American Red Cross to blood donor: ‘Are you sure Palestine is a country?’

A year and a half ago, the American Red Cross told me my trip to Palestine could not be verified because the country was absent from their database. Yesterday, the American Red Cross told me I am Israeli.

A classmate and I made our way to a mobile donation bus on campus after class on Friday. We were each directed into separate miniature offices where nurses or registered phlebotomists walked us through a brief questionnaire and took our vitals. One of the questions asked if I had traveled outside of the United States in the last twelve months. My answer was yes, to Egypt and to Palestine.

The lady who welcomed me into her office quickly found Egypt on the Red Cross database. Palestine, however, was nowhere to be found.

“Can you spell it, please?”

“P-A-L-E-S-T-I-N-E,” I told her.

“Spell it again, please? I can’t seem to find it.”

I spelled it again and told her that the same thing happened to me when I donated blood a year ago. The attendant called a field office that transferred her to a manager who, after almost an hour of waiting, told me that I had actually traveled to Israel. I suggested she just ignore it.

“No, we can’t just do that,” she said as she reached for her phone and called a managing office. “I have a donor who tells me he traveled to Egypt and to Palestine. I can find Egypt easily but Palestine isn’t in our system.”

She had written the name on the back of a small gauze pad and spelled it out to the person on the other end of the line.

“Are you sure it’s a country?”

“Yes. It has its own passports and visas—”

“Is Palestine in Haiti?”

“No. It’s in the Middle East. It borders Egypt.”

She listened to the voice on the phone.

“Is it in Western Asia?” she asked me.

“Well, yes, I mean, it’s in the west of Asia, but it’s in the Middle East. It borders Egypt, Syria, Jordan.”

She searched Western Asia on the database and told the office that wasn’t coming up either.

“Is it in Egypt?”

“No.”

She asked the office if Palestine was in a malaria zone and turned back to me.

“Is it in Asia?”

“Yes, and specifically in the Middle East,” I responded patiently.

The Red Cross was effectively telling me that Palestine doesn’t exist — that I don’t exist.

“Is it in Israel? Are you sure it’s a country? Because this is a state.”

By now, the person on the other end of the line had probably put Palestine through a search engine and concluded that Palestine was a state, like Illinois or Ohio, and not a country.

“Yes, this is state in Israel,” the phlebotomist said.

“No, it really isn’t.”

“Do you know if it’s actually Gwamowa?”

“What’s Gwamowa?” I asked. My patience had admittedly run thin by now.

“Okay, thank you,” said the woman to the person on the phone and hung up. “We’re putting it down that you traveled to Israel.”

I contested her decision. She was adamant about the decision and blamed it on a technicality. Palestine wasn’t showing up in the database. Either I had no idea where I traveled and where I come from or I had missed the memo that Israel had declared Palestine a state within its borders.

I made it clear how offensive this was and how the decision by the Red Cross, for the second year in a row, to list my destination as Israel has severe implications. Politically, this legitimizes the idea that Palestine and Palestinians do not exist. Personally, my identity is denied and my ancestral heritage is rewritten to fit a narrative that has sought to purge us from history.

The woman apologized, saying that it was out of her control. I understood this; she was just doing her job. The problem, however, stems from the Red Cross itself and the fact that its database does not consider Palestine, to which it has well-known ties. The Palestine Red Crescent Society is “a fully recognized member of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network,” according to Stephanie Millian, Red Cross Director of Biomedical Communication. The Red Cross has also sponsored medical facilities and services in the Gaza Strip financially.

When Palestinians seek to donate blood through the Red Cross, why must they endure humiliation or embarrassment? Why must they be told that their recent visit to their homeland, to their father’s farm, or to their mother’s house was actually a tour through Israel? Why must they be insulted and made to feel as if they were unaware of where they had traveled, as if they had been aimlessly wandering? Why must they feel intimidated? Why must they be interrogated?

By the time the questionnaire was over, I was Israeli and already half an hour behind schedule.

The American Red Cross should revise its database or independently collect relevant public health information on Palestine so that future donors can feel valued for their altruistic efforts.

There are 7 comments

  1. Carol Scheller

    Incredible, as was your patience. The Red Cross could check with Western Union to change their listing. (Western Union sends money to Gaza under the listing “Palestinian Authority.”) On my first visit to Gaza, Palestine, in August 2000, I frequently phoned my mother in the US. One day, she decided to phone me. She had to go through an operator and told her that the number she was phoning was in Palestine. The operator replied, “There’s no such country.” My mother told her, “My daughter is there now!” and somehow got connected to me, extremely indignant !

  2. Michael

    That’s just irresponsible action by the Red Cross. The living standards and conditions are rather different, so the diseases one might be exposed to in, for example, Gaza can be different then the ones in Israel. By the way, I noticed that the map on your weblog denies the existance of the State of Israel, so you obviously play the purging game yourself.

      1. Michael

        The one on this very page, right above the Twitter feed. And no, I don’t try to fit any “narratives”. In my view, narratives are stories rather than history, tales, not facts.

  3. me

    What I don’t understand is why you wasted the red cross employees’ time. Are you really that ignorant or you actually think that you can create a new state called “Palestine” just by saying you visited it. For your information Palestine is not a state. It is goverened by the Palestinian authority but it’s not a state. I just hope you are not one of these Arabs who have an Israeli ID who are free riders in Israel and enjoy the developed country the Jews built. Those are the worst. They walk around in west Jerusalem all arogant and cocky as if they have anything to do with Israel or contributed anything to it. God I wish we could transfer all of you to the west bank. No more advanced Israeli medical care, social security, developed indrastracture, public transportation, boomiong economy. Live with your brothers in the west bank under the corrupt Palestinian rule. Hello Palestinian 3rd world lifestyle and goodbye 1st world Israel that the Jews built. You don’t belong in our country and we don’t want you.

    1. ontogram

      “Corrupt Palestinian rule?” Well, yeah but this is a creature of Israel, created by Israel and beholden to Israel. Israel is the real corruption starting with the theft of Palestine, the Nakba, Naksa, and the bottomless duplicity of the Jewish national security state. Frankly, there is no state called “Israel” as the entity you refer to has no responded to UN Resolutions or International Law. The illegitimacy is Israel not Palestine. Of course, you don’t want to hear about “illegitimate” state or “illegitimate” settlements etc. But more and more Jews, myself included, have seen through the nightmarish Zionist spiel, the duplicity, the lies, and, yes, the stupidity and are solidly opposed to that wretched state and its colonists.

      1. ontogram

        I’m with Thomas – let them return to where they came from and leave the Palestinians people in peace, a people who never did the Jewish people harm except to defend their homes from the fatuous invasion of Zionists originating everywhere else in the world.

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