Haifa, My City

This past weekend Haneen and I headed up to Haifa for the weekend. We caught a ride with some friends we made in Ramallah. As soon as we entered the ’48 territories (Israel) I told Haneen to look closely under any forests she sees to find destroyed homes that mark the presence of a destroyed Palestinian village. And before I even finished my sentence a forest appeared on our right and sure enough destroyed Palestinian homes lay at the bottom of the trees. These forests were planted by the Jewish National Fund through the 1950s after the Palestinians were ethnically cleaned and their villages destroyed to erase any trace of their existence. So in reality this was not a ecological contribution but the erasing of a people. The absurdity is how can Israelis see these houses today and continue to believe that no one lived and built this land before they dispossessed them?

When we got to Haifa we asked to be dropped off at a street near the Baha’i Temple, which is full of Arab owned restaurants and cafes. We sat down for coffee and chatted with the wait staff until a friend I made in Haifa a few weeks before came by to pick us up. He was taking us to the home of another friend I made in Haifa whose family he wanted us to meet. The father prepared an AMAZING meal and while I got into a long and heavy political and literary (Palestinian) conversation with the parents, Haneen and our five new friends sat outside talking, smoking argileh, and drinking beer. Haneen and I both felt like we had known this family for years. It was a strange yet welcome feeling and I really felt at home.

We stayed with them in Hallisa– my grandparents’ neighborhood in Haifa. Before 1948 when my grandparents lived there, Hallisa was a middle class neighborhood. Today it is a predominantly Arab neighborhood, it is poor and run down. Our friends called it a slum and it is burdened by drugs and violence. Walking to the house we were staying in we saw a car with someone’s name on it, and our friends told us that this car belonged to a young man who was shot dead outside of his home. It is rough here and the residents were facing eviction by the Israeli government a few months ago.

The following day Haneen and I woke up early to go to the beach where we spent half of our day. At the beach I sat in the water and became lost in my thoughts, particularly thinking about the dispossession of my people from this land and my grandmother’s stories about the beach and about the view of the ocean from their house. But every time I got lost in my thoughts I would be awakened suddenly by my surroundings and the realization that this is not the same Haifa. Here the Palestinians who remained are living in slums at worst and at best attending university where they are forced to study in Hebrew– not their native tongue. This while they are indigenous to this land and in a few year’s time will make up the majority of people living in this country again.

And then there was the bus incident. On our way back from the beach to Hallisa we took the bus that would drop us off walking distance from our destination. I spoke to the driver in English because he was obviously not Arab and I cannot speak Hebrew. I told him we would like to be dropped off at Hallisa. “Hallisa you say? Not Khallisa? So you are Aravim (Arab)?” Yes, we are Arab. “And you don’t speak Hebrew?” No, we only speak Arabic and English. “And you go to Hallisa of course you are Arab. Only Arabs go to Hallisa.” OK– so can you tell us when we get there? “Yes, I will tell you when I get there.”

The boys in the back of the bus got very rowdy and loud and began bothering the passengers. The same bus driver assumed that they were Arab and in a derogatory tone he started to yell at them: “Ahmad! Ahmad!” Then broken Arabic to tell them to shut up. Haneen and I were confused because the boys were Jewish, not Arab, but it was assumption he made and refused to back down. Another Jewish passenger, male in his early forties, came to the front of the bus and told the bus driver to do something about those kids. The bus driver said, again in broken Arabic, “Can you speak Arabic? Tell them in Arabic, Ahmad! Shut up!” The passenger argued with the bus driver that the kids were Jewish, not Arab, but the bus driver insisted that they were Arab. Haneen leaned over and told me that for the first time in her life she believed that the way she feels must come close to being Black on a White bus.

After the loud kids in the back got off the bus, the driver told us he was pulling up to Hallisa. He went off route (we know this because the women on the bus started to yell at him about making a wrong turn) and told us that if we got off here we are to make a quick left and quick right and we would find ourselves in Hallisa. When we got off the bus, we asked and found out that we were lied to but the bus actually goes all the way to Hallisa. It was an odd type of racism that inspired that bus driver to kick us off the bus, but the Palestinians there understood. They were appalled by the story, but they understood the situation nonetheless. The responses we heard were, “Yes, that is how it is here”. We got on another bus (incidentally the same bus route) with an Arab driver and he got us to Hallisa.

When we got to Hallisa we washed up, ate, and went back out to explore the neighborhood and see my grandparents’ house. On a hilltop in Hallisa is a mosque called the Mosque of Hajj Abdullah. Hajj Abdullah was my grandmother’s uncle– he built the mosque and it is one of the few mosques in the ’48 territories that remains a mosque. Most were either destroyed or turned into bars or animal barns. Directly behind the mosque is the house my grandmother used to live in with her family. In 1948 she would have been 14 years old. Her sister and my grandfather’s brother were married, and my great grandfather rented a room in their building and the first floor as a grocery store from them. My grandfather was 18 in 1948. My grandmother and grandfather would not get married until my grandmother was 19 and they were refugees in Damascus. I will write more about them in a later post.

That day as we were going to see the old house on the hilltop in the Hallisa neighborhood in Haifa we met two of my distant cousins: one from my grandmother’s family and one from my grandfather’s. This is the Diaspora, and I have experienced it many ways before but this face of the Diaspora I have just experienced for the first time. The Diaspora is young enough for you to see your family, but old enough for you not to know them. Some photos below:

Reads “Masjid al-Hajj Abdullah”.

View from my grandparents’ house– just like my grandmother used to tell me

Walking up to search for the house

My grandparents’ home before the ethnic cleansing. The ground floor was a corner store.

View of old ground level grocery store from an opening in the outside wall.

Dome of my great great uncle’s mosque.

Ramallah

Ramallah is nothing like I expected it to be. I immediately had mixed feelings about it, and talking to folks just reinforced those feelings. On the one hand, Ramallah is one of those Palestinian cities into which the Israel Defense Forced no longer enter. The Palestinian flag is everywhere here– as opposed to Jerusalem which is being annexed by Israel and the Israeli falg is everywhere. (Not that flags really mean anything to me as someone who does not like nationalism, just that its an indicator of the place’s politics, especially here). Ramallah is cosmopolitan and has a little bit of everything. You’ve got your music and arts scene, you’ve got your depoliticized and your political scenes, religious and secular, etc. There are internationals everywhere who mis with the locals, and sitting at a bar after hours is the best place to meet young, active people. The BDS and one-state movement is alive here, and (unfortunately) so is the two-state movement. Its a beautiful city to live and work.

However I got the feeling that you could easily forget the occupation living in Ramallah. Not completely of course. People here cannot go to Jerusalem, for example, and this is something that they cannot forget. They are also forced to purchase most of their products from Israel, they still stop at checkpoints between cities. I remember my friend said, “They are making our prison bigger and prettier, but its still a prison”. It seems Israel is punishing Gaza, and in the same way “rewarding” the West Bank, almost to create examples out of either population for the other. Gaza, look how we are easing restrictions in the West Bank. West Bank, watch how we strangle Gaza.

The problem is that the Palestinian Authority is part of this system. I believe that Salaam Fayyad is unilaterally creating the Palestinian state in the West Bank. This is a serious problem because to get the state the Palestinians will have to give up everything else– the Right of Return for refugees, Jerusalem, and so on. Also, what exactly is the state going to look like? Bantustans and cantons carved into 22% of Historic Palestine? What will connect Gaza and the West Bank? How will the economy of a Palestinian State sruvive in the shadow of Israel? What will happen to the Palestinian citizens of Israel? What will happen to the refugee? Don’t these populations have a say? On and on and on.

Nonetheless, I have included photos of Ramallah. Its a wonderul place. Next I’ll write about Jerusalem and Bethlehem.Old house with a beautiful tree outside. I see two old ladies and two old men chillin outside this house all the time.

Plant nursery next to my job. Part of my daily walk to work.

Abandoned old house. I think it is being renovated.

Old Ramallah house. This one had a boarded up out house!

Hadil and me at al-Kamandjati.

Al-Kamandjati music center. This was an old Ramallah house that was transformed to the center.

Old Ramallah house.

Mosque with a mural of the Dome of the Rock.

Grandfather & Grandson.

Church.

Hiking near Ramallah!

An amazing hiking trip, early enough int he morning so that the sun did not fry us. It was only interrupted by a couple of settlers reversing their car on the freeway upon seeing us asking us, “What are you doing here?” Really? I think the real question is… what are you doing here?

Gaza Freedom Flotilla

I will begin by mentioning that a few years ago the leading Jewish academic Judith Butler gave a talk at Temple University about the ethics of anti-Zionism. The most powerful statement she made, which resonated deeply with me, was that Israel is threatened by democratic liberalism. She went on to explain what she meant: that anti-Zionism, from which Israel is so afraid, is simply a call for Israel to be a democracy for everyone and to implement international resolutions in giving the refugees their right to return to their homes.

International law, in my opinion, is a farce, it is a joke. Over the past few years we have seen that the jurisdiction of international law extends over poor countries, but it does not punish the colonizer for their violence against the colonized. Israel is a case in point: European colonizers displaced the indigenous Palestinian people 62 years ago and the United States and European nation-states that have a vested interest in maintaining this colonial system—in fact the last one remaining—will go to extremes to ensure that Israel maintains its domination.

One of Israel’s greatest weapons, aside from those they employ to repress militarily, has always been its propaganda. The best example is the creation myth: “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Not Palestinians, but Israeli historians have revisited the documents of the founding of the state of Israel and have re-written the history: the Palestinians are not accidental refugees of war, but were ethnically cleansed from their homelands. There was a plan in place which was implemented village by village and city by city to rid Palestine of the Palestinians. (For examples of these revisionist historians and histories see Benny Morris, a Zionist Israeli Jew, and Ilan Pappe, an anti-Zionist Israeli Jew). The Palestinians have been telling this history for years–including both my grandparents. Americans in particular still lack education on the history of the creation of the state of Israel. This is a shame predominantly because we are Israel’s greatest funders. Instead of spending our money on the urban public education system or healthcare for our citizens, we send $5.5 billion a year toIsrael, which is used to maintain an illegal occupation, to keep the Palestinians that were expelled in 1948 out, and to punish anyone who wants to stand in solidarity with Palestine and the Palestinians—and the freedom flotilla is an example.

Israel is not losing the unwavering support of the developed world, and it will not be condemned by international law in any meaningful way. Israel (and everyone else) knows this, so why should it change its violent tactics? The international community has long given Israel the green light to use its military capacity to the fullest—from its creation until today. Israel was not a miracle, nor was its creation story impressive. Israel was created through ethnic cleansing and can only be maintained through repression and violence. The truth is I personally was not surprised by Israel’s act of violent piracy in the Mediterranean. After the 1,500 Gazans killed last year in the Gaza massacre, who really is shocked that Israel killed 9 activists? Moreover, I am not expecting a serious response from any government or any international organization. The powers of the UN are seriously compromised when the US can veto any plan of action that can check Israel’s power and put an end to its Apartheid regime.

What Israel is losing, however, is its propaganda machine. At this point media is so easy to come by, so why would any of us look to the corporate media for our information? What will really pose a challenge to the state of Israel are people all around the world whose greatest power lies in pressuring their governments through solid grass roots movements to pressure and isolate Israel, as the world did with South Africa, until it ends its Apartheid. Negotiations between the PA, Israel, the US, and the EU are useless. Such negotiations have revealed a historic trend whereby Israel only gains more land, more power, and greater support. Negotiations assume a certain equality between the parties involved which does not exist between the Palestinians and the Israelis. With the Palestinians living on 12% of 22% of their historic lands (Palestinian controlled territories in the West Bank), what can they possibly negotiate? To negotiate you need leverage. This is why the ANC and Nelson Mandela refused to negotiate with the racist, white Apartheid regime in South Africa. And this is why today the South African peoples, more than anyone on earth understand that Israel is a pariah state and can only be checked through a movement of the people—like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS).

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement is growing. It remains a small force of international activists, but this year more student bodies at universities are pressuring their administration to withdraw all funds that support the Israeli military and settlements, and more artists have cancelled their shows in Israel (Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, and Gil Scott Heron). This is the critical moment and these are the crucial movements that will put an end to Israel’s unchecked power and domination. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is just one part of this growing movement, and in the end it is ordinary people who will support other ordinary people against racist governments such as Israel, South Africa before it, and Jim Crow USA before that.

Here in Palestine, the Palestinian are not so much shocked at how low Israel can go, because more than anyone else they have been victims of this domination. Most people here are surprised at how brash and unpremeditated the attack on the Freedom Flotilla was. In other words, Israel is destroying its own image. People here are aware that attacks on international supporters (rather than on Palestinians) creates an international outcry. And the outcry is beginning, but I think that the greatest result of this outcry will be the growth of the grassroots base of the solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people, which in time will create the necessary conditions to isolate Israel as a pariah, apartheid state—like South Africa. In my personal opinion the attack on the Gaza Flotilla demonstrates that Israel knows that it cannot go on this way much longer. The Israeli state is holding on to its domination and pushing the limits while it can.

Entering/West Bank

The Israeli border is the scariest border I have ever crossed. So much that my nerves begin acting out weeks in advance of traveling and I keep strategizing in my mind, I keep reviewing my story and searching for any holes they can poke. After the crossing I always let out a deep breathe in preparation of inhaling the breeze of my homeland. A Palestinian professor of mine once told me that he would rid the world of nostalgia if he could. I agree in one sense that nostalgia produces a lack of self-criticism and completely falsifies reality. But there is something good to be said about nostalgia—it keeps you connected emotionally and existentially to something you’ve lost. I think its just important not to let that nostalgia give you a false sense of reality. But I digress.

After taking my big breathe across the bridge in Palestine I knew that the worst was over. Anyway now I have my visiting visa stamp on my American passport. I’m good for three months to go wherever I want in this country… right? My cab arrived in downtown Nazareth and my cousin picked me up and took me to my aunt’s house. We had dinner—the best dawali (stuffed grape leaves) I have ever had (confirmed by others)—and then I argued for half an hour with my cousins about how I need to get into the West Bank. I told them I would not relax until I crossed a checkpoint and got into the West Bank. Then, getting to Ramallah would be a piece of cake, and within two days I would begin my internship. They finally agreed. The closest point into the West Bank is Nazareth-Jenin, and there my uncle Maan’s friend from his youth would be waiting to pick me up and take me to stay with them in Jenin for a night. That crossing closes at 3pm, which was when I got into Nazareth. I was never going to get through that way. My next option was to go through the Barta’a checkpoint. So my cousins made their way and so did Amo Mahmoud. This was an hour out of the way. When we got there we couldn’t find the checkpoint, so a young Palestinian man offered to come with us in the car to show us the way. When he got us there I thought this would be it. I told my cousins I would see them in a few weeks.

I walked into the checkpoint with my bag and confidently handed over my passport, revealing the page my visa was stamped on. The soldier behind the window examined it too closely. He flipped through it and begin saying, “Falasteeni! Falasteeni!” (Palestinian, Palestinian). I did not reply. “Do you have a hawiyyah?” (hawiyyah is the Palestinian ID which is issued by Israel to Palestinians in the West Bank. Its restricts their movement to the West Bank only. Palestinians with this ID cannot even enter East Jerusalem).

“No!” I replied, “Only American.”

He kept repeated Falasteeni and I kept repeating no, only American. Then he told me to wait on the bench. I sat and looked up to find another Israeli soldier walking above me, his M-16 pointed directly at me. I decided to look away quickly. Looking around me (rather than up) I realized what this checkpoint looks like: a prison. As Palestinian women and men passed through the checkpoint waiting for the turn stiles to be turned on they stand in tiny cages waiting for further instructions from the soldiers—pass or do not pass. Enter the West Bank or do not enter the West Bank. I was awakened from my deep thinking by a young Palestinian man who was turned away at the window too. “Why did they turn you back?” Unsure as to whether or not I should be talking I looked up at the soldier with the M-16. “I don’t know. He keeps asking me for a hawiyyah but I don’t have one. I have a US passport.”

“Oh” he said, “That happened to me last year. I have a Jordanian passport and a hawiyyah. I tried to travel with my passport and they found my ID and I got in trouble. They are trying to figure out who has IDs”.

Before we finished this conversation three more young men were turned back, each asking why I wasn’t allowed through. These young Palestinians gave me a greater sense of security—the Israeli soldiers seemed less threatening when Palestinian men and women passed through the checkpoint or sat next to me and talked to me. About 15 or 20 minutes later another Israeli man comes from a door I hadn’t seen before, carrying my passport, and just in case I was a threat, and in case the guy standing above us with the M-16 was not enough protection for him, he was escorted by another soldier with an M-16, his pointing to the ground but his finger on the trigger. I smiled to myself at such a ridiculous scene: three soldiers, two with an M-16 and one with my passport just to confront me.

“I am sorry” he said, “This visa will let you go into the West Bank, but after this you cannot leave, you have to stay in the West Bank.”

So I agreed. “That’s fine,” I said. I knew he was not telling the truth because I had been here with the same visa and I’ve gone in and out of the West Bank. I also knew that there were checkpoints through which I would be able to enter the West Bank without them looking at my passport. But why was he saying this? After I agreed this soldier changed his mind.

“No, actually wait. I want to check something else one more time. Can you sit down again and I will be back in five minutes.”

“Sure,” I replied, “Take your time.”

He left again with his escort. I was completely confused by the whole encounter. I went to take my seat again with the young men who had more questions and advice about where I should go if I get turned away. Fifteen more minutes went by before the soldier came back with his escort carrying the M-16, again. I walked over a met them half way.

“Sorry I made a mistake. Actually you cannot go into the West Bank on this visa. This is a B-2 visa it is only good for Israel, not the West Bank.”

There are no visas for the West Bank. I knew he was lying to me. So I argued, first telling him that I had a B-2visa last year and that I got into the West Bank fine with it then. Then I told him that I could go through Qalandia in Jerusalem and no one would even check my passport. He insisted that there was nothing I could do and that I simply could not enter the West Bank. I knew he was not telling the truth but I did not know why. So I went back to my seat to gather my belongings and I told the guys what I was told. They told me that I should go through Jabra checkpoint, another hour and a half away closer to Tulakrem.

We did go to the Jabra checkpoint and here we simply drove right into the West Bank—no questions asked because we were in a car holding Israeli license plates, of course. How arbitrary the checkpoints are. You go in and out of the territories based on the whims of Israeli soldiers. Just the weekend going from Jenin (in the West Bank where my cousin came to pick me up) to Nazareth (1948 territories or “Israel proper”) my cousin’s car was completely emptied and searched for two hours—because of me. Not sure what about my US citizenship raises red flags but they asked my cousin if I gave her any weapons or if she thinks I was given any weapons. Me, who is terrified of any weaponry and wants to rid the world of them. And the crazy thing is my taxes fund this madness. Rather than giving me health insurance or improving the public schools I graduated from, my taxes fund this apartheid military state. Obama, what are you doing?

Entering/Palestine

Two weeks ago I entered Palestine through the “Jordan River Crossing” in the north—the Sheikh Hussein Bridge. I took a bus from Amman about two hours north to Irbid and then West to Palestine. I had only crossed this bridge once before, last year. Then I was not alone, I was with Tarek and Roberto. I knew I was going to lie at the border. I have a two and a half month internship in Ramallah but I cannot tell them this at the border. Why go to Ramallah? The West Bank? The Territories? Typically at the Israeli border any mention of the West Bank means they will turn you back, or if you go through the bridge leading directly into the West Bank—Jericho and then Ramallah—you will be held up for hours and questioned about the “purpose of your visit”. So I always play it safe and go up through the Jordan River Crossing, go directly into Nazareth and then plan my movements from there. That day my plan was to get to Nazareth—the largest Palestinian town within the green line ’48 territories—eat dinner with my family, and have them drive me to the crossing between Nazareth and Jenin, stay with friends in Jenin for a night, then hop on a bus and reach Ramallah. But at the border I would not say this. At the border I am going to Haifa (my home city) and Akko and Jaffa, to swim and relax for the summer with my family during my two month break from school.

So that was my story. Everyone in line before me went directly through the border, a simple check of the name and the photo. This time, I thought, I am a woman traveling along, surely they will not ask me to “step aside” like they did myself, my brother, and my husband last year. But surely enough, I got to the front of the line and the border guard asked my name. “Nehad Kamel Khader” I replied. Oops, Arab name. “Step Aside Please.” I literally could have spoken those words with her as she uttered them. So, I stepped aside—please. I went through the metal detector, but they held my bags and passport. And after waiting for a few minutes the same man that asked me the questions last year came out, this time with a woman. She would question me this year, a set of stupid, meaningless, and incomprehensible questions. I exhaled as my heart began to beat faster. They had one passport but my other American passport was strapped to my waist under my pants. They do not need to know that I have it, and the Syria and Lebanon stamps from last year would surely raise some questions. “Hello. What is the reason for your visit?” Internship in Ramallah and Master’s thesis research. “Vacation”. “Where will you stay?” Mostly Ramallah, but also Jenin, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bethlehem. Anywhere my feet can carry me. “Nazareth.” “With who will you stay in Nazareth?” My mom’s aunt and her family. “My aunt.” “What is her name?” “Nidaa.” “Where are the places you want to go in Israel?” In Palestine? I want to go to Haifa to see my grandfather’s destroyed village and go to my grandmother’s house but knock on the door this time. I want to go back to Hebron and see how the settlers are torturing the Palestinians in the old city. I want to go pray in Jerusalem—no I don’t usually pray—but in Jerusalem I will make an exception. I want to stay in Ramallah, a Palestinian city where I feel comfortable getting on and off buses from one part of the city to the other, and going into shops and speaking Arabic with the keepers, and studying the embroidery on the dresses of the older women. “I don’t know, swim in the sea, see Akko, Tel Aviv, and Haifa.” “Where did you stay in Jordan?” With my mom and dad’s friends. “With my aunts.” “Did they introduce you to anyone?” What does that mean? “Excuse me?” “Did they introduce you to anyone?” “I’m not sure I understand your question.” Are you accusing me of something? “When you stayed with your aunts, did you sit only in the house?” Should I say yes? “No, of course not.” “So, did they introduce you to someone?” Wow. They are really asking me this. Do I pose a threat to Israel? “No. Listen, I was in Jordan for one day, I barely got to my aunt’s house, ate dinner, slept, and got on the bus to come here.” “Do you have any weapons?” Did you see any weapons in your X-Ray machine? “No.” “Do you have anything that looks like a weapon?” Haha, that “looks” like a weapon… like what? A toy? Did you see something that “looks” like a weapon on your machine? “No.” “OK, thank you.”

Thank you, Israeli soldier. Thanks for your fear tactic, you’ve definitely won. Not just the material wars, you’ve not only displaces my family. I will definitely think twice about coming to my homeland again. I understand that to you I pose an existential threat. I was supposed to have forgotten Palestine and Haifa—my parents were not supposed to have remembered. Well then I guess you’ve lost. It seems you are more afraid of me—alone, carrying only clothes in my suitcase and an American passport in my hands. This is much more difficult than you imagined, isn’t it?

Umm el Zeinat and Haifa

As planned, yesterday we returned to my ancestral village, Umm el Zeinat, near Daliyat al Karmel, on Mount Karmel, in Haifa.  Of course when I say “return” this is much greater than my brother and me.  This return is about my family, about an oppression that they, along with all the people of Umm el Zeinat and the people of the other 500 destroyed villages of Palestine had to endure.  What we undertook is the greatest act of resistance against the Zionist movement.  Three generations later we remember, and though not under our own conditions, we return to a village from which they hoped to erase our traces.

On our way into the village we met a man and his wife, picking cactus fruit with their four children.  My uncle pulled over to ask then how well they knew the village.  As it turns out they are from the Fahmawi family of Umm el Zeinat.  We told them we were returning and they offered to guide us through the village.  Of course all that is left of the village is rubble from demolished homes, overgrown shrubbery, and trees– both indigenous and those planted by the state in an attempt to make it seem as though no one ever lived there.

I discovered that the state of Israel grants permission to Jewish families every year to enter my village and harvest the olives.  The family that guided us through the village still lives off of the good of our land, however.  They have been trimming the fruit trees for years and eating pomagranates, cactus fruit, and they sneek around at night to harvest the olives, which they press for oil and pickle to eat.  They cannot harvest the olives in the day because it is illegal– the State sanctions the harvest for Jews only.  I was so happy to meet this couple and their kids, knowing that our people are still taking care of the land.  We picked and ate pomegranates, they gave us a bucket full of cactus fruit that they cleaned out, we drank well water from the only remaining working well in the village, we visited the grave yard where I read the fatiha for my great grandparents, and we explored some caves where its assumed that the fighters used to hide and store their weapons in 1936 and 1948.

I have never felt a more bizarre sensation for intense saddness and simultaneous ecstacy.  I was a returnee, and having eaten from the fruits of the land felt like I was taking back what was mine.  I also completely put down my guard and found myself laughing while tears rolled down my eyes.  I always said I would return to Umm el Zeinat and rebuild, but now I know I will.  I’ve had lots of thoughts that I need to comb through and understand.  I’ve been preparing for this moment my entire life, and now that its happened I cannot wait for it to happen again.  My village is there and it still exists, with a few folks left behind to take care of it until we can all reunite.

In the grand Zionist plan my brother and I were supposed to have forgotten this land.  We should not have known that we are from Umm el Zeinat, we should not have stepped foot on it ever again.  But in some small way we– and millions like us– have punched a very large hole in the Zionist plan.  I had a wonderful conversation today about this with Amin Mohammad Ali, shop owner and brother of Palestinian poet Taha Mohammad Ali in Nazareth.  I will write more about this conversation, but I realized that although I am in the “green line” and what is known as Israel proper, the Palestinians here are me and I am the Palestinians here.