The American Red Cross was hosting a blood drive at my university today so a friend and I stopped by. I would find out an hour later that my identity as a Palestinian was unverifiable.
Before donating any blood, nurses drew a blood sample and, following standard procedure, asked me a series of questions about my medical and travel history. When asked if I had traveled out of the United States within the last three years, I told the nurse that I had spent time in the Gaza Strip in Palestine. She couldn’t find it in the database.
For the next fifteen minutes, the nurse searched every plausible variation of the words Palestine and Gaza and even searched entire geographical regions.
“I remember seeing it there before,” she told me just as she called a field office for technical support.
By this time, she had committed the details of my travels to memory. “The donor flew to Cairo and took a four hour car ride to Gaza, in Palestine. He stayed there for four weeks and then returned, by car, to Cairo.”
The call lasted for quite a while. The nurse was put on hold repeatedly as managers on the other end of the line searched for themselves.
After just under an hour of waiting, the Red Cross’s support line instructed the nurse to list my travel destination as Israel. I had finally been verified to donate blood — but only at the expense of my own personal, cultural, ethnic, and political identity.
According to the nurse, the Red Cross updated the software system used by its mobile units a few months ago. One of its changes apparently includes the removal of Palestine from its database of international travel destinations.
I doubt that the Red Cross no longer recognizes Palestine or its people but in today’s climate, when Presidential hopefuls liberally deny Palestine’s existence and international news agencies such as the BBC actively defend their censorship of the word Palestine, I’d be hard-pressed to rule this conclusion out completely.
The Red Cross has an extensive history of working with the Ramallah-based Palestine Red Crescent Society (equivalent to the American Red Cross) and has even gone as far as pledging financial support to hospitals in Gaza. This non-recognition is therefore rather surprising. But it is also quite telling of how far reaching the effects of an illegal occupation can be.