Amidst the polemics that rage on and off line, sometimes it is helpful to take a step back to understand the human dimension of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. If you please, indulge the following reminisces for I believe that they reveal why Israel must necessarily abandon Occupation.
My father was born in the small West Bank village of Beitunia in 1930. His family owned an orange grove in Lydia and after 1948 neither he, nor his siblings ever saw the grove again. He came to the US for good in 1949. He was a “man’s man” with shoulders that appeared Atlas-like to me while growing up.
When he was alive, I only saw my father cry three times in my life. The first time transformed me forever. I was eleven years old and the year was 1968. My father received a package in the mail. Apparently he had donated some money and he received a book. I do not remember what kind of book, but inside when he opened it, I will never forget what I saw. It was a small Palestinian flag.
My father took it out and with his head bowed…he wept. I distinctly remember a sense of bewilderment. I had never seen this hulk of a man cry before. I quizzically asked, “Yaba, what’s wrong?” But he never told me. His was a generation that found these emotional outbursts confusing and embarrassing. But somehow I “instinctively” knew what had happened. And something happened to me. That day I became a Palestinian.
It was the next year in school that I had my first speech class. Most of the boys gave speeches on football and baseball and the girls on dolls and make up. My speech was on the disastrous consequences of the Balfour declaration.
Fast forwarding to the year 2000, history has somehow come full circle. This time, I am the father. One evening my wife, three boys and I decided to break the Ramadan fast at a restaurant. The waitress came over to ask what beverage we wanted. I answered for the table, “Bring three Cokes for the boys and two glasses of water.”
My ten-year-old looked at me with surprise and said, “Yaba, should we be drinking Coca Cola? We should order something else because Coke is helping the Israelis.” With this statement, my ten-year old became a Palestinian. Now, if you think that our home is a den of indoctrination, you would be dead wrong. He overheard me speaking about a Middle Eastern boycott of American goods, which included Coke. I believe my son “instinctively” knew that we should not lend ourselves to helping Israel brutalize our brothers and sisters, even indirectly.
These two incidents, separated by more than thirty years, reveal something fundamental, almost metaphysical. What connects ALL Palestinians in the world is a shared psychic experience. And this experience solidifies a Palestinian identity, no matter where one lives. Diaspora has not eradicated this identity. Time has not eradicated it. Neither prosperity nor privation has eradicated it. Being a Palestinian transcends geography and time. It is an eternal thought that lies dormant, waiting for a chance to express itself.
In the refugee camps of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon every Palestinian dreams of freedom and living in dignity without despair. In the villages of the West Bank and Gaza every Palestinian dreams of a life without identity cards, without Israeli snipers shooting the eyes out of children in dubious self defense. Every Palestinian living in countries from Australia to the US is connected to every other Palestinian. We will not go away.
Israel has falsely assumed that time was on its side. Their belief was that successive generations of Palestinians would assimilate into neighboring Arab countries. Israel believed that creating conditions of deprivation would cause a mass exodus without a longing to return. They have forgotten their own history. Israeli brutality has solidified Palestinian identity and demands its expression.
My father died almost twenty years ago and before he became ill, he looked me in the eye and said, “Son, I may not live to see Palestine, but Insha’Allah you will.” While it is true that Palestinians clutch the past to preserve our identity, we are ready to embrace the future. My father’s hope still rings in my ears.