by Syria, there’s everything that you could ever want exist. It’s just so problem with France is the French right?
(46:05) Shanaz Deen: It is a loaded question, of course. But then I know we’re coming close to an hour. And I do want to talk about your own spiritual background, religious upbringing, because you had mentioned that you pray, of course, for stabilization in the future. Yeah, so I’m curious of, you know, what role does religion play in your day-to-day life in your understanding of different events through your entire life, the horrible ones, the serendipitous ones, and where you are now?
(46:41) Gina Wanless: So, my, technically, technically, my father is Anglican, and technically, my mother is a Roman orthodox Catholic. And that’s, you know, it’s was all on the paperwork. I don’t feel like I associate too closely with any formal Christian religion. I wouldn’t even know if I would go so far as even as a Christian, but I definitely feel like I’m more of a spiritual person. I have a lot of crosses that I seem to have inherited as gifts from people that I do wear because actually, they’re very beautiful. And so people immediately assume things out of that. But that’s, you know, their own problem, not mine. Don’t necessarily believe that any of the monotheistic religions are ranked in any order to each other? Or an even in comparison, I think it’s all a continuation of one story that just picked up where they left off. And some people got different versions of it. And if we’re going to be completely honest, why should we even put that much stock into it? I mean, humans wrote most of it, and humans are all fallible. They have proven over and over. I think. I don’t necessarily know that, I pray in the traditional sense. But there will be times where I’ll just sit and have a conversation with myself. And just put things out, I guess, into the universe and say, This is what I’m hoping for, this is what I think I need if this is what I do actually need I hope it comes to me if it’s not bring to me, whatever it is that I need. type thing. So it’s more of a conversation as opposed to prayer. There have I have will never not say that. I have been incredibly lucky in my life. I don’t know if I would say blessed, because that also feels like a loaded adjective. And it feels very know what the word is. But it’s just, it’s not the right word. There have been many things that have happened in my life at various points, where I have said to you know, I’ve definitely realized I’m a very lucky individual. Most people would this would not have worked out for this way. And I don’t know why this isn’t working out for me this way, but I’m very thankful for it. That answers my question. My upbringing was, you know, very loosely Catholic, like I said, My mother doesn’t really believe anything. She just- she mostly believes in being a good person. And if I’m going to qualify my father as anything, he’s probably closer to Buddhists at this point than anything else. My grandmother, again, like I said, was very socially religious, but I think because she lived by herself and she was lonely, so she wanted the company she didn’t necessarily put a lot of stock into my god is better than your god type thing. And when you grow up In a place where you see all of the religions, it’s very hard to put limitations on that. I mean, I could have been born Muslim, I could have been born Jewish, I could have been born Hindu, I could, you know, it doesn’t. It’s just luck of the drug, you know, and even then sometimes it’s immaterial.
(50:25) Shanaz Deen: Curious how your own spiritual nature, understanding your own personal practice informs your understanding of the occupation and liberation, you know?
(50:36) Gina Wanless: You know, God was all the things that he says he is, he wouldn’t let all the terrible things happen, right? And if you believe that, then coming to grips with what the reality of the situation is, is almost incomprehensible. I don’t necessarily think that God, or the you know, big G, little g, has as much to do with everything as we think that he does, or she does. I think it’s more I think it’s more human nature. And it’s more human driven than it is God-driven. And at some point, I mean, truly means get philosophical on this, right? Why do we even believe in the concept of God, we’re looking for something that’s bigger than ourselves? Why should we be looking for something bigger than ourselves? Will will because we’re afraid of that happen after we die? We know what does it matter, we’re dead, we’re pushing up daisies? Do we really go somewhere good or bad? What’s the social, you know, requisites to being good or bad? Does it I don’t, I don’t feel like my religion imposes my or even has anything to do with the way that I view the politics of the situation, because they just, they’re, your religion is used against you in the politics of these situations, it’s not necessarily a true accurate view of what’s happening, you can be like, Oh, well, I’m Christian, or I’m Muslim, and I want them on the rocks to be protected, and I want the whole is happening here to be protected, or I want, you know, the Wailing Wall to protected. It’s like, Cool, well, that still doesn’t help people being oppressed all around the world. So what you’re just gonna, you know, put people under your thumb so that one place can be protected. That’s also not, I don’t know, I don’t feel to me religion, has as much to do with the politics of the situation, it is definitely wielded as a club in that situation. But it’s not the crux of it. I think the actual human nature element is the burning factor. And I think that unfortunately, the Israeli people, or the Jewish people that then came to Jerusalem or Israel, when they name themselves Israeli people, had suffered so much at the hands of others. And there really is only two options out of that, right? You turn around and do it somebody else because it was done to you, or you turn around and make a different decision.
(53:08) Shanaz Deen: And my final question, just to close, if future generations were to listen to this audio, especially future Palestinians, what would you want them to know. And of course, if there’s anything else that you want to add before we close, you’re welcome to do that as well.
(53:39) Gina Wanless: A lot of our core identity, at this point, has been so worked by our trauma who the Palestinians actually are. And I’m not trying to victim blame here. But it’s, it’s the card that we’ve been dealt, and we keep trying to show it to the rest of the world. And we just keep trying to say, Hey, look at his hand that we’ve got, it’s a really shitty hand and somebody helped us out here, your deals in your deck, you know, come on, work with us. And everyone ignores us, collectively, on so many ways. I think to the future generation, I would say, be flexible. Don’t be as rigid as the enemy. Be able to look past things that seem so important that maybe aren’t as important in a future lifetime or future lifespan, I know a lot of people are very divided on the whole concept of you know, a two-state solution or a one-state solution. In my opinion, there is no two-state solution. That is not the way forward that would basically push all Palestinians into even more of a gilded cage, and they are right now because they would have no economic freedom or movement or anything like that the only solution is a one-state solution where we’re all equal. And that’s gonna take a lot of patients, and that’s going to take a lot of understanding from the current and future generation. And if that could be made possible. That’s the only way forward I think. And saying that you’re culturally Palestinian, maybe or the National strictly Israeli because you have an Israeli passport because, at that point in time, we’re all Israeli. If we could somehow detach the democratic Jewish state of Israel from the Democratic Jewishness, that is Israel, and open it up to everybody else, as well. I think there’s a chance there. I don’t think that hanging so tightly to this nationalistic idea of being separate is feasible for the future because I’m never gonna say that I’m Israeli because I’m not because the definition of being Israeli is being Jewish. And that’s just not how it is. If it could be opened up to everybody else who also lives there. That’s very different ballgame. That’s my future wish.
(56:41) Shanaz Deen: Thank you so much. And I’m going to end the recording now.