Friday, December 16, 2016

Hope is a Good Thing

Dear those who bravely stand still and tall to time's most awful crimes,

I shouldn’t be writing this, and this is not truly a letter anyway, but who should be reading it won’t get to read it in all cases, so I have enough courage to make it seen by, almost, everyone.

Absence is hard, the idea of getting used to someone’s presence and then being deprived of it, whether prepared or unprepared, is hard. I can’t even understand it as a concept or get some sense out of it. Absence is a lot of things, it could be death, or a break-up, or long-distance relationship, or losing your good health … even though these things don’t make sense to me either, for some reason I understand them. Maybe because I put them under the “natural reasons” kind of absence, maybe that makes them a tiny bit softer to grasp one way or the other. But “administrative detention” doesn’t, it’s horrible to swallow. This forced kind of absence. Even as a word, it’s too sophisticated to describe its ugliness. The void, the absence it leaves behind is too gruesome to be described in such nice manner.

Even the word “detention”, I mean … is the English vocabulary truly out of words to describe such heinous act but with this combination of letters? Kids get detention when they misbehave at school, we can’t use the same word to describe the action of stealing someone’s life, heart, and hope.

“Administrative Detention” is the soft political term used to describe the process of stealing everything from a human-being and giving him nothing but time and four walls of concrete. Time to read, play sports, eat or not eat, go to the bathroom, having your bones freeze out of cold and your flesh melt out of heat in a square-shaped prison cell. If you want the “political and realistic” definition for “Administrative Detention”, then google it. But it won’t even come close to describing what it really is.

I don’t even know what it really is. I only have to deal with the “best” of its consequences. I have to react to being on the outside, while the people we love are on the inside where we can’t reach them.

I won’t get into how inhumane this “detention” is, or how unfair, or how cruel, you can also google such facts that document that. But I will keep wondering and asking one thing, “What do we do?”

I don’t even know what to write, or why am I even writing, or what for. I know for sure that this is not about me, this is not about people who are “on the outside”, but still … I ask myself everyday; “What should we do?”

“What should I do?”

Demonstrations? Okay, that’ll relieve some stress. Writing letters that aren’t allowed to get through? Okay. Be around family and friends as a support system? Okay.

Then what?

At the end of the night, at early hours of the mornings, while we’re drinking our mochas and nescafes, while we’re hanging out, while we’re writing and reading, while we’re listening to our favorite music, while we're working, while we're with a family member at the hospital, while we’re dancing, or laughing, or crying … this void, this horrible, even materialistic, void won’t go away.

It’s alway there.

And nothing seems to make it go away … except for one tiny thing. One tiny good thing.

That’s hope.

Naturally it’s temporary and not as strong as it should be, yet it’s powerful enough for us on the outside and them on the inside to make it through one more day. Stephen King articulated it perfectly saying, “Remember that hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

And this trifle opportunity of immortal hope is literally all we need at this stage of absence. Knowing that inside of us we have this super powerful cliche that could never die, is exactly what we need to keep reminding ourselves that even if they chose to make time our enemy and only choice; we’re still going to make it through. Time could end, and it will. This time of absence will perish, and “presence” will become the natural state again. But until then, and even afterwards, we’ll have to keep believing that hope is truly a good thing, is truly the best of things, and it never dies.

Maybe this won’t make sense except for the few who’ve been through this forced type of absence, yet again it could make sense for any kind of absence. I don’t know … all I know is I will keep hoping for this “time” of forced absence to end.

And this will be what I hope for every second of every day.

Until one time ends and the other begins,
we will meet again.

With love,

“Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.”

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Can We Not Sacrifice Ourselves?"

“The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.”
- Salvador Allende

This is what we always wish for here - Palestine - to defend ourselves without sacrificing ourselves.  Now the Intifada is being documented with phone-cameras every second of every day. We can see everything! When people are being shot, are being arrested, are being paralyzed, are dying … and sometimes when they’re lucky enough to survive. And it’s then we say, “Can’t this always happen? Can’t they live and cheat death every time?”
Why can’t they live every time ...

A while back when this whole Intifada or uprising erupted, a video of a young Palestinian rolling under an Israeli Military Jeep and getting up to run to his comrades afterwards astonished all of us. They tried to run him over and he lived!

He lived!

He was lucky. Tens of Palestinians like him were run over by Israeli military jeep, but were severely injured. Yet that moment of him surviving meant the world to me, and probably to a lot more people. The second I saw it I kept repeating it over and over again, and kept saying, “He lived! He lived! He lived!” and I could not tire of it, I was even scared that I might’ve said it out loud too much that something might happen to him. We’re surrounded with so much death that it’s a miracle when a life doesn’t perish.

Everytime I hear of another stabbing “allegation”, and I’m not using the term "allegation" to assume that as Palestinians we don’t stab Israelis but because in most of the recent events most of them were fabricated by the Israeli police or military who shoot Palestinian youth dead without even blinking twice, but everytime I hear about such incident I keep hoping and praying that maybe they just injured him\her lightly, or maybe he\she ran away, or maybe he\she was just shot in the leg and will survive. But that’s rarely ever the case.

In most cases they bleed to death on the cold cement streets, all alone and abandoned regardless of the fact that they’re surround with tens of Israeli soldiers and police.

I could describe such murders as “cold-blooded executions”, which is the obvious, but honestly what else do we expect from our occupiers? Truthfully, these cold-blooded murders aren’t what’s surprising me; it’s my people’s reactions that are. It’s amazing how much room for humanity they - my people - still have, they always give our occupiers second, third, fourth, hundredth .. excuses and chances. “They didn’t have to kill him, they could just shoot him in the legs,” they say, or “they left him there to bleed for hours before letting paramedics get to him. They left him there to die!

Seriously, what do we expect? Murder is not a peaceful act. Murder is murder, and yes they were aiming to murder them, they were aiming to eliminate the “threat” and not simply stop it. If they wanted to shoot a Palestinian in the leg to stop him\her, they could, of course they could, but they DON’T WANT TO. They’ve been operating on a policy to kill ever since they occupied Palestine almost 68 years ago, so why are we still surprised by their inhumanity and monstrous nature?

Do they have to wipe us all off the face of the earth for us to be convinced? How many more Palestinians need to be killed for it to sink in! They’re not really concerned with keeping Palestinians alive, as they would say “A good Arab is a dead Arab.” I think once we realize this fact, maybe we’ll start changing our methods in dealing with this monstrous military occupation.

Maybe then we would stop “sacrificing” ourselves as Allende has said, and I shouldn’t even dare say “ourselves”. I haven’t sacrificed anything, here I am sitting behind my computer writing about other people’s sacrifices and losses. But maybe then we’ll start defending “ourselves” without sacrificing ourselves .. that is, if such thing is possible.

These are beautiful words, aren’t they? “The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.” This is coming from a man who killed himself so he wouldn't surrender to the capitalist occupiers of his country.

It feels like this all the time, revolutionary words are just that; words. Very poetic, very alluring, and very powerful but they’re not true. They’re good only for fiction. Because people still die, people are still hurting, are still being burnt alive, are still being suffocated by tear gas canisters, are still being held as political prisoners, are still being tortured, and they are still sacrificing their lives on daily bases for a chance of a decent life.

Great women and men always had powerful words and last speeches, but that doesn’t make their loss or death any less tragic. On the contrary it’s so much harder.

With everything that’s been going on lately, you see us promoting the same empty scenarios over and over again. There were stories about Palestinian teenagers committing stabbings against Israelis, particularly settlers. Some were proven to be true while others were also incidents fabricated by the Israeli police, and right there and then you’d find us protesting and saying, “The knife was planted! He didn’t do anything! He’s the victim here!”

After almost 68 years of Zionist and Israeli military occupation it’s about time we realize the fact that whether he was the one who committed the stabbing or the one being stabbed; he’s STILL the victim in all of these scenarios. “Violence begets violence.” Does this mean going around stabbing people is okay? Of course not, some would even argue this is “unethical”, but I’m honestly not going to waste time discussing ethics in times where Israeli Police and Soldiers are running around executing anyone (anyone Palestinian or looks like one) for barely breathing “funny” to them. When they are arresting people randomly, beating them, and demolishing their houses. When collective “punishment” is forced on Palestinians for the sake of being Palestinians. What are ethics anyway under a brutal inhumane Israeli Military Occupation? But such acts by Palestinians aren’t a matter of ethics, or right or wrong, or inhumane .. these are not the correct discussions to have here.

We’re always victims of such arguments, we get lost discussing whether this was right or wrong or whether this kid was innocent of the crime or not and forget the main issue, we forget to ask the “why” and who's the real culprit here (if you need a hint, it's the Israeli Military Occupation), and we end up lost in this international pointless whirlwind of bullshit. It’s always funny how ethics and human rights matter when it’s concerning Israelis (within the Israeli-Palestinian context)  but means nothing when it comes to us.

Us - the collateral damage of this all.

We should let this "winning over international opinion" scenario go. This has been going on for far too long to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

We DO NOT have to prove our humanity or ethical standards to anyone but ourselves. We should stop expecting anything from International Community Institutions or the United Nations, if they wanted to do something, they would’ve done something to help ages ago, what’s happening now isn’t new to them. We should stop politicians from speaking in the youth’s name, these youth don’t need anyone speaking in their names on TV stations, radio, or written articles; their stones made a much louder and vigorous statement. If it itches the news channels to host “representatives” to what’s happening, they either bring a representative of these youth spending day and night in the streets fighting Israeli Military Occupation or no one at all. 

I’d rather hear nothing but complete silence then sit for hours listening to some retired Fateh or Hamas or Popular Front or whatever politician with a huge belly barely making room for us to see his face, where his pockets are full of our - the people's -money and he doesn't even know how to throw a rock or is able to bend down to pick up one to throw anyway, while he’s talking about the amazing revolutionary work these young men and women are doing, or listen to one of them while sitting comfortably sipping their coffee in London or Washington while they’re criticizing the “escalation” of events in the “region” and providing out-dated “solutions”. They have no right to represent the Intifada in any way possible.

And when possible, if ever, we should stop sacrificing ourselves.

Let me rephrase, these young men and women, or even kids, “should” (I’m not issuing orders here, this is a request from the heart, more of a secret desire) stop perceiving their death to be the only route to the liberation of Palestine. They could live too, maybe in a brief second in a parallel world this could actually happen. Maybe they could defend themselves and their country and survive. Maybe they couldn’t be destroyed by riddled bullets, and they couldn’t be humiliated. Maybe in this lost second in some parallel universe they will win.

And somehow, instead of walking down the cemetery road five times a day to bury martyrs, they could run the streets celebrating the survival of all. Maybe they could celebrate their birthdays every time amidst the rain of tear gas canisters and bullets, where such event represents the greatest manifestation of life to ever exist. Maybe they could roll under a moving Israeli jeep and survive every time. Maybe they could dance Dabkeh in the midst of the clashes and not get shot every time.

Maybe they could live and not sacrifice their lives.

But until then .. until we’re able to snatch this lost second in the perfect parallel world, these youngsters will continue to sacrifice their lives in every second of the real world. They are not out there for the poetic words and powerful speeches, and they are not out there to die; they’re out there putting their lives on the line to have a chance of living. The life we all aspire for, but no one deserves the most but them.

And for them I’ll keep praying that there comes a day where they won’t have to sacrifice themselves for me, their families and loved ones, or their country.

                             "Young Palestinians taking a short break to celebrate one of their friends' birthday 
                                                    during the clashes with the Israeli Military at Beit El settlement"

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Israeli Sniper

On every Nakba commemoration day, May 15th, regardless of my weak faith in God I repeat the same prayer over and over again, and it says,

“Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today, Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today,Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today, Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today, Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today, Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today, Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today, Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today, Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today ”

Most of the times he fails me, and someone gets killed by Israeli soldiers and we have another Palestinian martyr on our hands. I do realize that when such events take place it’s not restricted to only Palestinians, so many people die and rise as martyrs in every neglected corner of the world, and sometimes that makes things a little better .. that we’re not alone, but that doesn’t mean that the “event” itself will not leave you in a state of feeling abandoned and getting stuck in this endless  period of  time just waiting to see when the next murder is going to happen.

This day in particular, May 15th, resembles a series of lifetimes spent in endless waiting .. Waiting for justice to prevail, for the trip back to a home that was stolen 67 years ago to actually happen, and for the next death to happen. Usually when it comes to Nakba, I can’t feel sorry for ourselves as Palestinians, I keep thinking we could’ve done more back then just as we could’ve done more right now, but I retreat afterwards when I realize that I myself am not willing to do more, and I don’t have the enough courage to do more, so how could I ask of others to offer more? And as much as it is important to look for a better future, every time May 15th approaches I tend to look back, like millions of Palestinians .. but the thing is, I’m not a refugee. My family wasn’t kicked out back in 1948 when the Israeli state was established, I never lived in a refugee camp, and I don’t have my grandmother’s key of the house they used to live in Yafa or Akka or Haifa … but my family has suffered from another type of loss, the one of a soul, a precious one.

“Symbolism” is a huge part of our lives as Palestinians, for instance the keys of old Palestinian houses taken over by Israeli jews, and the fact that our elders have kept them is a symbol of the undying Right of Return. The stolen houses of Palestinians back in 1948 and prior to that, resembles the theft of our country and home. The refugee camps that unfortunately are still standing are symbols of refusing alternative solutions and only focusing on the one apparent solution; going back home. Martyrs are symbols of heroism, honor, and purity.

When you look at it that way, when you look at the Palestinian cause that way, it’s almost beautiful. All the selfless sacrifice, the patience, the heroism, the will of iron to never back down .. such beautiful symbolism, but not for real life. In real life you have Palestinian refugees dying and starving on daily basis in Syria, Gaza, and Lebanon whenever another war erupts. You have young Palestinians losing their sight, getting paralyzed, getting their houses demolished .. also on daily and weekly basis. Here, I’m not speaking about external factors that forced us to be this way, but about the internal ones we chose to go by. But today, we’re going to throw all of that away. No more symbolism, or heroism, or resistance … it’s about facts. So here comes the story of another indistinctive gruesome death that I did not choose to not forget but is reminded of on regular basis. It is simply about a future that could’ve happened but it never did and never will.

I miss him and think of him, I don’t think of him too often .. not as often as I should, but mostly when the anniversary of his death approaches. Yet I’ve never met him. 

One bullet, that’s all it took.

Every Palestinian family has at least one martyr or one prisoner or both, and my mother’s family wasn’t an exception. In my last piece I introduced to you my grandmother Um Ghassan, one of the strongest women I know, and today I’m introducing you to her equals: my grandmother Um Mahmoud and my mother Abeer. 

“Mahmoud”, that name is a huge part of my grandmother’s identity. He used to be her oldest son, her outright favorite, her everything, and her future. And this future never came to life because of one bullet by an Israeli sniper 39 years ago on the 18th of May; two days after the commemoration of Nakba.

I wasn’t born of course when this has happened, but his murder has been, and still is, a huge part of our lives. My grandmother was in her late thirties when he was killed, my grandfather in his forties, and my mother was only 9 years old .. but if you ask any of them about that day, they remember it as if it has happened today. Not only them, but a lot of their neighbors and friends and old-city residents shared this day with them (My grandparents from my mother’s side also lived in the Old City of Jerusalem). When I was younger, way younger, like 8 or 9 years old, my aunt Khawlah (my father’s sister) used to take me sometimes with her to the Souk (market) in the morning when it was summer break.

As a kid I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a martyr, but after several walks in the Souk with my aunt I assumed it was one of the best things to ever happen to a human being. Every time someone asked my aunt who’s this little kid with you, she’d say, “This is my nephew Wa’d, Manaf and Abeer’s daughter, and guess who her uncle was? Mahmoud Al Kurd!” And every single time merchants and people’s responses would be the same, a look of a familiar sadness with pride in their eyes.

“He was like my own son, little one. He was very polite and helpful, and he was a hero!” one would say. Another old man would add, “Here try this fresh carrot juice, your uncle used to love this juice and he was a regular here,” up untill then I couldn’t stand carrot juice, after that new piece of information it became one of my favorites for the longest time. “Did you know that the Israeli soldiers themselves were afraid of him? I lie to you not, I used to see it with my own eyes! The Israeli jeep filled with soldiers would back off and turn around to leave when he came! He was that strong, he wasn’t a heavy weight champion for nothing!” My uncle used to lift weights and won several local championships, and after his death several local tournaments were named after him and in his honor.

As a little eight-year old I loved this! One of my goals to achieve in the future was to become a martyr just like my uncle, I mean what kind of power did he possess to make an Israeli jeep filled with soldiers run away! I imagined him to be some kind of superhero, and his magic drink was carrot juice.

My mother never spoke of him to us as kids, regardless of the fact that we saw his pictures everywhere around our house, my grandmother’s house, and my aunts’ houses, but to us he was our champion of an uncle who we could never meet. He was just an imaginary figure, but this has changed after a few visits to the souk with aunt Khawlah, ever since then I was dying to know more about this heroic martyr who scared off soldiers. 

So I asked my mother about him, straight ahead, how did Khalo Mahmoud become a Shahid (martyr), because I wanted to become one. She didn’t respond. I tried to get responses from other family members like my father and aunts, but still I wouldn’t get my answer. I got my answer to that question after almost 6 or 7 years and it wasn’t as glorious as I’ve expected; which of course I got a little hint of after becoming more and more familiar with the reality of the Israeli Occupation we’re living under. 

“It was a sniper’s bullet to the back of his head ya Mama,” my mother finally answered me. “The soldier who killed him was such a coward that he didn’t even look him in his eyes before shooting him dead, he killed him from the back. See ya Mama, in lesser than a second, one bullet destroyed everything.” It was the first time I heard someone speak of him in this manner, as a kid it was glorious that my uncle was a martyr, but when my mother described what happened she was in pure and utter pain. He’s been dead for over 25 years when I asked, and from her choked voice and teary eyes I could still feel her pain, she wasn’t - and still isn’t - over it. And that’s his sister, I could not even begin to imagine what my grandfather and grandmother must’ve felt.

It took her a lot of time to tell me details of the incident, to be precise, it took her 39 years to do so. On May 3rd of this year I asked her what it was like, if she remembers anything, and for the first time she gave me details that she never spoke of before. She even said that some of the details she’s just learnt recently after my grandmother told her some new details she never heard before, but it went like this .. My uncle was to some-extent a typical Palestinian youth, he threw rocks regularly, participated and even organised weekly demonstrations .. he did other “normal” activities as well of course, but here I’m only speaking in terms of the Israeli Military Occupation context; hence he was a typical Palestinian youth in terms of fighting back the Israeli Military Occupation.

As stories told by his close friends, he acted like a true hero on several occasions as when once there was a demonstration on the commemoration of Nakba Day where they were closing schools to crowd more people for the demonstration and one of these schools was a school for girls only and the Israeli soldiers beat them there. As often happens clashes erupted, and some soldiers were trying to arrest some of the protesters and at one of these times my uncle was there and, as reported, he hit a soldier and was able to escape alongside one of the girls that the soldiers were trying to arrest. When I first heard this, I wandered off in my mind to think that would’ve been an amazing typical love story, a handsome guy saves her life, they fall in love, and live happily ever after …

On a different occasion and during another protest my uncle got into another confrontation with a soldier - as stories told by his friends - and this soldier was telling him and the others, “What are you doing here, “Lekh le baytah” go home” to which my uncle responded, “I am home! Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to go home!” and usually provoking soldiers never ends well. It’s either prison or death. He walked away in one piece when this has happened, but the incident never went unnoticed by the soldiers; as my uncle’s friends say. Active youth, in any form, become targets for Israeli soldiers looking for personal vendettas rather than anything else, and my uncle once again was no exception.

My mother told me that on the day of his death my grandmother practically begged him not to go, she had a bad dream about him the night before and felt that something bad was about to happen. She remembers this specifically because her mother - my grandmother - never asked him not to go before,  but he went anyway and told her not to worry. On that particular day, May 18th 1976, there was a demonstration against the Israeli Occupation crimes and it happened that all of my uncles and aunts participated in it too, except for my mother and her youngest sister because they were too young.

And as happens with every Palestinian demonstration, there were clashes with the soldiers, and as always too (till this very day) there were snipers almost on every  roof in the Old City. One of my aunts who was participating in the demonstration was injured, and when my uncle Mahmoud learnt about this it pissed him off and made him want to do anything to get back at the Israeli soldiers and that was when it’s happened. He was shot in the head from the back, and even though one bullet to the head is deemed to leave one dead, the sniper shot some more bullets to make sure he was dead.

It was risky to take the dead bodies of Palestinians killed by Israelis to the hospital because the government would take over the body and won’t give it back to the family for burial, as a form of punishment. So his friends carried him to the closest house and tried to stop the bleeding and figure out if there’s anything left to do, but it was too late.

My mother said that there was a pool of his blood on the floor, on the exact spot of where he dropped dead after he was shot, and his friends surrounded this pool of blood with rocks to kind of reserve it for a while. So for several weeks following his death and burial my mother, the little 9 year-old girl, visited that spot on daily basis. She said she could still smell him and feel him when she went there and it was comforting for her. That’s all she had left of him, a pool of his blood, and soon after it was taken away as well of course.

On April 25th, the day I started writing this, two young Palestinian youth were killed. One was hit with 10 bullets, he was 16 years old and was accused of trying to “stab” a group of Israeli soldiers at one of their checkpoints but this allegation hasn’t been proven till this moment. The other did actually try to kill an Israeli soldier and was killed instantly. The first young Palestinian was called Ali Abu Ghannam, and the second was called As’ad Salaymeh.

To be completely honest, I reached a point where I could accept or understand murders when they happen as As’ad’s case. A young Palestinian tries to kill an Israeli soldier and ends up being dead, I mean there’s no other way for this to end. There’s no way in hell this Palestinian is going to succeed in doing so, and consequently he’s going to get killed for trying. I know it’s quite disgusting of me to say so, but what else can I do really. Nonetheless I can understand the outcome, but with cases like Ali, I honestly couldn’t.

Let’s believe the Israeli scenario of such cases for a second, that he was merely a suspect of trying to stab a soldier. These soldiers were at a checkpoint, so there were at least 2 or 3 of them, and in most cases it’s even more, at least 12 or 13 soldiers. They’re all over 18, and he’s 16. He’s not trained in the military and doesn’t have heavy weapons or tools, and he definitely isn’t wearing any protective gear or suits, so the appropriate question to ask now is this: Was it really necessary? Ten bullets! Did these heavily-equipped-military-trained-Israeli soldiers really need to fill his body with 10 bullets to stop him from hurting any of them ? Wasn’t one bullet in the leg or arm enough? Was he this scary to them? This little savage!

Was my uncle this scary when he was younger? A bullet in the head. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t by chance, the Israeli sniper wanted him dead and he made sure he was dead by planting that bullet in the back of his head. He wanted to turn my uncle from a living creature to a soulless body, and he succeeded.

That’s the question that is stopping my mother from moving on, the thought that he might’ve stayed alive today if that Israeli monster thought for a second of what were the consequences of his actions, but now I’m positive he was pretty aware of the consequences, and most probably he desired such consequences to happen.

“Was it really necessary?”

I no longer wished to be a martyr, not after witnessing what my uncle’s murder did, and still does, to my mother.

Agony, it brought her agony.

Growing up I never understood why my mother was never as happy as everyone else seemed to be. It always seemed to be that she refused happiness and shut it out completely, and I always struggled with that. I couldn’t accept it, I couldn’t accept my mother being this gloomy all the time. It never made sense when we had joyful occasions to celebrate that she was upset. Whether it was a wedding, or birthday party, or graduation party, even Eid … she was never truly happy. It took me a while to catch up and understand what was going on with her, to her .. every single one of these occasions wasn’t -and never will be - complete. The truth was that she had a hole in her heart where happiness used to exist and to refill it again is going to take a-whole lot.

But nobody understood this, they still call him a hero and glorify him, same as they refer to the sixteen-year-old Ali, only those who truly loved him knew that death is never this glorious.

Of course these strangers wouldn’t understand,  none of these people telling me about him when I was a kid were his mother, father, brother, or sister. They were strangers, he was their “regular” client, their neighbor, the friend of their son, the boyfriend of their daughter, but not their own. That’s why they glorified him, it was easier that way, people just love the hero figure. It’s more attractive, isn’t it? Or else he’ll end up only being a dead soulless body. But the truth is, he did end up being only a dead body. It was his family who had to deal with this ugly, deadly, and excruciating image he left behind.

He was 22 years old at the time, exactly my age today, and Ali was 17 years old, exactly as old as my youngest brother today; both of them were killed in cold blood. And you know what the scary part is, the Israeli soldiers who killed them, were as old as they were too. The only difference between them was that two of these youth - the Israelis - had a license to kill and they used it.

Sometimes I wander off in my mind and think of what it would be like to actually meet the Israeli sniper that killed him. I don’t have much to say to him really, I just have one question to ask: “How .. ?”

“How could he? 

How could he live with himself? How does he look himself in the mirror? How does he look his kids in the eyes while knowing that he had deprived someone with one bullet of the same present he is living right now? Was it worth it? Did he protect Israel’s security when he killed him? Was it freaking necessary? Is this what protecting “the promised land” requires?”

So I recently watched the hollywood film “American Sniper”, and there’s a lot of criticism about it and you can find tons of articles about it online, so I’m not going to criticize it here in terms of it objectifying Iraqis or Arabs or Muslims or how it empowers Islamophobia .. and so on. I mean these matters did piss me off of course, but what really triggered something in me was how easy it was for him (the sniper) to shoot people dead. How he killed one person after the other, and he went back home safe and sound to his wife and kids while knowing that he deprived several people of their families. I mean some people mind find it hard to relate since to them he only killed “terrorists”, but those of us from areas of conflict know that not just because one woman held a grenade to throw it at soldiers (who were actually occupying her country) it means that it’s okay to terminate any other woman  just to be on the safe side.

The film also portrays the hardships that the American sniper had to go through, how he lost his humanity, how he faced some psychological issues when he went back home … and I honestly couldn’t give a shit about his suffering, I couldn’t relate and to be honest I didn’t want to.

You want to know what hardship and pain are? Simple; go speak to the families of the victims you’ve murdered. Go explain to their parents why they were “security threats” and had to be terminated. Why it was absolutely necessary to kill them? Go explain to my grandmother why Mahmoud had to lose his life this early.  

I’ve heard firsthand from Israelis - who served in the army and had Palestinian blood on their hands-  say that in order to make peace and move on; one must forget and forgive and think of ways to establish a better future. But it’s not that simple, it’s been 39 years and my mother is reminded of the day she lost her brother on daily basis. Every time another young Palestinian is killed she lives that horrible day all over again. How can we work on building a better future when we’re constantly being robbed of the present?

So we sit here and wait, endlessly … My grandmother’s name is “Intizar” which literally translates into “Waiting” and that’s what she’s been doing since forever, waiting to see her child once again, waiting for some kind of justice to prevail, waiting for a miracle to come and bring him back .. That’s why on days like this, I sincerely hope there’s going to be heaven in the end, so those who lost loved ones can reunite with them once again. For my grandmother to reunite with her sons (she lost two more sons to cancer), alongside my mother and the rest of her family. So they can have a chance in ever being sincerely and truly happy again.

On the 67th anniversary of the Nakba, we promise not to forget and not to forgive until justice prevails where these heartless murderers are punished for their crimes of destroying thousands and thousands of “futures”. And most importantly, not until my mother is able to smile again from the heart. We shall return, and we shall bring back “our future”, it’s only a matter of time. But until then I’ll keep praying over and over again, “Please don’t let anyone become a martyr today”.

Rest in peace khalo Mahmoud and all the martyrs that lost their future.

                                                            Mahmoud Al Kurd

Friday, March 20, 2015

No Longer My Holy City

I'm the kinda person who gets physically sick every single time I have to go through Qalandia ziftpoint (checkpoint) , like thousands others, and it's nauseating to me that I actually have to go through it just to get to Jerusalem. I'm not metaphorically speaking here, it really happens. 

The thought of having to get over there, stand in line, get my ID (residency permit) ready, and wait till some adolescent Israeli soldier, who's just recently celebrated his 18th birthday and is carrying a rifle in one hand and playing with an iphone in the other, to give me his majestic blessings to pass through the ziftpoint makes me want to vomit. 90% of the time when this happens I retreat and go home, specially if some ashkenazi Israeli soldier "orders" me to take off my shoes or jacket because I kept on "beeping" every time I went through the metal detector machine. I just hate it, HATE HATE HATE it. And soon after going through this a lot, I started hating the city I went through all this trouble to get to; Jerusalem, or let's be more specific, East Jerusalem.

Let me explain how all of this started.

My grandmother lives, alongside my two aunts and two uncles, in the Old City of Jerusalem, to be more specific, she has the house right on top of Bab el-Silsilah. Growing up there, since we used to go visit Grandma Um Ghassan every Friday and sleep over a lot, I never knew the historical importance of my grandmother’s house. Sitti Um Ghassan preferred I call it Beit Sidi Abu Ghassan (grandfather), allah yirhamu, but to me it was always her house. My grandfather, Abu Ghassan, died when my father was almost 16 so I never got to meet him, but I always knew how much Sitti appreciated, respected, and loved him; that’s why she’d prefer I refer to the house as his not hers, out of respect for him, and because of the patriarchal up-bringing of hers.
I loved everything about that house. How ancient it felt, the split-up tiles and slabs of its floor, how big it was, the view which was the Dome of the Rock and Alaqsa Mosque, the fifty-five stairs reaching to the house, the old man that was always resting next to the big ancient door downstairs, the square shaped green-painted iron bars of the windows that never felt like prison but it didn’t stop us as kids from pretending to be imprisoned and play the scene of pressing our fingers against the bars as if longing for freedom, Sido’s piles and piles of books scattered everywhere, and the roof that revealed the entire city with its mosques, churches, and synagogues. There at Beit Sitti Um Ghassan I felt nothing but love, happiness, and freedom. Then as I grew up and the invisible walls that I refused to see as a child started emerging and blocking all these feelings away from me, I couldn’t feel the same anymore.

This is another story we’ll reach shortly, but what I can tell you right now is that Beit Sitti turned out to be among the most famous schools of the Mamluks. It’s called “ Madraset Alashrafiyyeh” which translates into the “Honorary School”. Its last Mamluk owner was Prince Qaitibai, my favorite alongside Qutoz among the Mamluks, and his name was even carved on its door (which is the same hugely-gorgeous-breathtaking-ancient-decorated-historical door to Sitti’s house), and that was somewhere between the years 1476 – 1496. It was described by Mujir Aldin Hanbaly as the most beautiful and luxurious Mamluk School in Jerusalem, and as the third jewel in the Haram al-Sharif after the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. And my family was the lucky family to be living in this amazingly historical place right now.

One of the main reasons I loved Jerusalem as a city was that house and my family living there, after it was partially taken away from me I started to resent it.

As a kid I never knew that Jerusalem wasn’t one city, that it was actually divided into West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. I never knew there was a part of the city where I wasn’t welcomed, even though it was filled with Palestinian houses with “Absentee” owners taken over by the Jews who came here in 1948, or not even only during that year, but as it feels to me, they were coming here all the time and they still do. So Jerusalem to me was basically a small part of East Jerusalem, smaller than the image I had of it in my head as a silly little oblivious child.

Jerusalem (I’ll keep calling it that, it’s difficult to refer to it as East or West, it’s just stupid to me) was like one huge playground for me and my twin brother; at least the Jerusalem I knew as a kid. When we went to visit Beit Sitti we’d usually go through Bab Al-Amoud (Damascus Gate) or Bab Al-Asbat (Lions Gate), but my personal favorite was Bab Al-Amoud because it had these huge stairs that my brother and I would challenge each other to see who can go through them all without falling on our heads; which happened way too often. Also when going through Bab Al-Amoud we’ll have the chance to have another challenge of not falling while walking on these huge slippery slabs; their surface was way too soft like glass, and they were sticking out of the Old City’s floor.

The path they were located on is called “Tariq al-Wad”, which is another reason of why I love going through Bab Al-Amoud so we can go through this route to Grandma’s. The slippery huge camel-colored slabs -I've mentioned before - were extremely fun where we’d try and walk on them quickly without falling. These slabs were right next to one of The Via Dolorosa entrances, and right next to it there was this old building with nice stairs that reach to it, and Israeli soldiers were always there sitting or standing or chatting on these stairs. And every time my brother and I would go racing towards these rocks we’d fall, and every time these soldiers would laugh. It never really looked right; them being nice guys laughing at dallying silliness of two little Palestinian kids while carrying these rifles and completely covered with their vomit-green-colored equipment and gear from head to toe. Nonetheless, we always laughed back as well, at least we continued to laugh with them until we realized that these rifles could someday be pointed at us where laughing won’t save the day.
After getting up and dusting our cloths we’d march towards our next challenge which was to walk on the old tiles and slabs of Tariq Alwad without crossing on any of the lines separating them; we used to pretend that if our feet stepped on one of the lines it’ll burn, so you see how challenging that was. Then we’d reach ammo Abu Shukri’s restaurant where he sells the best Hummus ever, but we were always scared to go there and ask him for a plate of Humus and a bag of Falafel because he never laughed. I still ask Sitti Um Ghassan why he never laughed, and till this day she’d only respond with wordless laughter, I never got my answer.

Then finally we’d reach Bab Al-Majles, and the only reason I know its name was because once Sitti asked me what was the name of the gate I use to enter al-Haram Alsharif to which I had no answer, and I got scolded and never forgot its name ever again, as Sitti said to me, “If you don’t even know the name of your gate, how will you know your city and its history? You should know the names of these gates now as a starter, and then when you grow up ya tatta you’ll be able to know their history and then the city’s history, and finally your country’s history. Knowledge ya tatta, knowledge is your strongest weapon, don’t lose itShe raised ten children, two daughters and eight sons and all of them were educated and ravenous readers, that’s why me being clueless was not an option for her.

Eventually we enter either Bab Almajles or Alsilsila or Al-Asbat to Al-Haram Al-Sharif and then automatically we transfer to a timeless place where, I used to believe as a kid, peace was first generated. Words could not describe how beautiful it was. You could see the sky so clearly you could almost touch it, catch its beautiful white clouds, and enjoy a ride on them. Everything was ancient and everything had its own story to tell and I was always fascinated by that. It had its own magic, and knowing that this place had this much history always fascinated me, that the spot I was standing on right now had many great men and women stand on it too throughout history. I always assumed that in my own way, since I was standing there, I was part of history as well. I felt legendary. When I say Beit Sitti, I don’t usually just mean the Honorary School; to me this entire place was Beit Sitti, with the clouds, the sky, the ageless stones and palm trees. I felt home, I felt power, because I believed legends were made there, and I was lucky enough to be born there.

Then I grew up.

Then I knew in this place many things were generated like blood, torture, wars, violence, vengeance … anything but legends and peace. And that this place wasn’t really my home, it might have been at some point or the other, but now it’s being taken away from me slowly and forever.

Up until 2011, we used to live in a small town in one of Jerusalem’s (East Jerusalem) many neighborhoods, called Beit Hanina. I loved it! Growing up we always moved around a lot but Beit Hanina was home, at least the longest home we stayed at that I remembered. We stayed there for ten continuous years. Then, long story short, with all the pressures of being Palestinian Jerusalemites under Israeli Occupation we had to move out, or practically run, to live in a different neighborhood called Kufor Aqab.

Now this neighborhood is very special, Israel just digs it. It’s, sort of, illegal. On maps and blueprints this neighborhood is part of the Jerusalem municipality borders, but when they built the Wall they left it out - or actually in. It was practically part of the West Bank, and right next to this neighborhood was Qalandia Refugee Camp and the infamous disgusting Qalandia Checkpoint.

So you see, in this neighborhood laws weren’t applied, not Israeli or Palestinian (if such thing exists) laws. Meaning, you don’t need permits to build houses, you can build houses illegally without paying thousands and sometimes millions of Shekels for permits and what would the result be? Hundreds and thousands of Skyscrapers – in the Palestinians sense of them being ten-storey buildings- on top of each other, accompanied with horrible sewerage system, unmaintainable phone and internet lines for security reasons, and –for some reason- a lot of stolen cars and scooters. It doesn’t end there, the fact that this neighborhood is “lawless” also means that when a fire erupts or any sort of medical case that needs an ambulance occurs; no one will come to the rescue.
This place doesn’t exist to Israel, it only exists in terms of it being a place for Palestinian Jerusalemites to run to in order to escape high living expenses while maintaining their “residents of Jerusalem status but give up some sense of a good life, which isn’t that great under occupation anyway, but hey, we accept the best we could get and Kufor Aqab was not it.
That’s not the only perk of the quality life we have there, we also have to go through Qalandia checkpoint on daily and hourly basis to get to Jerusalem, and that’s where my resentment towards Jerusalem started. I could not hate the Israeli Occupation for this, I mean, that was their job: to make our lives more difficult. I could hate us for allowing all of this to happen in the first place. We let this happen, yes Israel is a colonial power that is occupying our lives and land but when the Wall was built we showed little resistance. Only after it was completed we paid attention to its existence. The checkpoints too, we allowed them to happen, I remember when I was little Qalandia Checkpoint consisted of two cement blocks and three soldiers, now it’s like the security check we go through in airports; with metal cages and gates and metal-detector machines, and schedules! It even felt weird the first time I went to JFK airport and had to go through the same process I go through on a checkpoint back home to go from one city to the other. I was in awe why people weren’t offended; going through that “security check” while being treated like a terrorist was disgusting, how people played along beat me.

But Qalandia checkpoint was never like this, this “sophisticated”, we let it happen. We are not the soldiers who stand there to “inspect”, nor we are the ones letting people go through machines and take off their cloths and boots to make sure they’re not “security threats”, but we accept it.

But still I couldn’t really hate us, not alone, I hated the city that I went through all of this just to reach. I hated Beit Sitti for being part of this “glorious” Holy Land that had so little to do with holiness. I hated Tariq Alwad for not having checkpoints and allowing for a checkpoint to exist in order to reach it. I hated how those green metal bars of windows I used to love so much as kid were actually just the bars of one big prison with the same color of the soldiers outfits

I resented those old ancient slabs and blocks since most of them were taken away anyway and replaced with concrete, and then used instead to “decorate” old houses in West Jerusalem to imply that these houses were originally Jewish property and they have the ancient rocks to prove so, while these rocks and slabs showed little resistance just like their people. 

I hated Jerusalem for being Jerusalem. For being this important city that everyone wanted a piece of but no one could really have. I hated how Israeli policies made life there unbearable where people like us would have to run to live in ghettos. Where shops couldn’t stay open for more than two months, where taxes were paid day and night and no services in return simply because we were “the Arab – wouldn’t even acknowledge we’re Palestinians- inhabitants of the city, where there weren’t bike lanes and not even enough space for people to move, where life for Palestinians in Jerusalem wasn’t really life, just merely making it through the day. A city of ghosts, that’s what Jerusalem (East Jerusalem) was. If you cross to the “other side” of the city you’ll have the complete opposite. You’ll have wide streets, bike lanes, parks, and – well- life. A sense of a normal life that I had no idea existed. So I hated it, and I will continue to hate it till I can make it my own again. PS: The old huge-slippery slabs and the small tiles that spread through out Tariq Al-Wad are now in the Israeli Knesset Building, the "Israel Museum", and on the modern walls of the Mamilla Mall that was originally built on top of an ancient Muslim cemetery. It's not new for the Israeli authority to "steal" such ancient and historical pieces under the name of "renovation" and "modernization", or to legitimize the existence of Israeli Jews in old Palestinian (Arab) houses in the West side of Jerusalem.  

Israel has taken everything from us, our country, our history, our traditions, our houses, our rights, and even took away the old slippery slabs of my childhood and the the love I used to feel towards the city of my upbringing. Jerusalem is no longer my holy city, it became a constant reminder of our passivity and lack of adequate and consistent resistance. I hate it now, and I'm going to continue feeling this way until I could make it my own again. Until I bring back its stolen slabs and tiles, until it's soldiers-free, and until I no longer have to go through hours of humiliation and limitation to reach it. Someday I believe, hope, to be reunited with my holy city chains free.

Um Ghassan, my grandmother

The view of one of the windows of my grandmother's house

The entrance to my grandmother's house