My friend’s a refugee: Conversations with The Little One

“My friend is from the Jalazone refugee camp,” my youngest sibling told me, in Arabic, one day as I picked her up from her last day of school this past May.

I remember a performer from Sard’s* August Open Mic Night, who was also from the Jalazone refugee camp. Before he started rapping with a friend, he told the audience, “No one is born a refugee.”

“Oh, yeah? She comes all the way here from there?” I asked.

“Yes. One of my friend’s is from Bethlehem, too. But sometimes, they don’t come. There are problems.”

I know the problems very well. During my undergraduate years, I have had professors, colleagues and friends who weren’t able to come to university because of “problems.” These problems manifest in blocked roads, sealed refugee camps, or closed checkpoints.

“What’s a refugee camp, anyway?” She asked.

“Well…” I sigh. “A refugee camp is a place people live in because they were…” I search for the right words. There are no right words.

“Because they were kicked out of their homes.”

“Why was my friend kicked out?” She asked.

“No, not your friend. Her grandparents…or her parents were probably kicked out.”

“Why?”

“Well, you know how there’s an occupation? A lot of people were kicked out from their homes. They can’t go back, so they now live in refugee camps.”

“I see. Do they go back?”

I sigh. “They can’t. Not now.”

“Then when?” I wonder if I was that curious when I was her age.

“Well, one day.”

I’m not sure how to move beyond that answer.

 

 

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One Thousand Questions: Conversations with The Little One

“I have one thousand questions to ask you,” my youngest sibling says over the phone.

I sigh. I am in the middle of midterms – most of which are papers. She has a thousand questions. I feel a bit of guilt, take back my sigh, and respond with enthusiasm.

“One thousand? Want to ask some of them now and the rest later?”

“Sure,” she says.

“Okay, what’s your first question?” I asked, a grin on my face.

I did not expect her first question.

“When did the Jews take Palestine?” She asked.

I correct her. “The Israelis.”

“When did the Israelis take Palestine?”

I explain to her that it happened over seventy years ago.

She asks, “Well, were you alive?”

I laugh. “No, I wasn’t, but Siti [Grandma] Rahma, was alive.” Siti Rahma was our great grandmother. That put things into perspective for her.

“I see. Well, not all of them hate us, right?” She asks.

I sigh. “No. Not all of them. We shouldn’t hate anyone either, right?”

“Right. What does occupation mean?”

I try to search for a word that a second-grader would know. “It means…it means…taken. It means ‘taken.'”

“Okay. I’ll ask the rest later.”

“Okay.”

That was the end of that conversation a few months ago, but I know it isn’t the end of her questions. I still have questions of my own that I search for an adult to answer. No one can seem to give me one.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 17: We are Jerusalem.

The unfolding of events in Jerusalem seemed to occur pretty quickly for those of us watching them on television/computer/phone screens. Two Israeli police were killed. Three Palestinian men were killed. The Friday prayers were canceled for the first time since 1969. Security measures, in the form of  metal detectors and cameras, media seemed to focus their lens closely on Jerusalem, ignoring – or at least, for the most part – not mentioning the greater context these events took place in. It wasn’t an instance. It was – is – a result of the occupation.

The gates to Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock compound remained closed for about two weeks, and those who want to pray would have to go through the humiliating measures. The protests resumed for two weeks. Hospitals were raided in order to arrest the injured and capture the dead. Yes, the dead. Bodies had to be smuggled out of the hospital to be buried – quick mourning.

 

Then, after about two weeks, I was watching the very first moments of the security measures being taken down and the gates finally opening, welcoming the people of Jerusalem and all around. The mosques – even the ones in Al-Bireh/Ramallah – began performing takbeerat. My eyes filled with tears watching my fellow brothers and sisters in Jerusalem celebrate this victory. Yes, it was a victory.

My mind drifted to far places, as it often does. It drifted to a good place. That morning was one of them. I imagined the first few moments of a Palestine that is rid of the heinous occupation. I don’t know what will happen before or even after this, but that morning, I received a taste of it. I think many Palestinians did, and that is all thanks to our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

My friend asked a taxi driver on our way home from an adventure in Sebastia, “Do you have hope?”

He said, “If we didn’t have hope, would what happened in Jerusalem have happened?”

 

Image credit: Maannews.com

Generations Past and Pass: On Change

Donald J. Trump came to visit Palestine a week after I flew in. I turned on the television and sat across, watching Trump’s every move and hearing his every word. On the issue of Palestine, he was not going to be any different than his predecessors. Palestinians know this even before he utters a single word…even before he was sworn into office. Again, on the issue of Palestine, he was not going to be any different than his predecessors.

“That’s Donald Trump.” My youngest sibling walked into the room and sat next to me.

“The very one,” I replied.

“What’s he doing here?” She asked.

I didn’t know how to answer that. I silently hoped that when she was my age, a different, better story would be told.

I watched him speak and glorify the state of Israel and ignore the facts on the ground. I watched him meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and not utter a word about Palestine, the hunger strikers at the time, or anything he should have said. It was all about him wanting to combat terrorism and make the world great again.

As he shook hands with Abbas and left the podium, I thought to myself. How many generations have passed watching different United States presidents stand on a podium, preaching the same thing with no tangible….with no acknowledgement of the facts on the ground?

I thought of my grandparents, parents, myself, and my youngest sibling. We have all seen this two-podium-scenario with different presidents.

Today, there was a gathering in Ramallah in protest of the heinous measures Israel is taking against Palestinians in Jerusalem, especially in regards to Al-Aqsa Mosque. The protest was made up of a gathering of no more than 40 people.

“If this were to happen back in the day, everyone would have taken to the street,” my aunt, in her 40s, noted.

I nodded.

We rode a taxi, and as the taxi driver dropped us off, he said, “God help this generation. Darker times are yet to come.”

Darker times are yet to come. I wondered across how many generations this sentence has been uttered. 

The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 15: The Aftermath

Qalandia checkpoint is a human-sized birdcage. I have said this before, and this is the only way I will ever see it. I rode the Ramallah to Jerusalem bus excited – except I would not be dropped off in Jerusalem. I would be dropped off at the Qalandia checkpoint.

I have not been to Jerusalem in two years. At the bus stop and on Qalandia, I heard stories of women and old men who have not been there in over twenty. I know people who haven’t been there since they were born and who are now having children of their own. I am lucky. It had only been two years since I have visited one of the holiest cities in the world.

Walk to Qalandia

A woman walking towards the Qalandia checkpoint. Photo credit:   Author

As I walked, I reserved great attention to my footsteps. I looked down at my blue Converse as I stepped on stones and the remains of burnt tires.

A few weeks ago, there were protests at Qalandia for the hunger strikers who have had their basic rights stripped away from them. Tires were burnt. Smoke rose in the air. I, however, was not witness to this. I only found stones and the remains of burnt tires.

This is the aftermath of protests. Black skies and ground. Black. Darkness until one day, when we see light.

 

The Trip Home: Anniversary June Part 2

The trip home does not end when the airplane lands in Jordan. It begins.

The taxi radio was on. The radio talk show host was talking about how the next day marks 69 years since the occupation of Palestine. She began talking about the problems in Palestine, the negotiations that died long ago but politicians keep bringing up – as if there is a hidden message we have failed to catch – , the prisoner hunger strike, the, the, the…the list went on.

I was still in Jordan. I would be for a while. I wondered how, for the past 69 years on May 15th, things have not changed…not for the better. I wondered how many more generations will come and hear that for so and so years, things have not changed…not for the better. I will wonder this again, around a week later, when President Donald Trump comes to Palestine.

The next day, I get a message from a dear friend:

“How ironic you arrive on the day we were displaced.”

And my thoughts continued to struggle between the past and the future…when Palestinians were displaced and when they…if they will come back.

Podcast Episode: “Um Kulthoom Sang Here”

I am very pleased to announce the release of our very first podcast, “Um Kulthoom Sang Here” for AnOther Story. Get ready to be taken on a journey through Nablus’s coffeeshops that attracted artists, including Um Kulthoom, and hakawatyya from all over. In this story, you’ll meet some of Nablus’s locals with the most interesting stories!

I hope you enjoy this story as much as we enjoyed working on it. Thank you to Nicholas TurnerHalima Awad, Mustafa Azizi, Bara’ah Ab, Ramsis, Tahir Baker, Abu Ahmad, Abu Emad, the Kalbouna brothers, Deema, Ghaith, and everyone else who contributed and encourage the story. Below, you can find the links to the podcast in Arabic and English.

ARABIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9QprcZS0SE&feature=youtu.be AND https://soundcloud.com/user-393460129/j2pzljn48v2d

ENGLISH: https://soundcloud.com/user-393460129/um-kulthoom-sang-here and https://youtu.be/CNPnOgV6r0U

Apology Turned Euology: A Poem

 

Reading your name

it took me a few moments to realize

we have met before.

We have spoken months ago.

And I wish I had given you an apology.

I apologize that it has taken us more than the years

you’ve lived to end this occupation.

I wish I had given you an apology

every time you called me khalto 

on the ten-minute drive home

before I wrote you this euology.

 

 

 

 

“What happens when the green is gone?”

Ask many Palestinians not in Palestine if Palestine ever comes up casually, and they’ll probably tell you that, yes, we often mention Palestine in our introductions about ourselves, and somehow, political conversations branch into conversations about Palestine for us. It just does, and we have every right to do so.

Throughout the past few months, I have pulled up this map to “explain” where Palestine is and what is happening to it.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-9-27-59-pm

Source: The Map: A Palestinian Nation Thwarted & Speaking Truth to Power http://www.juancole.com/2014/07/palestinian-thwarted-speaking.html

But yesterday, I was asked a question I did not see coming when I was showing the map to a colleague who asked where Palestine was.

“What happens when the green is gone?”She asked.

My heart sank. The green can’t go! I wanted to cheer. I knew she’d ask – or her facial expression would give away her thought – “but how can’t it go?”

“Well…” I started a sentence that I did not know how to finish.

I wanted to say that the world would not allow that to happen. It would not make room for an indigenous population to be displaced from their land. Then, I remember that it has.

I wanted to say that World War 3 would erupt. Then, I remember Syria.

I wanted to say that we, Palestinians, wouldn’t let it happen. We just wouldn’t. I know people that wouldn’t. It’s enough to know people that wouldn’t, right?

But I started the sentence with, “Well…” and I couldn’t finish it because, well…

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You Open Up Your Own Bakery

I always say that when it comes time for me to retire, I’d open a little bakery with an outside seating area.

Well, a friend of mine beat me to it and is running her own bakery. Check out her story here, a piece by myself on Barakabits:

From Unemployed Palestinian Psychology Graduate to owner of Asal Bakery