When Ramadan Khattab left Ramallah for Paris in 1999, it was his first trip to Europe. The Palestinian’s English was better than his French, though he’d spent only four years in school and learned no English there. He’d crossed borders before, usually to Jordan or to Israel. His stay in Israel had been his longest away from home; a stretch of 14 months in two Israeli prisons when he was 18 years old, for throwing stones at Israeli troops during the First Intifada.
This time he was leaving Palestine for Europe, thanks to a music scholarship he received to study at a conservatory in Angers, 200 miles southwest of Paris. Seven years later, he can be found often playing bass with the Classique Metropolitain, a diverse group of musicians, inside the Metro station at Chatelet in the heart of Paris.
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The ability of Palestinians to emigrate is different than it is for people from other places. Passports issued by the Palestinian Authority are not recognized everywhere, and both the Palestinian Authority and Israel must sign off for a Palestinian to get one. Those Palestinians who are citizens of Israel or Jordan risk having that country revoke its passport if they travel. For Khattab, it was particularly complicated because he had served time in prison.
By the time he sought to leave for Paris, he had been out of prison for more than five years. Nonetheless, it was part of his record and to leave Ramallah, part of Israel’s occupied territory, he needed the permission of both the Palestinian authority and the Israeli government.
At one point after being imprisoned in Israel’s Megiddo, he tried to visit his sisters in Jordan and was denied permission to leave. Another time, he was told he could go if he informed on cohorts he knew from the Intifada. He wouldn’t do it, but he had a counter-offer. Let him go, he told the authorities, and he would not be trouble for them. They let him go.
With his music scholarship, the Israeli authorities gave him a visa. The longer a Palestinian plans to be gone, the more likely, he says, the Israeli government is to permit the travel.
Nonetheless, to Khattab, both the process and experience of leaving was humiliating.
He is nearing the end of his impromptu playing in the subways of Paris, and hopes to return to Palestine in the near future.