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?”
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.