In East Jerusalem there is a stone home where my paternal grandmother was born. Somewhere on a stone at the base of that home is a carving by my grandfather to her that says “Sa’atazawajuki”, meaning “i’m going to marry you.” In the strict Muslim traditions of my forefathers, that was the only way he could speak to her after stealing glances of her here and there. Days later, he came with the patriarchs of his family to that stone house to ask for her hand in marriage. After the acceptance, I imagine that her mother and other women in that stone house erupted with ‘zaghareet,’ or ululations, to mark the beginning of the wedding celebrations. That house was taken from my family and is now inhabited by a Jewish family.
My great grandfather, Mohammad Khalil Abulhawa, celebrated his 136th birthday in 1957 and was reputed to be the oldest man in the Middle East (recorded in the ‘Book of Lists’ by Amy Wallace p. 411). It is said that every morning he thanked God for his blessings by drinking a shot of olive oil from his harvest in Mount Olive, Jabbal Attour.
Also in East Jerusalem is a home that my grandfather and his brothers built themselves. It is where my father was born. My dad made a hole in the wall of that house to hide private things from his siblings. When they were forced to leave in 1967, everything remained behind.
In the late 1690’s, my great (times 5) grandfather came to an East Jerusalem village called Attour from a village in Palestine, 20 miles west of Jerusalem, called Deir El Hawa, which translates to “House of the Wind”. That is how he became known as “Abul-hawa,” or “Father of the Wind” and, hence, my last name. Deir El Hawa was one of the 420 villages that were ‘cleansed’ of Palestinians during the Nakba, or what Israel refers to as their ‘war of independence.’ Today, that site is a pile of brick and concrete and belongs to Israel.
I can trace my lineage back six generations to that village in East Jerusalem, Mount Olive. After three hundred years of recorded history and probably a 2000 more years of unrecorded history, the Abulhawa family is fragmented, dispossessed or occupied. I have over 35 first cousins and 2000+ second, third and fourth cousins. All of us are scattered throughout the world with the biggest concentrations in various parts of Jordan or living under occupation. In my straight lineage line, I am the first to be born on foreign soil.
My parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts crawled their way from the hell of dispossession and scattered to all parts of the world to find a living. From Palestine, first to Jordan then Syria, my parents ended up in Kuwait, where I was finally born (but could not become a citizen).
Perpetually trying to find the place of belonging, by the time I was 16 years old, I had lived in eleven different places, across four different countries, only two of those years with my parents. My high school homeroom teacher, and dear friend, wrote a poem for me once and called it “Daughter of the Wind,”–a play on my last name. It is as though my name, “daughter of the wind,” became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Israel’s version of peace dictate that I can’t so much as buy back my grandmother’s home, much less lay any claim to it. I cannot live where my great grandfather lived or eat his olives. I cannot pass on this ancient history to my daughter except in stories that lack the aesthetics of our culture, nuances of our language, feel of the earth or flavor of kinship. I can do nothing but disconnect from my roots and become something other than who I am.
On the other hand, any Jewish person, anywhere in the world has more rights to my roots, my history and my family’s property than I do.
Because I am the wrong kind of human.
This is the Right of Return.
It is not simply about reclaiming stolen property. It is acknowledgement that we are human beings entitled to human rights; that we are worthy of our own history. It is the affirmation that, in the 21st century, it is not OK to uproot a society for the sole purpose of replacing them with another “chosen” people. Finally, it is Israel owning up to her sins against the natives of the land, and therefore, it is the true language of peace.