Saturday, January 8, 2011
Friday, January 7, 2011
Thursday, January 6, 2011
January 5, 2011 - 8:10am
An Ibishblog reader, who I respect greatly, writes:
Hussein, I agreed with much of what you said in your recent Huffington Post column, but this really puzzled me:
"In our own country, the most vociferous proponents of the Arab and Muslim victimization narrative, those who blame the West, especially America or "the white man," for all the ills that befall the Arabs and Muslims, and those who most loudly advocate against the legal and societal harassment of Arabs and Muslims in the United States, take full advantage, as they are entitled to, of the American system and find shelter in the comfort and security of its freedoms. The damage they do in being the loudest and most anti-American voices emanating from the vulnerable Arab and Muslim immigrant communities, who already feel besieged, is to provide ammunition to the demagogues and profiteers of racism and peddlers of hate and fear of Arab and American Muslims, and to empower and encourage the worst racist and chauvinistic tendencies in this country."
Who, exactly, are these groups? And are you suggesting that our discourses here should be restrained by the risk that our criticisms of the US can be appropriated by al-Qa'ida to justify their terrorism?
I'm glad you asked. First of all, I can only speak for myself in this case because the commentary in question was co-authored by my colleague, ATFP Pres. Ziad Asali. Indeed, the passage you cite from our collaboration was originally drafted by him, although I agree with and stand by every single word of it. But let me give you my own personal view of what I think we mean in this important passage.
The groups we are referring to are many and various, which is why we were not specific in naming them. They run the gamut from the Islamic religious right to the Arab nationalist left, and therefore cannot be placed in a straightforward ideological category or box. It's more an attitudinal issue: a way of looking at our country from a jaundiced point of view, with an attitude of hostility, unjustified hyper-criticism, an obsession with its faults and disregard for its virtues, and the knee-jerk reaction that blames everything that is wrong with the Arab or Muslim world on Western intervention alone. The fact is there are very loud voices among the Arab and Muslim Americans that not only blame the West in general and the United States in particular for everything that goes wrong in the Middle East, including much of which is plainly and unmistakably self-inflicted by the Arabs and the Muslims without any help from anybody else, and that these are influential voices. They sing the siren song that it's not our fault, that someone else is to blame, and that all we have to do is sit back and complain loudly enough and everything will ultimately be all right. If you're not familiar with such voices, you don't read the Arab blogosphere at all, because that's mainly what's in it.
The irony were getting to in this passage, I think, is how easy it is to vilify the West from the comforts of the West; to hypocritically take advantage of the financial and professional opportunities afforded by a country like the United States and, even more hypocritically of the political freedoms it provides, and yet to maintain an attitude of utter hostility towards it at every level and blame it for anything and everything, including the bad weather. This is a discourse that holds that even bad actors in the Arab world, whether it is the oppressive regimes or the demented and violent extremist groups are all either respectively acting at the behest of, or simply producing an inevitable and natural reaction to the policies of, the West. It's a set of arguments that essentially alleviates Arabs and Muslims from any responsibility for their predicament, and that reduces the Arab and Muslim American role to one of being almost entirely critical of our own country in a very unhealthy and unrealistic way, and in a manner that ensures political self marginalization and total and utter irrelevancy.
In other words, there is a tremendous degree of hypocrisy in the radical chic anti-American attitude expressed in so many online forums by younger (and older, for that matter) activists who sit in the comfort of US universities or other American places and spaces and fulminate against the evils of the United States day and night. It's not a question of love it or leave it. That's preposterous. But it is a question of having the minimal integrity of recognizing that the country you choose to live in obviously has something to offer you that you're taking advantage of, not least a degree of political freedom to castigate it without any potential repercussions of any serious variety. The fact that some people hide behind pseudonyms or do so anonymously only underscores their hypocrisy. There is a striking lack of personal, political and professional integrity at work here that deserves to be pointed out. It's not courageous, although it might be tragically hip. From a political point of view, it's completely self-defeating and while it may gain one fans in the online echo chamber of social media and the blogosphere, insofar as it has any influence at all, it helps consign the entire community to the political margins, which is where some people openly say they are determined to stay because the American political system is inherently corrupt and/or corrupting.
The damage such voices do to the Arab and Muslim American communities is almost incalculable, because not only do they encourage self-marginalization and determined, calculated irrelevancy, leaving an open field for our adversaries (something they have enjoyed for decades and continue to take full advantage of), but because by being reflexively, irrationally and unfairly anti-American they feed into the narrative that Arabs and Muslims in the United States are a potential fifth column. None of this is to say that principled opposition to misguided US foreign policies is not important or essential. Anyone who's followed my career over the past couple of decades will know that I have not hesitated to voice strong, passionate and sustained critiques of policies I thought were indefensible and damaging to the national interest such as the misguided, and indeed I think disastrous, invasion of Iraq. But the only attitude worth taking if one is in the least bit interested in political viability is that of the loyal opposition. It's one thing to make a patriotic critique of a policy on the grounds that it will not in fact strengthen the country or achieve consensus policy goals. It is another to denounce the entire political system of the country, imply that it needs to be overthrown, attempt to influence foreign policy by simply vilifying policymakers and the entire system of policymaking and stand militantly outside it waving real or virtual impotent placards, or to give our fellow citizens every reason to feel that we might be, as the anti-Arab racists and Islamophobes like to suggest, fundamentally disloyal.
Principled, patriotic, measured and sensible criticism of US foreign policy or other aspects of American behavior, conduct or culture is not only a useful thing: it's a patriotic duty. And I don't think there is the least danger that any such discourse can be “appropriated by Al Qaeda” to justify their violence. This certainly isn't what I think we were trying to suggest. But I do think it is essential for Arab and Muslim Americans to shed their tin ear -- their apparently chronic inability to hear how our words will sound to our fellow Americans -- and begin to pay serious attention to crafting a message that conveys our fundamental interests and concerns in a receivable manner that can have a positive impact rather than reinforcing the worst stereotypes and stoking the deepest fears of disloyalty. Angry people will probably regard such a suggestion as an appeal to kowtow to chauvinistic American attitudes or unreasonable expectations. I don't think that's the case at all.
All that is required is to embrace one's position as a loyal American with as much seriousness of purpose and sincerity as possible, and begin first and foremost always with the national interest at heart. From then it is a fairly simple matter to craft arguments centered around the national interest (and I mean as commonly understood, and not the alternative Dennis Kucinich left wing alternative version or the Ron Paul right-wing one) that advance issues we believe in such as the urgent need to end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Or, for that matter, to have advocated against the Iraq war and in favor of its rapid drawdown. Or to advocate in favor of an intelligent and fast-tracked drawdown in Afghanistan. Or to oppose irrational and counterproductive “national security” measures that unfairly target Arab and Muslim Americans based on their identity. And so on and so forth. It's not terribly complicated, once you accept the proposition that we are Americans, that our first duty is to our own country, and that there is nothing we legitimately want that is incompatible with our American national interest.
But the truth is that the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States ARE vulnerable on many fronts, especially to charges of disloyalty. It's totally unfair and irrational, but it is the reality and we ignore it at our peril. Our point was that irresponsible, juvenile and unthinking rhetoric that plays into the hands of the anti-Arab racists and Islamophobes is something our community just can't afford, and yet many of the loudest voices on social media, the blogosphere and other decentralized forms of communication produce exactly that. This is a definite danger, because it gives ammunition to the worst of the racists and bigots. And, of course, politically it not only doesn't achieve anything, it makes matters worse. It's not a matter of declining to say something that really needs to be said out of fear of the reaction of others. It's a question of having a healthy respect for the sensitivities and sensibilities of our fellow Americans -- something we frequently and correctly demand Westerners and especially Americans show to Arabs and Muslims -- and trying to understand the difference between a receivable message that can have a positive impact as opposed to venting, preaching to the choir and providing the likes of Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller with more ammunition to spread their fear and hatred. It's just a question of being smart rather than stupid.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
"The government of Israel must take immediate steps to cease demolitions and evictions in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem."
In late December, Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, called on Israel to cease demolitions of Palestinian homes immediately.
"These actions have a severe social and economic impact on the lives and welfare of Palestinians and increase their dependence on humanitarian assistance," he said.
"The government of Israel must take immediate steps to cease demolitions and evictions in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem."
Monday, January 3, 2011
Honesty and hypocrisy in facing terrorism
The Huffington Post (Blog)
January 3, 2011 - 12:00am
The murderous bomb attacks against Christian communities in Egypt and Iraq have been roundly condemned by most political and religious leaders, commentators and public opinion in the Arab world. They have also been met with an outpouring of passionate condemnation by ordinary people who have taken to the streets to express anger and demand justice. People have sensed the danger to their whole society inherent in such atrocities. The Alexandria church massacre could be a wake-up call to reverse dangerous trends, or it may be the beginning of unraveling of the bonds that keep people of different faiths and backgrounds together as citizens.
However, the effort to place the blame solely on outsiders or extremists for these attacks glosses over a much deeper and more troubling context. While there is little sympathy for the outrageous crimes of the fanatic extremists outside of their own ranks, these murderous radicals are in fact taking some prevalent societal attitudes to a cold bloodied and logical, albeit extreme, conclusion. Emerging out of a pervasive reality of powerlessness and inequity, political trends in the Arab world have given rise to a belligerent chauvinistic sensibility that has increasingly valorized the Islamic identity and regarded the rest of the world, especially the West, with deep suspicion and hostility.
These attitudes are promoted from the top down, through government-sponsored media, educational and religious institutions, and from the bottom up, in the home at the dinner table and online through a social media echo-chamber featuring a radical chic discourse aimed at restless young people. The worst ideas generally come from Islamist religious institutions, leaders and political opposition groups, which frequently argue that there is not only a conspiracy against the Arabs to prevent their development, but a global campaign to destroy Islam itself. Moderate voices who view the world in political rather than religious terms are outnumbered and function outside the parameters and comfort of political correctness. They try valiantly to stand for universal values while having to contend with constant intimidation because of their principled opposition to extremism.
The hegemonic narrative of relentless victimization at the hands of an all-powerful West frequently focuses on the theme of double standards, to which Arabs certainly have been subjected. However, this same ideal of a single standard is rarely applied in an introspective or self-critical manner. The contribution of Arabs and Muslims to their own failures, powerlessness, socio-economic inequities and dysfunctional systems are mentioned without any serious pursuit of corrective measures. The real blame for the failure, however, is consistently laid at the door of a hostile and manipulative West, led by America, and their regional amorphous client elite.
The question of religious minorities is an ideal place to begin examining the double standard argument. When given the opportunity, Muslims keep flocking to the West, where Muslim communities are growing and thriving, although they also face an increasing threat of discrimination and cultural hostility.
Christian and other religious minorities in the Arab world, however, are generally shrinking and withering, and are now facing a murderous campaign of attacks that seem consciously designed to try to drive them out of the region, or at least certain countries, once and for all. The fact that the vast majority of the victims of Islamist terror have been Muslims must not belittle the distinctive brutality of these attacks on Christians. These people were killed simply because they were Christians, with the evident aim of scaring them away from the country and possibly the region. Muslims have generally been killed because they happened to be in the way of those who use terror to achieve power and political objectives, including significant intra-Muslim sectarian violence in Iraq that intended to force communities to relocate.
It can't be enough for Arab and Muslim governments, and some media and organizations, to simply condemn obviously unacceptable outrages such as the recent massacres. In several Muslim countries religious minorities face discrimination, restriction of rights, laws against blasphemy, apostasy and "insults to religion," prohibitive constraints against building and reconstructing houses of worship, and the aggressive state-sponsored promotion of not only Islam, but certain narrow versions of it. All these realities need to be opposed in a consistent manner by those who would credibly defend Muslim rights in the West without engaging in double standards of their own.
Without even addressing circular arguments about who is defending themselves against whose aggression, the work that must be done to counteract narratives of intolerance and exclusion everywhere must be performed officially and legally, as well as at the social and community level both here and in the Middle East. It would be almost impossible to find explicit support from Arab or Muslim Americans for wanton acts of violence against civilians, but easy to find echoes of the sentiments of victimization and self-righteousness from which they ultimately derive. Even among Arab and Arab-American Christians and other minorities it is readily possible to encounter such views.
Of course, others have a great deal of work to do as well. The problems of Islamophobia spreading in the West, and growing blatant anti-Arab racism in Israel, need to be confronted at every level, without fear or favor. Marauding lawless bands of Israeli settlers, and American religious and ideological fanatics who advocate racism, must be held accountable. It is vital that communities, identity groups and societies take more responsibility to proactively define boundaries regarding what will be accepted as "respectable" discourse or conduct and what clearly crosses the line and has to be confronted as socially and politically dangerous even, and perhaps especially, if that means breaching expectations of ethnic, cultural or religious solidarity.
Critics will complain that we are conflating apples and oranges, casting the net of blame too widely or being unfair. What we are in fact doing is the unavoidable task of drawing connections between words that begin with hypocrisy and chauvinistic bluster, continue on into the promotion of intolerance, fear and hatred, and finally, in the hands of the most extreme, erupt into unconscionable acts of violence. This progression needs to be addressed as much at its source as its outcome if the trend is to be reversed.
Too few voices and organizations in Arab and Muslim societies, and the Arab-American community for that matter, repudiate much of the rhetoric that ultimately, when taken to its logical conclusion by demented murderers, leads to this kind of appalling violence. Their default position is to cite various injustices and to ask others to understand the motives for violence by pointing to a double standard argument or other rationalizations. This approach means that most of Arab societies, and many in the Arab and Muslim American communities, are in effect opting for silence. This doesn't mean that this silent or ambivalent majority condones murderous acts by extremist fanatics, far from it. But these massacres in Egypt and Iraq demonstrate that everyone has a responsibility to be more vigilant and to recognize that the language of hate and intolerance can ultimately lead to unspeakable violence and should not be tolerated and countered by responsible choices.
In our own country, the most vociferous proponents of the Arab and Muslim victimization narrative, those who blame the West, especially America or "the white man," for all the ills that befall the Arabs and Muslims, and those who most loudly advocate against the legal and societal harassment of Arabs and Muslims in the United States, take full advantage, as they are entitled to, of the American system and find shelter in the comfort and security of its freedoms. The damage they do in being the loudest and most anti-American voices emanating from the vulnerable Arab and Muslim immigrant communities, who already feel besieged, is to provide ammunition to the demagogues and profiteers of racism and peddlers of hate and fear of Arab and American Muslims, and to empower and encourage the worst racist and chauvinistic tendencies in this country. Minorities in this country have achieved their communal and collective objectives by working the system as they redefine it, and gaining support and power by courageous but peaceful confrontation with injustices, by use of the law and the political system, and not by rejecting the system as inherently corrupt and uncorrectable. And certainly not by murdering unarmed military personnel or civilians, or by plotting to blow up planes or public squares.
For Arab and Muslim Americans silence is not a safe option. No group is more vulnerable to the consequences of the next terror attack, or to policies based on fear and exclusion. What happens, and does not happen, in the Arab and Muslim world matters here at home. This assertion needs no explanation after September 11, 2001. The relentless wars against minorities, and not just Christians in the Middle East, whether official, societal or even just criminal, waged by those who aim to divide the world into large, mutually-exclusive and warring religious and ethnic blocks is not just a threat to America and its values. It is a specific and imminent danger to Arab and Muslim Americans, who must, for their own urgent necessity, oppose such politics and rhetoric. They need to develop a higher degree of honesty in their discourse and demand that a more elevated sense of responsibility be conveyed and articulated by their elites and leaderships.
The present tragic course of events, with mal-distribution of power and resources in the Arab and Muslim world, and a deepening sense of victimization that is increasingly directed at the West, especially America, and its friends and allies, will eventually break through the coercive measures that have thus far maintained the intrinsically unstable status quo. If serious change is not effected in short order, this dam will burst and after that comes the deluge. Ideas, deeds, programs and a modicum of peace in Palestine are urgently needed to give a fighting chance to forces of moderation and sanity everywhere.
To survive, and to compete globally, Arab and Muslim societies need to embrace their cultural, religious and ethnic mosaics, and view their diversity as strength rather than weakness. They need to embrace a culture that values not only individual rights and foregrounds the role of the citizen in political and social life, but minority rights as well. The values of pluralism, peaceful resolution of disputes and inclusivity are the only effective antidote to the poison of extremism and extremist violence. Embracing these values will require a change in social and political culture, and for that, every Arab, and Arab and Muslim American, must take up their share of the responsibility. They must speak publicly and courageously for these values here and in the Middle East. The price of silence is prohibitive. The forces of fanaticism, violence and exclusion must not be allowed to prevail.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
- Palestinian Handicrafts
By Siham Al-Barghouti
- An Innovative Approach to Reviving Palestinian Arts and Crafts The MDG-F Culture and Development Joint Programme Team
- Traditional but Trendy
By Sawsan Khader
- Al Mirsat for Arts and Crafts
By Amal Nashashibi
- Real-World Obstacles to Supernatural Demand: A Classic Tale of Tragedy
By the Team of This Week in Palestine
- Konya, Jalal al-Din Rumi, and Turkish Literature A Beacon for Perplexed Souls
By Dr. Ali Qleibo
- The Devil in Disguise? Secrets of the Narghile
By Kieron Monks
Since it is such a wonderful season, Palestinians Christians still insist on having three Christmases every year! As opposed to Jordanian Christians, for instance, who have set 25 December to be Christmas for all Christians in Jordan, here in Palestine, 25 December is only celebrated by members of Western Christian churches; 7 January is Christmas for the Eastern Orthodox churches, and, as if that were not enough, 18 January is celebrated by the Armenian Orthodox Church. Three Christmases, three sets of scouts, three traditional patriarchal processions into Bethlehem, and three midnight masses; what fun! Actually, it is fun, particularly for children who decorate their Christmas trees, go to Christmas parties, and, of course, receive presents from Santa. For adults, here and all over the world, this season means plenty of social and family gatherings, good food, and a lot of shopping!
As we follow the local media these days, we get the impression that there have been more public Christmas celebrations than usual this year; and almost all have been patronised by senior Palestinian Authority officials such as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Irrespective of whether this is true or not, Palestinian Christians are, in fact, lucky to be living here since they are, by and large, accepted, respected, and appreciated by the non-Christian majority of society. Numbering less than two percent of the total population, Palestinian Christians celebrate their religious feasts boldly and openly with no fear of persecution or even criticism; this is in stark contrast to the Christians in Kirkuk, Iraq, who have cancelled their Christmas celebrations this year for fear of attacks against them by extremists. Celebrating Christmas openly in Palestine is how it has always been done and how it should always be done not only because Palestinian society has always been tolerant, but because Palestinian Christians are, in fact, an integral part of the Palestinian social fabric and, like everyone else, have suffered under the yoke of occupation and injustice. The way we celebrate here should be considered a model for a multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic society. While respecting their personal beliefs, I do not believe in segregating Palestinian Christians or rather in Palestinian Christians segregating themselves. Their destiny is to be part of this land, and segregation negates this destiny.
It is no secret that Christian emigration from Palestine is a fact and, indeed, a problem which is mainly caused, as studies have shown, by the Israeli occupation and harsh living conditions. The problem should be addressed seriously through a concerted effort by political and religious leaders from both within and without Palestine. I believe that people in positions of local authority, with their current resources, not only mean well but are actually doing their best to stop this emigration. Enforcing the rule-of-law is, no doubt, a step in the right direction. A public show of support, similar to the visits of Prime Minister Fayyad to predominantly Christian villages and towns, is also commendable. While local religious leaders are doing what they can to curb this negative emigration, local NGOs, such as the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation in Bethlehem, are doing a lot of good work to improve people’s living conditions (e.g., renovating homes) and thus encouraging Palestinian Christians to remain in Palestine. Contrary to common belief, international support for Palestinian Christians is not up to the magnitude of the problem; paradoxically, however, this may be for the better since I believe that local Palestinians should shoulder the problem of Palestinian Christians emigrating from Palestine. Having said that, though, ending the Israeli occupation would go a long way towards solving the problem and transforming it into one that is similar to that faced by all developing countries.
In a nutshell, Palestinian Christians have it relatively good; although, like all Palestinians, they are stifled by Israeli occupation. For years now, Christians from Ramallah have not been able to attend the funerals of relatives who have died in Jerusalem, unless they have been fortunate enough to possess a very difficult-to-get Israeli permit; neither can Christians from Gaza even hope to gain access to Jerusalem, except in rare circumstances, in order to pray in the Holy Sepulchre.
Palestinian Christians are beyond proving themselves and are, in fact, proud, indigenous Christian Arabs who have been living here since Christianity began. Palestine, after all, is the privileged birthplace of Christianity.
No matter when you celebrate Christmas, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
This Week in Palestine
At first, when the fragile trees finally arrived from their long journey, I was not really sure that they would survive, but as soon as they arrived, I ran out and purchased two gold and green ceramic planters and quickly transplanted young trees in them with some fresh soil and pebbles that I mixed together.
For the first few weeks, the olive tress didn’t look like they were going to make it. The leaves started to wilt, then began to fall off the tender little branches. I didn’t know what to do, except to make sure that they had enough water and sun light. I even called back home to Palestine for advice and was told to make sure to put them in a place where the morning sun can get at them!
And so, like the Muslims who pray facing the east, my Palestinian olive trees were soon facing the east, toward the land of their birth, in Palestine! After a few weeks of them sitting in front of the big picture window in our living room, I noticed that the trees were soon beginning to look healthier, the leaves stopped falling off, and shortly thereafter, much to my delight, new growth could be seen emerging!
I was like the “proud doting father” as I tended to my “little babies”. My wife and children were now beginning to tease and harass me about the way I paid so much attention to the little “refugees” from Palestine! I could swear that the more Arabic music we played at home, particularly Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Haleem Hafez, and Fairuz, the faster these little guys seemed to grow!
Now, nearly 10 months later, the little olive trees are healthy and vibrant, almost tripling in size, with beautiful shiny leaves.
One day, while listening to Oum Kalthoum (by myself since my kids don’t appreciate her as much as I do, although they love Arabic music in general, they think she is “boring”) and tending to my little trees, my mind started to drift back to the first time that I had ever heard the legendary Oum Kalthoum, the single greatest singer in Arab world, whose popularity was and still is unmatched, even after she had died more than 30 years ago!
Her songs, especially the patriotic and moving songs that I had heard as a child during the 1967 war and after, stirred in me emotions that I had never ever felt before. Grown men would have tears welling up in their eyes and lumps in their throats at the sound of her voice! When it was announced that the Egyptian radio station would be broadcasting her concert, in which she sang “Alfi Leila wa-leila” (thousand and one night) in the spring of 1969 (I was 8 and getting ready to immigrate to America with my mother), I remember the streets being empty in our village as all of the men ran home or congregated in coffeehouses to listen to her sing.
I took our old battery operated radio (we had no electricity) and sat in my favorite place, the huge window sill of our home, whose walls were more than 4 feet thick, and which overlooked the courtyard, where my mother planted a dizzying array of fragrant flowers, spices, and vegetables! I especially loved the soothing delicate scent of the Jasmine plant that ran up the side of the house and right next to my window. When the cool breeze blew, it would fill the house with the pleasant aroma of the Jasmine blossoms!
After hearing that song, which is almost an entire hour in length, I instantly became a fan of Oum Kalthoum, singing the song over and over to myself as I ran and played in the hills and orchards of my village, forever linking the song, the cool breeze, and the heavenly scent of my mothers Jasmine plant! To me, at that exact point in time, I was as close to “heaven” as humanly possible for an 8 years old child!
Towards the end of summer, in 1969, much to my anger and dismay, my mother and I immigrated to the US to join my father and the rest of my brothers and sisters who had gone there earlier!
Upon arriving in Detroit, Michigan, I was no longer exposed to Arabic music, let alone Oum Kalthoum, hearing it only when I rode in my father’s car. Most of the time, I had to listen to Motown Music, which was the rage at that time, especially in the predominately African American neighborhood where my dad owned a small grocery store.
After a many months of listening to that type of music, I soon stopped humming the Arabic songs of Oum Kalthoum in my head and was now trying to sing along with the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smoky Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and the host of popular singers that Detroit was producing at that time!
Later on, when my dad sold his store and brought another one, this time in predominately white ethnic neighborhood in Detroit, I started to listen to more Rock and Roll, again, forgetting all about the music that I had loved as a child in Palestine. The stereo in the store played Rock and Roll, day and night, and I was now singing along to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Aero Smith, and the rest of the popular rock bands of the 1970’s! This lasted all the way through my high school years, until the summer of 1979…Also in 1975, Oum Kalthoum died. Four million people were on the streets of Cairo for her funeral. Grown men, like my own father, cried at the news of her death. Although I saw the large funeral in the streets of Cairo on TV, I didn’t really “feel” anything at that time!
In the summer of 1979, right after I graduated from high school, I made my first trip back to Palestine since I had left in the summer of 1969. My mother had returned to Palestine in the spring of 1971, electing to give birth to my brother in Palestine, rather than in America!
Upon my arrival, I noticed that many things had changed, some for the better, but quite a bit more for the worse. Our village was finally connected to the Jerusalem electric grid and now had electricity. Television antennas, which were non-existent as I was growing up, were now on every roof top. Also, the Israeli policy of building settlements on lands confiscated from their Palestinian owners was now in full swing after the Israeli/Egyptian accords at Camp David. Already, in Beit Hanina, the Jewish settlement of Neve Yacouve was being built as well as the large settlement of Ramot Allon, which loomed menacingly above Beit Hanina, having been built on the village’s hills to the south!
I awoke early the first morning “back home” and walked around our home, inspecting every tree, plant, and flower in my
mothers’ overcrowded courtyard garden! Much to my pleasure, the things that I had remembered fondly as a child were still there, including the magnificent Jasmine plant, which was more like a tree now as it snaked its way up and around the window to the roof of our ancient home!
After a breakfast, I went out to center of the village and then made my way to our orchards, which were filled with apricots, plums, and other fruit trees, and then finally, to my favorite part of my village, the hills that dominated our landscape, where as a child, I had spent countless hours playing, flying kites, and exploring!
After a few hours in the hot summer sun, I decided to head back to our house and get a cold drink and cool off. My mother greeted me with a pitcher of homemade lemonade, made from the fresh squeezed lemons that grew on the tree in her garden, and for added flavor, fresh mint leaves!
I poured myself a large glass and made my way to the window sill, which now didn’t seem quite as large as I had remembered. I sat down in front of the open window, relishing the cool Jasmine scented breeze that was wafting through the window and plugged in the new radio that I had brought with me as a gift for my little brother! I fumbled with dial, trying to find Arabic radio stations in the midst of the many Hebrew and English stations that weren’t around when I was a kid!
After a few moments, I finally dialed in a radio station from Cairo, Egypt. Soon after a song by Abdel Halim Hafez had
finished, the unmistakable beginning of Oum Kalthoum’s song, “alfi Leila wa-Leila” was emanating from the radio! Goose
bumps and a shiver ran through my body. I was, in an instance, transformed to a place, ten years earlier in my life.
Memories, suppressed for nearly ten years, but never the less, were just bubbling near the surface for that whole time, were now gushing forth like a tidal wave!
I sat there for nearly two hours, reflecting, thinking, and most of all, remembering…Remembering my childhood, the war, my village, our trips to Jerusalem, remembering Palestine!
Like the olive trees in my home in America when I placed them in front of the window, facing east, I too started to experience a “new growth and appreciation” of my homeland, of its earth, rocks, trees, and the scent of delicate Jasmine tree’s blossoms, carried by the cool afternoon breeze through an ancient hand built home in Palestine, while the Great Lady from Egypt sang, “a thousand and one night”!