Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sounding the Literary Alarm on Israel-Palestine

Note:
An abridged version of this book review appeared on Middle East Eye under the title: 

Salt Houses: Tackling Israel-Palestine with a poet's licence

Here is the link: 
https://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/salt-houses-tackling-israel-palestine-poet-s-license-1551716093



Background Noise:
Let me plunge into controversy right from the start. But allow me, please, to begin with something sparkling to help familiarize the uninitiated: A topmost model may yet bite the dust for speaking out against Israel. To cover the full range of what we, Palestinians, have to deal with as we attempt to say what is on our minds, here is the reality at home in a nutshell: Poetry is a crime and activists are kneecappedbut only if Palestinian. I hope that this combination of divergent examples of issues that impact our daily life will gain some sympathy for my less than kind thoughts about the American literary world. The interdependence and near full integration of the publishing industry into the corporate media in North America, and hence in much of the world, needs no proof. At least on the media side of such partnership, we are witnessing the lifting of all curtains and the end of claims of neutrality; newspaper editorials are on sale to mega-corporations. There is no doubt that what underlies such infractions of accepted public media ethics is the profit motive. By the same token, the following is widely accepted as well, a given:

“If profitability is the most important factor to determining which books to publish, politics is a close second,” this researcher concludes. “Publishers can produce books that express the corporation’s mission and political affiliation. Political motivation is a great force within the corporation and in certain cases, a political agenda trumps profitability. Often a book is published (or not published) based on its political message—with larger profits and strong market presence, the merger era helped to increase political sway. … Having considered many consequences, both positive and negative, of the corporate evolution within the media industry, it is clear that the mergers and acquisitions have undoubtedly changed the book publishing industry and the content that the public receives.”

Deserved Appreciation:
Now, let me see if I can ease into the crux of my intended discourse, my review of Hala Alyan’s Salt Houses(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) without alarming the concerned parties, especially the author herself. First to the politically neutral and personally uplifting: I read the book on Kindle without first checking the author’s bio. From her name I knew she was Arab, probably Palestinian, and from her diction I assumed she was American or, at least, American-educated.

As I progressed along I was struck by two features of Alyan’s writing: One charming characteristic was the author’s ability to sound the depths of her protagonists’ psyche. She shows an exceptional facility to delve into the intimate feelings, inner thoughts and hesitant ruminations of each character that she highlights. First, I thought this must’ve come from her living and battling out the same momentous struggles as some of her young adult characters. I imagined such sparks of enlightened awareness welling out of her own experience, even if I had to give her, the author, a deeper self-understanding than the average contemporary college grad. As I read along, I witnessed a repetition of the same touch of well-informed awareness as she ferreted the inner thoughts and feelings of children, youth, young as well as mature adults and the elderly, even a confused Alzheimer sufferer. Hence, it was no surprise, almost a disappointment, when I discovered towards the end that our author was a practicing psychologist. 

Another winning feature was stylistic in nature, her frequent zestful and snappy turn of phrase, an artful simile here and a hippy splash of color there, a new verb to me, forced out of a noun against its will, in short, a poet’s taking of license. Smokers “ash” their cigarettes and “anger [quiets] into a briny resentment” and the list is long. And there is the unique writerly skill of her frequent poetic allowing of inanimate objects to take on willful action, “voices tangle in greeting” and “[the] sound of rain surrounded them as they slept.”  It runs throughout the warp and weft of the novel to where it borders on the objectionable. And yet, throughout my total immersion in the Salt Houses, I caught myself anticipating such turns of phrase with excitement, enthusing and nearly cheering Alyan on at each of the surprises. Much as it reflects on my limited literary acumen, I discovered later on that Alyan is a recognized, published and prize-winning poet. No wonder!

To such creative originality, we have to add another artful skill, that of her narrative design. The overall structure of the novel is akin to a medical computerized tomogram (CT). Each slice through the body of the clan under study is centered around a meaningful moment in a family member’s life across four generations. The aligned and stacked images and the strung events congeal into a three-dimensional artwork. The interconnected whole is more, much more, than its constituent parts. Those parts are carefully cross-linked and fastened tight, as if, by the consistent and skillful artisan-like plastering-over and smoothing across of their unique oddities and identifying characteristics till they stand out as recognizable living individual protagonists while still merging into a uniquely informing and diagnostic whole. 

As to her deft skill of fine-tuning her narrative, here is one specific event that Alyan handles magnificently by avoiding the pitfall of being guided by the readers’ expectations: From the start of this specific seaside vendetta, one senses the direction in which the two streams of the author’s narrative are flowing: On one side is Riham, a shy teenage girl burdened with feelings of inadequacy, pious religiosity and befuddled thoughts regarding a boy she had briefly met. On the other is that same boy’s incidental presence at the beach and the two exchanging sly smiles. Then Riham runs in to swim and nearly drowns. It is too unimaginative, almost cheap, to have the boy save her, the expected default resolution to the mounting tension. Yet, with her gift of poetic imagining and diving— pardon the pun— into the depths of a drowning teen’s inner feelings, our author weaves a beautiful and touching segment, cleverly bypassing the boy for a bearded, clearly religious man who is, one wants to believe, sent by Allah, the only site of Riham's trust as she battles the waves in her near-death struggle.

At the risk of being repetitive, let me assert again: All along, Alyan continues to surprise: She is convincingly insightful whether she is delving into the fears of a child, the worries of a mother, the rheumatic disability of the aged granny or the frivolity of a teenage in Paris, always inventive and with that special handle on 'verbalizing' nouns and animating and personalizing the inanimate.

My Inherent Fears:
The dominance over the American publishing industry, like media in general, of liberal progressive-except-on-Palestine (PEP) Zionist interests is not in doubt. This assertion may well be branded by the same presumed neutral moguls of major publishing houses and literary agencies as anti-Semitic and seditious if not blasphemous. One needs look no further than the two most coveted and uncontested literary accreditation sites, the New Yorker and the New York Times, the dream venues of writers, aspiring as well as established, for recognition of their skills, to ascertain the veracity of my statement.  It is clear that the media and publishing field is ripe for its John-Mearsheimer-and-Stephen-Walt whistle-blowing moment. Sooner than one thinks, this volcano will erupt.

This assumed, I revert to my Palestinian modus operandi of conspiratorial theorizing: Certain of the identity of the author, I face the nagging question of how does a Palestinian author gain entry into the hostile world of publishing in America? I am cautious enough to assume that the give-and-take between author and publisher, mediated through an expert literary agent, must have been negotiated softly in genteel tones and civil exchanges of opinion. Still, what concessions did this poetic author with her gift of comprehension of human psychology had to make to gain acceptance into the openly partial and overtly pro-Israel field. Were many allowances made consciously or were they reached through the usual repetitive drafting and redrafting to where the right tones of critical phrases were reached and set in the final text? How did the wrestling match, with the unfairly set stage, proceed? I can’t but assume that this sensitive author was aware of such tug of war between her and the reps of her major publisher. Or could the more likely scenario be that she had already been sufficiently alienated from certain elements in her Palestinian subject population that her dark hues in portraying them were simply left in place? Simultaneously, anti-Israeli or anti-American shades were perhaps softened and smoother over into less striking or objectionable hues. All such changes could have been achieved in the guise of literary critiquing and suave writerly embellishments.

Allah, Saddam and Israel:
Here is a possible example of such undeclared meeting of minds (or, perhaps, it is the meeting of only the author’s and my minds): Through a scene of Alia, a central protagonist in the novel, chatting with Telar, a Kurd young woman she meets at the beach in Kuwait, the author spews out a load of venom against Saddam Hussain:

“We came a while back, my mama and siblings. Seven of us. Baba died, of course. All the men did. The army rounded them up, slit their stomachs in front of our houses, shot the knees of anyone who cried out. To the women—” The girl spits again, slitting her eyes toward the sea. “To the women they did awful things. They made husbands watch. They made little children watch.”

But then, it is well-deserved regardless of one’s stand on the Iraq War. And it brings back to the reader’s mind the earlier rape scene in Haifa of a friendly Palestinian woman by Israeli soldiers. So, it balances, if not tips the sympathy scale in favor of the Palestinian side. This is the place, perhaps, to allude to my discomfort at the vague sense of equivalency that seems to underlay Alyan’s novel, even if never addressed frontally, of the rarely glimpsed Israelis and the Palestinians dominating the narrative. No assumption of such balance between aggressor and aggrieved is acceptable to me. Hence, I hereby absolve the author of such intention.

Another frontal attack seems to build up early on as the author artfully conjures up a dark miasma of suggestive conspiratorial background to the mosque attendees in Nablus, a litany of hints that befit the western world’s imagined atmosphere of a Hamas cell, even though this segment predates the movement’s establishment. Connected to Mustafa, the central figure here, is a sense of foreboding and depravity that seems to emanate from the Palestinian essence. Take the following judgement, offered with little to substantiate it. “Even the men at the mosque, most of them educated and well off, would be taken aback; for all their talk of solidarity with the poor, they are repelled by them.” If casual readers don't approve of such Moslem-bashing, they have to stop and work at rationalizing the roots of such depravity beyond its being engrained in the Palestinian lifeblood, say in their refugee status, the unfair treatment the world has afforded them, etc. etc. You need to work at proving what historians have omitted. Alyan seems to try, but her attempt at explaining away such depravity ends up confirming it to the Western reader:

“These girls had their faith, but their lives were hard and bitter and full of death. The ones that weren’t married by their early twenties had a recklessness about them, giving their bodies with abandon. They hadn’t been raised on European summers and dinner parties; they had removed shrapnel from their brothers’ legs, had washed their sisters after rape. There was no chamber for love in their bodies, …”

What shows at the surface for the Western reader is that the whore receiving Mustafa, her religious activist client, at her camp is the typical Palestinian refugee. From here the distance is short to generalizing to all of Gaza and Palestine. Above all, the suggestive Islamic name of this prostitute, Aya—Koranic verse—reflects on Islam and Hamas, of course. To you and me, such glum interpretation may sound overwrought. But it is the reality of the Western media conceptions on the matter. The Palestinians sum up such situation with the analogy of someone calling you “brother of a whore.” Now, go prove that, in reality, you have no sisters.

But then, as I tally the author’s examples of religious men that one meets on her novel’s pages, all three prominent examples—the refugee Imam in Nablus, the pious physician husband of Riham in Amman and her rescuer from drowning as a teenager in Kuwait—all shine as gentle persona backed up by a benevolent and responsive Allah. Well, may He help me make up my mind: on which side do I credit Alyan’s religious allusions, so artfully jiggled in the mysterious air of her novel.  

Memories Count:
It was not an easy task for me, let me assure you, to steer through the minefield of presumed hidden agendas and shrewd undercurrents. With this a’priory alienation and dark conspiratorial assumption of mine, I proceeded to make a balance sheet of pro and anti-Palestinian commentary and allusions to come out at the end with the scale tipped, perhaps just so, in favor of the pro-Palestinian side. Admittedly, such sentiments are often indirect and less screaming-out-loud than usual for Palestinian writers. Most of those Palestinian strong points of Alyan’s come in flashbacks and memories, not in witnessed events in the reported life segments. Towards the end of the novel, we gain access to Atef’s after-the-fact secretive letters to his dead comrade, the clan’s martyred hero, Mustafa, whose burial site no one knows, and to Atef’s wife, Alia’s late life spotty and confused recollections. The fact that the couple’s life events, even if spotty and confused in recollection, constitute the backbone of the entire narrative, hints to this reader at the elided Palestinian culture, history, rights and realistic expectations. What sticks is their grief, anger and confusion. 

Grand Finale:
The stage is carefully set with the aged grandparents and their caring teenage grandchildren: Alia is secluded in her own confused world of vague memories, afraid of Saddam returning and angry with Israel. When asked what her grandchild should bring her back from Palestine, all she demands is “whatever they ask you, give them hell.” Atef is nearly as completely ensconced in the past: The grandchildren find him one evening after sunset, his hands covered with dirt and bleeding from pulling out wild flowers that his wife didn’t like in her garden: disturbed by his grandchildren spying retroactively on his secret of “singing Mustafa’s name” to the Israeli torturers, he repents with

“Your grandmother used to live in a house with a garden. In Palestine. With her brother.” Atef feels his breath catch. “I used to go there a lot.”

To my mind, such subdued undercurrents are of greater impact than the urge to shout out obscenities directly about the historical crime and mayhem of the Nakba. This is but an example of what I find painfully but charmingly tender in the novel, the soft-sell that I am happy to buy into in place of the shrill cries of foul play and screaming to high heavens about the destruction to Palestinian life and limb. It gains us valuable empathy.

And yet I am left with the sense of having been shortchanged with this indirect coverage of the Nakba: Here we have a third and fourth-generation bunch of descendants of Palestinian refugees who seem to have overcome their displacement disability and rootlessness complex. They are professionals and spouses of professionals whose children spend summers in Paris, study or settle in the USA and inherit property in Amman and Beirut. One of them even expresses his dreams of wanting “to build skyscrapers in Kuwait City, [not in his ancestral Jaffa or Nablus,] to make it like Paris or Manhattan.” Contrast that, if you will, with the earlier last words of a dying refugee matriarch:

“I saw the houses, I saw how they were lost. You cannot let yourself forget. … When it happens, you must find a way to remember.”

It neatly confirms Israel’s founding fathers’ dictum of “the old will die and the young will forget.” “Fair-weather Arabs,” one angry young family member calls his kin. Yet it all doesn’t seem that far-fetched and is probably realistic in the case of many Palestinians who adapted to their diaspora, the shatat. And, all through the narrative, the issue of the land, is hardly addressed at all, except perhaps for the few examples of unsettling memories to which I have already alluded. Yet land is the pivotal root cause of Israel-Palestine enmity, all theHasbaradiversion claims of historic, religious and cultural differences notwithstanding.

But then again, how do I fit this in? Does it all count for or against the author as partial to Palestine in my tally? Perhaps the edge of my original theory has to be whittled further. Perhaps my quandary can be resolved by stipulating a marriage of convenience between a major American literary concern, assumed to be partial to Israel, and a capable rising Palestinian star of letters, also admittedly partial but to Palestine and its people. Each of the two sticks to her convictions without imposing her views on the other. In such case, both parties stand to gain financially and prestige-wise. If we are to accept such a supposition, what remains to be clarified is the relative positions of the two sides on the power scale.

I continue to stoke the fire of my suspicions and Alyan provides all the required firewood. Sheshines in playful reversals of some plot details. Here is this simple statement about the choice the head of a Palestinian family had made early on in 1948: to stay. As if he had a choice in the matter! He loved his seaside life in Haifa. Had the author left her account at this point, it would have weighed clearly on the pro-Israel side. Palestinians left of their own free will, Israel wants the world to believe. But then comes ason’s flashback to the scene of Israeli soldiers raping his sister in the presence of her family and the ensuing fleeing of the family from their seaside home and city:

“The father salted everything after that. Even his water. He would cry out in his sleep for the sea.” The imam took a long breath. “He missed the fish,”he said simply. “When he died, he was buried beneath the hills he hated, far from the sea.” “What happened to his family?” The imam looked Mustafa square in the eye. “The daughter—” He swallowed. “Some say she lost her mind. She stopped talking, never married.” “And the son?” Mustafa asked, though he knew. The imam lifted the teacup to his lips. “The son found Allah.” This time the silence felt endless. “I try not to remember him like that,” the imam finally said. He narrowed his eyes. “My father. Not as that broken husk of a man, chewed up and spat out by the occupation, making a meager life of the remains. Unable to protect his daughter. Watching the soldiers . . . do the things they did.”

Let me play the devil’s advocate here: What if I were an Israeli who denies any wrongdoing? One can read in these and earlier pages a hint, perhaps, of a homosexual affair between the two men and hypothesize that the imam is fibbing for the benefit of his paramour. Clearly, this pushes the reader, and hence the position of the author, back across the line of neutrality. Much later in the novel, we witness the grandchild of refugees visiting her grandparent’s birth city, Jaffa. There is a modicum of nostalgia. But that is muted, much softer than I had expected. There is no Ghassan Kanafani’s Return to Haifameeting of refugee owner and immigrant settler. This descendent of refugees spends the night dancing at an Israeli beach party. Even more objectionable to a Palestinian, when visiting Jerusalem, out of the three iconic religious sites, she seems stirred only by the sight of the Wailing Wall, not by Al-Aqsa mosque nor by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Imagine a Martian landing in Jerusalem: Could that be his honest reaction? 

Conclusion:
Let me repeat: By the end of my painful but fascinating journey through Alyan’s Salt Houses, I am forced to abandon my simplistic original black and white conception of the duel between authorship and publishing interests with all the attendant negotiations, if not bargaining. I now settle for a more sophisticated, perhaps trickier, give-and-take process with rejected options and suggested inclusions fielded in the guise of literary finesse and with readers’ taste and interest held as reigning supreme in the matter. The author, for her side, in addition to the same set of ploys, can hedge her bet and disguise deeper feelings as arty snippets or even stick to some of them as deeply felt sentiments that have a personal value beyond what others sense.

Bless you, Hala, my child! You make me proud. I am ruling in your favor: Unaware of my presence in your creative arena, you have proven to me that you neither compromised knowingly on points of principle nor allowed any literary mogul to pull the wool of literary sparkle over your eyes. Now that you have proven your worth in this David and Goliath bout of author-versus-publishing-mega-concerns, let us see you really sock it to the American Zionists in your next prize-winning opus. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Get Up and Go

NOTE: Another overdue posting, the fourth in this series of pieces I wrote recently but did not publish here before. This one was actually published on Mondoweiss.

Get Up and Go

Collecting figs this morning I listened to the local Arabic Radio out of Nazareth. A major news item reported reactions from the field to the demolition of a newly constructed combined home of a father and his two married sons in neighboring Sakhnin. A near thousand-strong special police force accompanied the Bulldozers that snuck in and out of the area in late afternoon through a back road. It is a sign of the new tactics of the state authorities following the recent passage of the Nation-state Law, the commentator thought.

Then the news anchor interviewed Muhammad Barakeh, a senior Arab politician and communist leader in Israel who agreed with his analysis but pointed out that demolition of Palestinian homes in Israel has been on the increase for a while. It now has reached one home every four hours on average in the Negev alone. They then discussed two activities that the High Arab Committee, the public forum that Barakeh heads, had decided to take in response to the new law: a demonstration at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv next week and sending a delegation to raise the issue at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. After all, Barakeh explained, the law touches all Palestinians. He added that he had contacted a Palestinian representative in Geneva who expressed his readiness to make all the needed arrangements for the delegation. Thinking strategically, I wonder which is wiser: to keep quiet altogether or to call the world’s attention to what is happening to me through contacting a representative of the PNA?

Another equally frustrating dilemma was brought up on the air while I continued picking figs: Is it wiser for our 13 parliament members to keep playing along and agitating for equal rights for our Palestinian minority while our majority colleagues continue to pass Apartheid laws? Or should they all submit their collective resignation in protest and expose Israel’s racism to the world. The problem is that the world, whose moral conscience such resignation would target, is not interested as long as it is the heroic Israelis against the Palestinian villains.

First, I had made up my mind to attend the planned demonstration in Tel Aviv. Then I started to reconsider my snap decision. In the last major peaceful Arab demonstration in Israel the police kneecapped a friend of mine, Ja’afar Farah, while he was in their custody. Let us not act too brave then! I don’t trust the Israeli security services. Especially not on this occasion. The same extreme nationalist religious factions whose compatriot killed Rabin, have pushed for the new law for years. They are sure to send their armed thugs to the Rabin Square. They have gained greater following and influence. They now control Israel’s security forces. Who will stop them, both armed thugs and security officers, from attacking me? I have a few liberal Jewish friends who may attend the demonstrations. Should I encourage them to bring their guns just in case? But what if they were to get upset with me for something I say?

Perhaps I should take some good figs with me. It would be symbolic, brotherly sharing of the fruit of the land. But according to the accepted interpretation of the new law they get the bigger and riper fruit. Judging by their actions so far, my friends will protest loudly but will go ahead and devour the bigger and riper fruit. They won’t consider resigning whatever positions they occupy and leaving the now constitutionally apartheid state they support with their taxis.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

قراءة في مذكرات طبيب الأطفال الأول في الجليل

 NOTE: Here I continue my daily updating of my blog with another of the pieces that I have written in the last few months but neglected to publish here. This is another Arabic language
review of an Arabic book that I found fascinating. Enjoy if you read Arabic. Soon I will go back to English, my usual blog language. 

من ذكرياتي المهنية الأولى عندما بدأت امارس الطب سنة ١٩٧٠ في منطقة البطوف ان مدير مستشفى الناصرة، المرحوم الد. هانس برناث، كان يطري برسائلي الطبية عندما كنت احول أحد مرضاي اليه بقوله انها كانت تشبه رسائل الدكتور الياس سروجي في تفصيلها وسردها لانطباعاتي عن مرضاي. بيد ان انتظاري الطويل للقاء هذا الطبيب الفذ امتد ما يقارب ربع قرن كما سأورد لاحقا في هذه المراجعة لكتاب مذكراته.

ينهي المرحوم الدكتور الياس سروجي كتاب مذكراته (من مروج الجليل—مذكرات طبيب من الناصرة، مطبعة الحكيم، ٢٠١١) الغني بالأحداث بفصلين يلخصان وجهة نظره في صنفين من تلك الاحداث المرموقة التي تغلب على محتويات الكتاب، الأولى تخص التطورات التي عاصرها في مجال الطب، خصيصا طب الأطفال، والصحة الجماهيرية، والأخرى الاحداث السياسية والحروب التي عاصرها وعصفت به وباهله ومعاصريه من الفلسطينيين واللبنانيين. اليكم هذا الاقتباس بهدف الإشارة الى رؤية زميلنا الموقر السياسية والوطنية الثاقبة والتي تظهر وكأنه يكتبها في يومنا هذا معلقا على احداث البطش بفلسطينيي غزه:
"والان وبعد عشر سنوات لا يزال الاحتلال جاثما بكل ثقله على صدر هذا الشعب الصامد والصابر. احتلال يرقى الى درجة العبودية ظلما وشراسه في عصر المدنية والحضارة وهيئة الامم والشرائع المكتوبة والمدموغة بتواقيع منظمات حماية حقوق الانسان وحقوق الشعوب والاوطان. كل هذا لان القطب الاكبر في كل هذه المؤسسات الدولية والمهنين عليها واقع تحت تأثير المال والنفوذ والاعلام المحتكر من قبل هذا المحتل الغاشم.ان الوحشية التي يستخدمها الاسرائيليون في قمع الانتفاضة وكل اشكال المقاومة تلهب الاحقاد والكراهية  لدى الفلسطينيين والعرب والمسلمين لتصل حتى الى شرائح كبيرة من شعوب العالم. ويجدر بي هنا ان اذكر الشعب اليهودي بما جرى في القرون الغابرة عندما لم يجد الملجأ والحماية الا في كنف العرب والمسلمين هربا من الظلم والطغيان الاوروبي. ان الصراع القاتم سيطول امده الى الاجيال القادمة ان لم تتغير النوايا والاساليب وعلى الجميع ان يتذكر بأن التاريخ لم يسجل ابدا واقعة واحدة لشعب ظلم واحتلت ارضه وبقي على حالته. فهو اما انقرض او تحرر. ولا ارى اي دليل لانقراض الشعب الفلسطيني والعربي. لقد ثمل الاسرائيليون من انتصاراتهم العسكرية التي حققوها بفضل العطايا السخية من الولايات المتحده وفي غرورهم لا يرون ابعد من انوفهم ولا يرون الاشياء بوضوح."

بمثل هذه العجالة يعقب الدكتور سروجي على ما عاناه وعائلته من صعوبات وتنكيل. لنأخذ علي سبيل المثال محاولته العودة مع والده المريض سنة ١٩٤٨ الى مرابض سني دراسته وتخصصه المهني في ربوع الجامعة الامريكية في بيروت اذ يصادف مرورهما بقرية الرامة الجليلية مع احداث احتلالها من قبل القوات الإسرائيلية مما يضطرهما الى اللجوء هناك لبضعة أسابيع. وصف زميلنا لأحداث احتلال الرامة واعمال التنكيل والتشريد التي عاناها او شاهدها بنفسه من اصدق وأدق ما قرأته من سرد بهذا الخصوص. ولديه أيضا الكثير مما يسرده عن احداث الاحتلال الإسرائيلي لجنوب لبنان لاحقا وحصارها لبيروت.

اما عن الناحية المهنية المحضة فيكتفي المؤلف في ملاحظاته النهائية في الفصل قبل الأخير من المذكرات بسرد إنجازات عصره العلمية في مجالات الطب والصحة في لائحة موجزه وثم في لائحة أخرى، وبصورة مختزلة أيضا، فيعدد التحديات والإنجازات المتوقعة مستقبلا في نفس المجالات وفي سواها من حقول العلم والمعرفة.

ليسمح لي القارئ هنا ان أعلق من تجربتي الشخصية على احدى إشكالياتكتابة المذكرات بشكل تراجعي او انتقاء ما كان المؤلف قد دونه سابقا عبر سنوات حياته، الا وهي صعوبة اختيار ما يورده المؤلف وما يستثنيه. يكفينا بهذا الصدد الإشارةالى القول المألوف بان تدوين احداث حياة بكاملها، لولا خدعة الاختزال، لتطلبت زمن حياة أخرىبكاملها. خرجت من قراءتي لهذا الكتاب الشيق بشعور غامر عن مدى تواضع الدكتور الياس سروجي وعن ميله الى تقليص الناحية الثالثة من محتويات مذكراته المدونة، الا وهي الشؤون الشخصية والعائلية بحيث تقتصر تلك على بعض ذكريات طفولته وصباه في حي سوق الاثنين الشعبي في الناصرة وثم في قرية برناما في لبنان. بعد ذلك يندر الحديث التفصيلي عن الشؤون الشخصية ما عدى الإشارةالعابرة الى الاحداث المركزية من ولادات واحتفالات التخرج والقران وما اشبه.

وجه مميز اخر من انجازات الدكتور سروجي في كتاب مذكراته الشيقة هذا هو أسلوبه السردي الخلاق والذي شدني الى الاستمرار في قراءته بشكل حثيث، إضافة الى تواصلنا المهني والفكري غير المبرمج عبر هذه الصفحات وعبر رحيله الى جوار ربه قبل قراءتي لمذكراته هذه. على الرغم من الترتيب الزمني العام لمحتويات الكتاب فإن مؤلفنا اذ يبدأ سرده لحدث معين يستمر في متابعة مجرى هذا الحدث الى نهايته عبر الفترة الزمنية المتعلقة به حتى ولو اقتضى الامر اختراق الإطار الزمني العام مؤقتا والعودة اليه لاحقا. هذا الأسلوب الروائي المميز يعطي بعض احداث هذه المذكرات خاصية وبروزا استثنائيا يرسخها في ذاكرة القارئ. كما وان المؤلف يحتال أحيانا على قارئه بذكاء وخفة تضيء بعض جوانب سرده بشكل مفاجئ ليزرعها في الذاكرة الى الابد: خذ على سبيل المثال صورة الجنرال ديغول وهو يتمشى متنزها في الناصرة بقرب بيت المؤلف في سني شبابه. او خذ مثلا الصورة شبه الفوتوغرافية التالية: مؤلفنا الطبيب الشاب، اول طبيب أطفال مختص من أبناء الجليل، وهو يقف منفردا فوق صخرة بجوار حرم شنلر ليشرف من بعد على مسيرة جنازة جده انطون، كل ذلك نتيجة لقراره بلزوم حجره القسري وامتناعه عن مخالطة وملامسة الاخرين بحكم عمله كمدير المستشفى الذي أنشئ على عجل لإيواء الأطفال من قرى الجليل المجاورة للناصرة والمصابين بعدوى الجدري المشوه ان لم يكن المميت. ليتصور القارئ مدى رسوخ هذه الصورةفي ذهني خصوصا وانني، انا طبيب الصحة الجماهيرية والوقاية، والذي تسنى له بفضل أبحاث وجهود الاف الأطباء والعاملين الاخرين في حقل الصحة ان يحتفل مع عاملي مكتب الصحة في الناصرة، وثم من على أمواج الاثير في مقابلة في الراديو سنة ١٩٧٧ بالقضاء على هذا الداء الفتاك الى الابد. تصور، أيها القارئ العزيز، مدى دهشتي عندما قرات ما يذكره الد. الياس سروجي في مذكراته حول البحث الاحصائي البسيط والمميز الذي اجراه هو حول تأثير المصل الواقي في شفاء الأطفال حسب فترة مرضهم. مثل هذا البحث المتواضع وهذا التفادي النير في الخدمة الطبية هو الذي أدى الى الخلاص من هذا الداء نهائيا. 

هذا ومما سرني من محتويات هذا الكتاب هو تطرق مؤلفنا الكريم الى ذكر العديد من شخصيات الناصرة، عاصمة جليلنا العربي، والذين أسعدني التعرف عليهم شخصيا او مصادقتهم، من أمثال الد. هانس برناث، الد. سامي جرايسي والسيد فوزي الحكيم على سبيل المثال لا الحصر. كما ويسعدني أيضا ما يتردد من على صفحات هذا الكتاب من ذكر العديد من مشاهد الناصرة العامة وحتى من امثلة تراثها الشعبي الاصيل. خذ مثلا هذا المشهد العريق الذي يرويه طبيبنا مستذكرا سني عمله الاولى في مسقط راسه:

"حول صلابة صلة القربى في مجتمعنا الشرقي عبر عنها اخوان كهلان بأبلغ أسلوب:لم يكن حنا غريب، وهو اخ لالياس قد زار اخاه او كلمه منذ خمسة وعشرين سنه نتيجة نزاع دب بينهما. وفيما كنت اجلس على الديوان احدق في الشارع المقابل بانتظار ميشيل, رأيت حنا وهو رجل بدين يعتمر الحطة ويلبس القمباز, يخطو بتثاقل نحو المنزل.   شاهدت اضطرابا في الغرفة عندما لمحت احدى الفتيات عمها قادما وهمست في اذن امها.  دخل حنا وجلس بقربي على الديوان دون ان ينبس ببنت شفة, كان ينظر الى اخيه وهو يلهث بنفسه بصعوبة ويئن بصوت عال.  ساد الصمت لبعض الوقت وكنت في قرارتي اسائل نفسي عما يمكنني ان اتفوه به علني اتمكن من ازالة الحرج المخيم, فجاه قطع حنا هذا الصمت بهمهمة خافته صعد منها تدريجيا الى عتابا بطلعة يطلب فيها من اخيه الصفح والمغفرة.  ما كاد حنا ينهي وصلته حتى حصل ما ادهشنا وعقد السنتنا اذ فتح الياس عينيه وحولهما باتجاه اخيه ورد عليه بمقطوعة من العتابا تذكره بأيام صباهما معا وبالاهل والجذور, واستمرت العتابا سجالا بينهما.  اخذت عيون الاولاد تغرورق بالدموع, الام التي احمر وجهها انفعالا اخذت تسرع في تهوئتها لزوجها وترطيب جبينه وشفتيه, اما انا الطبيب الشاب حاولت جهدي ان احافظ على رابطة جأشي واحبس دموعي.  لم اخبر زميلي كونتزر ابدا بهذا الجزء من القصه عندما جاء في اليوم التالي ليزور الياس ويعالجه لبضعة ايام."

بمثل هذا الوميض من الاصالة والانتماء يشدني زميلي الد. الياس سروجي اليه أينما اخذه ترحاله الدراسي والمهني من فلسطين الى لبنان وعودة الى الناصرة ثم ثانية الى لبنان فأمريكا فالبحرين دون ان ينقطع عطاؤه كطبيب ومحاضر ومعلم ومرشد لأطباء اخرين. لا يتوقف اعجابي بهذا الزميل وبأدائه المهني، بالرغم من فارق الجيل بعقدين تقريبا، بل ويتعدى ذلك الى محاولتي الواعية في نظرتي التراجعية هذه والتي تأتي متأخرة، لان اتمثل به وان اجد القواعد المشتركة بيننا والسلوك المتشابه، فكلانا، او كذا اود انا ان اصدق، مارس مهنة الطب مستجيبا لاحتياجات الساعة والمجتمع .كما وتعاملنا مع متطلبات اوضاعنا الطارئة دون ان نهمل تطلعاتنا الاكاديمية، حتى ولو انعدمت مثل تلك الإمكانيات عمليا، ومحاولتنا  تدوين الاحصائيات واستخلاص العبر مما كنا نشاهده حولنا في الحقل وتعميم تلك العبر على الزملاء من خلال محاضرات او مقالات علميه. كذلك الامر نتشارك في رؤيتنا الاوسع للتوفيق بين العمل الطبي تحت شروط عير مواتيه وواجبنا تجاه مجتمعنا من ممارسة الوقاية واسس الصحة العامة على مستوى نشاطنا الجماهيري.  حتى وأجدني اتشبث بأمور واهية لكسب مشاركتي مع زميلي هذا في المبادئ والسلوكيات متل زواجنا الاثنين من نساء عبر الحواجز الدينية مثلا. وبهذا الخصوص، لا بد لي ان  اذكر علاقتي الودية مع زميلي  الدكتور عزيز سروجي، اخ الدكتور الياس، ومع زميلتي الدكتورة سوزي سروجي، والقائمة تطول وتتشعب، وللحديث شجون.

ليتصور القارئ الفاضل كم كانت مفاجأتي سارة عندما قرأت في صفحة ٣٣٣ من هذه المذكرات ما يلي:

"في خريف عام 1994 وبرفقة صديقي وزميلي الدكتور نبيه ابو العسل الاستاذ في كلية الصحة العامة في جامعة اوكلاهوما حضرنا المؤتمر السنوي للجمعية الامريكية للصحة العامة في واشنطن, وهناك التقينا وتعرفت الى الدكتور حاتم كناعنه ابن الجليل وخريج كليتي الطب والصحة العامة في جامعة هارفرد وتبادلنا الآراء في امور الاحوال في الجليل وخاصة الصحية منها واطلعنا من الدكتور كناعنه عن "جمعية الجليل" التي تقوم ضمن اهدافها بدراسة الظروف والاحتياجات الصحية لعرب اسرائيل وخصوصا الجليل."

بقي لي في هذه العجالة ان اوصي الجيل الصاعد من أهلنا أيا كانوا، وخصوصا أصحاب مهنة الطب والمهن الصحية الأخرى وطلابها، وعددهم يتزايد اضطراديا لحسن الحظ، بقراءة هذا الكتاب القيم ليس لكسب المعرفة وللاطلاع على احداث حياة هذه القدوة الصالحة فقط، كما وليس اجلالا لذلك الطلائعي الفذ فقط، بل وأيضا للمتعة بنتاج ادبى جذاب.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

تقنيات الابداع لدى الدكتور مناع

   
 .Note: This is the second article I post in my attempt to make up for my recent tardiness

في كتابه ،نكبه وبقاء، حكاية فلسطينيين ظلوا في حيفا والجليل(مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية، ٢٠١٦،) يؤكد الدكتور عادل مناع تكرارا على ان موضوع بحثه، رغم تشعبه وتداخلاته العديدة، يستهدف فهم وتوثيق صراع البقاء الذي خاضه سكان حيفا والجليل لمقاومة المشروع الاستعماري الصهيوني لترحيلهم من وطنهم والاستيلاء على ارضهم وبيوتهم. كما ويحدد حقبة بحثه الزمنية بسنوات ١٩٤٨-١٩٥٦. ويسلط الضوء أكثر ما يسلطه جغرافيا على محيط مجد الكروم، قرية مولده ومرتع طفولته، اذا جاز استعمال مثل هذا التعبير المرح لوصف ذكرياته من تلك الحقبة من العناء سوآءا كان بسبب سماعه حكايات الاحتلال والقتل والتنكيل في الفترة الأولى من النكبة بما فيه اعدام زوج جدته الثاني في ساحة العين ونسف بيتها (إجابة على ما يظهر لإبرازها توصية مكتوبة بالعبرية كانت قد حصلت عليها من اخيها بالرضاعة من الجاعونة، مانو فريدمان) ثم الرزح تحت نير الحكم العسكري وجهاد البقاء مثل ترحال عائلته بين الجليل ولبنان ومثل مزاولته التجوال بين بيوت ضواحي حيفا اليهودية لبيع التين من حقل عائلته في حين عملت جدته في غسل ملابس العائلات اليهودية باليد وكنس بيوتها.

لاينبع إعجابي بهذا الكتاب لكوني مؤرخا ضليعا ولا لأني رجل سياسة ملتزم بقناعة مبدأية مسبقة. كما ولم أقدم على مهمتي الطوعية هذه لأتعرض لمحتوياته كطالب علم يستطلع احداث النكبة الفلسطينية عن بعد، فأنا أحد أبناءفلسطين الذين عايشوا كثيرا من الاحداث التي يتركز فيها المؤلف في بحثه الموثق هذا. لقد كنت في فترة النكبة طفلا يعي ما يدور حوله حتى ولو في نطاق جغرافي ضيق قد لا يتعدى قرى البطوف، وان تعداها فلا يتعدى حدود الجليل. لقد عانيت مثل غيري من أبناء سني ولي ذكريات اليمة رويتها في مواقع أخرى من كتاباتي. بمقدور القارئ إذا ان يتصور مدى تأثري بسرديات المؤلف الحية عن احداث النكبة في الجليل والتي يوردها بغزارة وبصورة مباشرة من رواتها الذين عايشهم او قابلهم شخصيا. هذه السرديات هي في الاساس ما يستحوذ جل اهتمامي في مراجعتي هنا.

لقد بادرت الان، بعد تقاعدي من العمل في حقل الطب، لقراءة هذه الدراسة المفصلة ودراسات اكاديمية اخرى مشابهة استعدادا لصياغة أحد فصول رواية ما زلت اقضي الكثير من ساعات فراغي في كتابتها. لقد اكتسبت الكثير من المعلومات التاريخية والحقائق التفصيلية الجديدة جراء قراءتي هذه. كما وقد اخالف المؤلف الرأي احيانا في تحليلاته النظرية. لكن ما أبهرني عند قراءة هذا المجلد هو الجهد والدقة المتعمدة في صياغة الكتاب كأداة للدراسة الأكاديمية، وهذا ما سأحاول شرحه والتأكيد عليه فيما يلي. وسوف ابتعد طوعا قدر الامكان عن الخوض في متاهات التنظير والتحليلات من منطلقات أيديولوجة، بالرغم عن علمي بوفرتها.

على المستوى التقني البحت، يبدع المؤلف بترتيب عرضه التاريخي المعمق هذا بصيغة تسهل على الطالب الجامعي مثلا ليس مهمة المذاكرة فقط بل ورصد المراجع ايضا وتمحيص المحتويات المركزية وترتيب الاحداث زمنيا وجغرافيا والاستناد على مئات المراجع التوثيقية إذا لزم الامر. فكل فصل من فصول الكتاب السبعة يأتي مقسما بصورة منطقية تساعد في تأطير الاحداث حول المفهوم الموحد لكل من أجزاء ذلك الفصل العديدة. كما ويعود المؤلف ويلخص محتويات معظم الفصول قبل نهايتها بصورة مقتضبه بحيث يتسنى للقارئ ان يستذكر معلوماته المكتسبة من ذلك الفصل قبل الولوج فيما يليه من تدوين الاحداث وطرح التحليلات الإضافية. كما يضيف المؤلف بعد كل فصل قائمة بعشرات بل ومئات المراجع المشار اليها رقميا في صلب ذلك الفصل. بهذا يقوم مؤرخنا الموقر بالتوثيق الكامل للمراجع العينية لكل ما يورده في سرده الدقيق هذا، سواء كان بالإشارة الى الدراسات الاكاديمية او الى المصادر الصحفية او التقارير والمراسلات المدفونة في غياهب الارشيفات الرسمية لمرتكبي جرائم الحرب التي تتمحص عنها الكثير من الأحداث التي يحتويها الكتاب. أضف الى هذا الفهرست الذي يذيل المؤلف به كتابه بحيث يمكن القارئ المعني ان يغربل الكتاب برمته للتفتيش عن موضوع او شخص او موقع معين. هذه الثروة من المراجع والملاحظات التوثيقية تمكن للقارئ من التوسع والاسترسال في البحث إذا شاء.

هرمنا، نحن أبناء جيل النكبة، وفي جعبتنا أسهم قليلة نرشق بها مجادلينا الصهاينة كلما استدعى الموقف ذلك، أحدها وأقساها في ذاكرتنا واوسعها رواجا في المجال الدولي هي مذبحة دير ياسين، إذ أرادها مصمموها ومقترفوها عبرة لمن يعتبر من الفلسطينيين وقاموا بإبرازها وربما بتهويل حجمها آنذاك. ولكن المصادر الإسرائيلية الرسمية المتاحة حتى الان، وكأنها سقفنا الأعلى الموصد، تتعمد تغييب العشرات بل والمآت من المذابح الأخرى التي ارتكبتها قواتها في حقبة النكبة. فيأتي مؤلفنا المتمرس في علم التوثيق الشفوي الآن ويسرد لنا (كما سبق وسرد سواه من الفلسطينيين ولا شك) مع المراجع وبصيغة مبسطة مباشرة، احداث الكثير من هذه المذابح معتمدا المقابلات التي اجراها كما والمراجع المدونة. وهو، ولا شك، يعي حساسية زملائه الصهاينة للروايات الفلسطينية هذه التي لا يشك هو ولا سواه من فلسطيني الجليل في صدقها، ولذا يشدد على توثيقها وعلى دقة روايتها. وإذ يوثق المؤلف حقيقة حدوث كل من هذه المذابح المتعمدة فنراه يعتمد المرة تلو الأخرى على مقابلاته الميدانية حولها خصوصا ممن شاهدوها او عانوا أنفسهم من جراءها. ويكفي ان نورد، على سبيل المثال لا الحصر، أحد احداث مذبحة قرية الصفصاف الجليلية المدمرة من اجل ان يتذوق القارئ هنا مدى وقع أسلوب مؤلفنا التوثيقي وبساطة سرده المباشر:
وكانت احدى النساء اللاتي تعرضن للاغتصاب هي عزيزة شريدة, قريبه فاطمة شريدة, التي ولدت بنتا بعد النكبة بسنوات سمتها عزيزة. لقد تركت اعمال القتل والاغتصاب وتهجير السكان في الصفصاف اثرا كبيرا في سكان المنطقة الذين دب فيهم الرعب من تكرار تلك الاحداث في قراهم. ولم ينس كل من سمع وعرف بقصه عزيزة شريدة تفصيلاتها. كانت عزيزة امرأة في الثلاثينيات من عمرها حين دخل الجنود الى بيتها ووجدوها مع أفراد عائلتها. وقرر الجنود ان يغتصبوا هذه المرأة الجميلة امام اعين ابنها البكر (17 عاما) وزوجها وأولادها الصغار, لكنها رفضت وقاومت. وهدد الجنود بقتل الابن البكر اذا لم تلبي رغبتهم, وفعلا قتلوه امام عينيها, ثم هددوا بقتل زوجها ان لم تخلع ملابسها فرفضت, فأطلق الجنود الرصاص على زوجها واردوه قتيلا. بعد ذلك قتلوها أمام اعين أطفالها الصغار قبل أن يغادروا بيتها, وقد أخذ أحد الأقارب على عاتقه تربية الأطفال الذين تيتموا وانضموا الى قوافل اللاجئين.

موضوعيا، في العشرات من المواقع نجد المؤلف يستنهض الهمم عند قرائه الأكاديميين للتعمق في دراسات اوسع لعشرات الأحداث والمعضلات البحثية التي صادفها ويرتأى انها تستقضي الدراسة والتمحيص الزائد. وكأني به يضع امام المؤرخين الشباب المعنيين الاقتراح تلو الاخر لمواضيع ابحاث جامعية ذات وزن لم ينلها نصيبها من البحث والتوثيق مثل تفاصيل سقوط يافا وسواها الكثير.

أرى ان اعيد هنا وأكرر ان مؤلفنا يبذل جهدا كبيرا في استقصاء الروايات الشفوية ممن عايشوا وشاهدوا او عانوا جسديا او نفسيا اثار الاحداث الموردة في التقارير التفصيلية هذه، او حتى ممن ارتكبوا المذابح والتعديات والسرقات المفصلة مرة تلو الأخرىمن على صفحات كتابه. فهو مثلا لا يجد غضاضة في الاتصال مع شيوخ ورد ذكرهم في الروايات الشفوية او في المراجع المدونة في الارشيفات لتوثيق تلك الاحداث. وان كانوا قد فارقوا الحياة فلا يتوانى المؤلف عن الاتصال بذويهم الاحياء لتقصي الحقائق حول ما حدث او للتفتيش عن وثائق قد تكون بحوزتهم. يحضر الى ذهني مثلا انه في مجرى الحديث عن أحد الفلسطينيين القياديين الباقين في يافا بعد احتلالها والذين كانت قد لاحقتهم أجهزة الامن الإسرائيلية بقسوة وصلافة، يروي مؤلفنا انه اتصل بابن المرحوم هذا القاطن في كندا وانه استشف من المحادثة الهاتفية معه تردده في الحديث حول مثل تلك الاحداث، إشارة كافية للقارئ الفطين الى مدى معاناة هذه العائلة من ملاحقات الاجهزة الحكومية الاسرائيلية لهم.

.كل هذا لا يوفى الدكتور مناع حقه من التقدير لجهوده الكبيرة، إذ أنه يحرص، إضافةلتوثيقه الدقيق، على صياغة طروحاته بشكل منطقي مترابط بحيث يغلف العديد من الاحداث التي تظهر لأولوهلة وكأنها لا إطار يجمعها بتعليق وتفسير يظهر للعيان المنطق الموحد لجميعها كأجزاء من سلسلة مبرمجة ومتمركزه حول بؤرة البحث الأساسية حتى ولو ظهرت لأولوهلة بعيدة عنها، مما يكسب الكتاب صيغة شبه موسوعيه. لنأخذ مثلا على ذلك "الفصل الخامس: حكايات اشخاص وحكايات قرى" الذي يجمع ويوحد بين "عودة أهالي عيلبون وعيلوط وكفر قرع" وبين "عودة المحامي خليل توما عبود المميزة" وخمس روايات تاريخية تفصيلية أخرى بما فيها احداث مذبحة كفر قاسم. ثم يأتي تعقيب مؤلفنا ليربط جميع هذه الاحداث المنفصلة معا في إطار تاريخي حي موحد:
تقدم الحكايات التي أوردها هذا الفصل صورة لحياة الباقين في ظل السياسة العامة التي فسحت احيانا هامشا ضيقا لإمكانات التغلب عليها. لكن تلك الفرص التي استغلها الباقون لمصلحتهم, تكسر الصور النمطية بالأسود والابيض التي ترسمها أكثرية الابحاث عن حرب 1948, ثم حرب اسرائيل على من سمتهم المتسللين في الخمسينات. حكايات الناس وحكايات القرى تمثل نموذجا حيا للتاريخ المحلي الذي يضع الانسان الفلسطيني في المركز. بدلا من القضية والحقوق الجماعية الضائعة. كما انها تضيء الوجه الآخر لعملة الادبيات الإسرائيلية التي تروي اساسا بطولات المنتصرين من دون التفات الى مأساة الطرف الاخر, وتذكر نجاحات بعض القرى  والأشخاص في التغلب على سياسات القمع والتهجير. فالفلسطينيون لم يكونوا ضحايا لا حول ولا قوة لهم فقط, بل فاعلين ناجحين أيضا في تحديد مصيرهم احيانا, رافضين الاستسلام لما رسمه لهم الاخرون وخططوه.
استمر نضال الباقين وصمودهم في بيوتهم ووطنهم المغترب حتى سنة 1956 على الأقل. فحتى اهالي القرى التي لم تهجر ولم تتضرر بشكل كبير خلال الحرب, وجدوا أنفسهم بعد انتهائها يناضلون للحفاظ على أراضيهم في سهل البطوف وقرى الشاغور وغيرها. فبعد السيطرة على اراضي اللاجئين والمهجرين, اتجهت أنظار اسرائيل ومؤسساتها الاستيطانية الى مصادرة أراضي الباقين بحجج أمنية و "تطويرية". وبهذا الشأن لم يكن هناك اختلاف كبير بين مصير اهالي قرى المثلث وأراضي الجليل او غيره من المناطق. بل ان اهالي المثلث عانوا (بسبب قربهم الى الحدود الاردنية) جراء سياسة قمعية تهجيريه وصلت الى ذروتها في مذبحة كفر قاسم سنة 1956. لكن المقدمات لتلك الجريمة الرهيبة كان مخططا لها على جدران قرى "الشريط الحدودي" ما بين وادي عارة وكفر قاسم قبل وقوعها بسنوات.

لا يسعني هنا الا ان أجمل فأقول ان التجميع الموسوعي للمعلومات والتفاصيل حول السؤال المركزي الذي يطرحه الدكتور مناع في مطلع كتابه أثراني معرفيا كثيرا. إني لم اقرأ صفحة في هذا الكتاب دون ان اكتسب حقيقة معرفية أخرى او معلومة تفصيلية جديده حول ما كنت قد اطلعت عليه من احداث النكبة من قريب او من بعيد. وإذا استطعت انا، ابن فلسطين، ان اعترف بهذا المدى من الجهل حول تفاصيل قضيتي الوطنية والإنسانية الاولى والتي كنت قد عايشتها سبعة عقود فكم، حسب تقديركم، ستاتي دراسة الأكاديميين الأجانب مثل طلاب الجامعات الأمريكية، وخصوصا الطلاب اليهود منهم والدين تصرف الحكومة الإسرائيلية وداعموها من الصهاينة الغشم المتزمتين مليارات الدولارات لتعميق تجهيلهم بقضايانا العادلة، كم ستأتي دراستهم لهذا المرجع الحاوي والمفصل بالفائدة المعرفية لهم وكم سيعود ذلك بالفائدة العامة عالميا لقضيتنا المستعصية؟ استرسل هنا بهذا التساؤل لاستنهض همة مؤلفنا واتوسل اليه بان لا يتوانى في اصدار كتابه هذا باللغة الإنجليزية وبلغات اجنبية أخرى. بهذا الصدد. دعوني انهي هنا بان أطمئن الدكتور مناع ونفسي بان الغد لنا، فلي انا ثلاث حفيدات تدرسن اللغة الصينية، لغة المستقبل العالمية، ومثلهن كثيرات وكثيرون.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Mulberry Affair

NOTE: To those who follow this blog, I admit to falling short of updating it regularly. In the coming few days I will post an article a day till I run out of new material.


March 5, 2018:
We are back in our home in Arrabeh enjoying the Galilee spring. It is as beautiful as we knew it would be. The rains this year have been adequate and well-spaced. Imad, our nephew who takes care of the garden and keeps an eye on the house while we are away, likes tending the chickens and we have seventeen healthy birds including four beautiful roosters and one sitting hen. They keep the grasses and pests down except for a couple of wild plant varieties that seem to have taken over the sunny spots between the various fruit trees. The Palestinian Arum with its dark green leaves, each the size of a giant’s palm, hasn’t started blooming yet. The bugle-shaped yellow-tinged flowers are no less striking in their white sheen than the pink corncob-like ears that follow in time to decorate the entire area. The promise of the variegated colors to come competes mentally with the bluish green current leafy expanse. The elevated rock garden in the front yard section of the near one acre of our space has been overtaken by wild cyclamens that we introduced decades ago and continue to pamper with selective weeding of all other native plants. The pleasure of ambulating between the exuberant blooms with their variegated shades of pink every morning is worth the years of consistent care. As I leaf through the dozen pages of the Ittihad, the only Arabic daily in Israel, I am reminded every morning of the fragility of my love affair with the land my father bequeathed me. Always, on the back cover of the communist daily, there is a scenic photo of the remains of one of the 531 Palestinian towns and villages that have been erased from existence as living communities, their sons and daughters made refugees elsewhere. A photograph of the remains or of the cleared site and a brief explanatory note document the location and size of the ghost town. A glance at the headlines inside always confirms Israel’s creeping ethnic cleansing of us, its Palestinian citizens, and continuing stealth of our land and culture.

Yesterday I transplanted a mulberry tree that I had tended for the past five years or so to a sunnier spot. My humongous carob tree next to it had overshadowed and stopped it from bearing fruit. It took me about an hour to dig the right hole to receive it where I hope it will flourish in the full sun. It took a little longer to dig it out and sever its healthy roots to the right size and shape. Last year, when I suspected that the tree was not going to bear fruit in its shaded location, I didn’t want to give up yet on the promise of the sweet mulberries from its special variety with the buttery white lusciousness. Besides, that very tree holds some special nostalgic memories. Way back when I was a child, every morning on my way to school, I would pass by a huge mulberry in the front yard of a family that didn’t mind schoolchildren reaching across the low fence and savoring some of the fruit. What added to the sweetness of the delicacy was that the family had three pretty girls of about my age. Lo and behold, one of those girls is now the wife of my good friend, a biochemist who eventually headed the laboratory of our regional hospital. The lab job was his formal source of livelihood. But he always supplemented that with farming his several inherited and acquired pieces of land in the Battouf Valley, the joy and pride of our village’s farming community. He even takes care of my single near-one-acre property there. So, some years back I asked my friend Abu-Ayman to please get me a cutting from his in-law’s mulberry tree. He did and I planted it in the wrong place where the aggressive carob overshadowed it. I still dream of savoring the fruit from that tree with all the attached childhood reminiscing and the nostalgic shades of flavoring.

Imagine, if you will, some bureaucrat sitting behind one of those three dozen windows at the immigration facility in New York deciding to stop me from coming back to tend my little orchard this time of the year, the only proper time for transplanting trees just ahead of their burst of leaves and flowers, their annual growth period. That exactly is what has happened and I am vain enough to want to record that experience for posterity: Thinking about the future of their parents, that’s to say Didi’s and my future, Rhoda and Ty, our children in the USA, decided to make sure that there would be no problems with our joining them if and when old age and infirmity made that necessary. Health-wise, both of us are in relatively good condition. But the children are correct in wanting to anticipate whatever unforeseen emergencies may develop. Since they both are unlikely to come back at the drop of a hat, they decided to petition for me to get a green card and eventually an American passport so that I can physically join them if and when needed. Three years ago, we started the process by submitting an application with the needed medical form and the biometric documentation of finger printing, current photos and digital images of my irises. All the paperwork had to be redone twice while some slowpoke official took their time checking my security background. Over a dozen years ago a border security official at the New York airport told me casually that my country, Israel, had put my name on a no-fly list. But Didi and I have since gone through the meticulous paperwork of proving that I am who I say I am and I have been flying with little delay since, except for the frequent ‘random’ check, the ‘random’ designation seeming to shine from my forehead at all times. A younger politically active Kanaaneh clan member who is a recognized Palestinian nationalist thinks he brought that curse over our collective head. Be that as it may, I had thought that this all was behind me.

Now, the presumed standard immigration procedure has taken another kinky twist, likely complicated beyond normal by President Trump’s aversion to immigrants with my skin color or imagined particulars. This forced us to engage a specialized attorney with Obama’s looks and empathetic demeanor. He knew his way around the system and was accorded the proper cordiality and the occasional chatty smile his profession affords him. Still, we had to spend the better part of two separate days to be summoned half a dozen times to our assigned officer’s window for additional evidence of my actual existence and of the veracity of the emergency development that necessitated my trip away from my desired future home country, the USA. The lawyer repeatedly inquired from the officer if there were any other concerns that we should address and she kept coming up with additional demands: a more current photo, another medical certificate from my ill sister at home, a return ticket, etc. etc. She seemed to operate in the shadow of an oppressive superior who she expected to doubt everything I explained, thus needing to substantiate every word in her online file on me with new hard copy documents and new statements.

For two days, I fought the urge to pull out my mobile phone and show the woman a photo of my fruitless mulberry, or perhaps of my front yard in spring, overrun by the deluge of cyclamens in bloom. I expected her to understand. Like most of the officers manning those seeming guard posts at the immigration office to block the rush of immigrants into the USA, she looked and sounded clearly of foreign birth. Nostalgia alone should be a sufficient explanation for my need to return to my real home. Perhaps they all were chosen because of their foreign language facility. Or perhaps because of the system’s awareness of the greater fidelity of new converts. I didn’t gather the courage to face her with the yearning she is sure to have for her foreign land of birth. We had to wait for a week between two appointments and while awaiting the medical certificate from my sister’s family physician certifying her ‘touch-and-go’ medical status, Yusra obliged with an added emergency: Without falling, she managed to fracture a hip, her bones were so week. I called a colleague who visited her and sent me a duly-signed and stamped medical opinion. It was all real and convincing. The officer, about the most demanding I have ever dealt with, and I have dealt with hundreds if not thousands of them in my life, both as their client and as their boss, was finally convinced. She turned pleasant, almost chatty, and, apropos of my ignorance of my alien number, even made some wry remarks about my outer space origins.

Neither my mulberry transplanting, paying my respects to two families in the village recently bereaved of men my age, visiting my dentist, getting our two old cars in running order, nor the trimming of my overgrown figs and citrus trees has kept me from visiting Yusra daily. She seems to draw strength from my mere presence in her space. On my first visit, she gained enough strength and courage to stand up and take a couple of steps on her walker. Yesterday, her physiotherapist grandson sent me a selfie with her venturing outside her room to spend a little time in the sun. Immediately, I joined her and was rewarded with her reminiscing about the beautiful experience she had some twenty years ago when she was successfully resuscitated from a heart attack. The beautifully lit tunnel she was so drawn towards after hovering above the gathered doctors and nurses that scurried around her bed came back to her mind. Yusra doesn’t call it a near-death experience and I have refrained from using the term in conversing with her. But she compares her stepping out into the springtime sun to that lit tunnel in warmth and luminosity.

And there is my niece Samira. She is younger but even more frail, having survived Cervical Cancer and all the intensive radiation that cooked her viscera into the sick mess that required repeated surgeries. “That is why it is called ‘the nasty disease,’ the cure is nearly as bad as the ailment itself,” she says. Except that she is still with us, having outlived Asa’ad, her cousin husband, and his few years of that tongue-twister illness of the old. He had just departed and Samira misses him. “At least I would walk to his bed and tuck the sheets around him. Now I get up four or five times a night to the realization that he is not there. The breath of a man in a woman’s space is worth all the trouble.” In the last stages of his Alzheimer’s Disease, he was merely vegetating, tube fed, breathing and occasionally open-eyed but not giving any sign of awareness of what went on around him or of recognition of anyone there. His children were too proud to submit their father to the anonymity of life in a nursing home. They bore the financial burden of paying half the expenses of a fulltime caregiver, a Filipino male nurse named Jonathan. The Social Welfare Department bore the other half. She came to love the boy like her children, Samira says. He was such a great help, so dedicated to Asa’ad and to his own three little daughters back home with whom he spent all his free time talking and laughing on the phone. When he came back to pay his respects to Asa’ad before the burial, and to say his prayers in his special way “with his two palms held together in front of his face,” he promised to come back to visit ‘Mother Samira.’ And she promised to boil rice for his lunch as usual when he comes.

Before his memories lost their details and specificity and then went completely blank causing him to break out in fits of unexplained crying, Asa’ad would entertain me, and anyone with the patience to hear him out, with stories from his younger years as a professional plasterer and as a hobby folk dancer. He would tick off the names of so many Jewish friends in Tel Aviv’s suburbs, mainly women, and so many Druze families in Galilee villages whose new homes he had plastered with caring finishing touches. At this juncture, Asa’ad always lifted his right hand before his face and twirled it admiringly. In retrospect, it is striking how easily he flitted and slid between one location and the other and between his relevant activities in the two distinct social circles. What was common between the two sets of permanent social relations that developed inevitably was the element of welcome and trust shown by those hosts and of honorable conduct on the narrator’s part even when the underlying foundations of the narrative hinted otherwise. There was never any suggestion of dispute or bitterness in either of the two sets of his fond stories. Yet the two had distinctly different endings: The old memories of his Jewish friendships would be reawakened when he would incidentally meet a member of one of those families and they would invite him back to their homes for a visit with hugs and kisses and a meal. With the Druze it always ended with the happy occasion of a wedding in the family and with Asa’ad arriving with Samira and outdoing himself in leading the Dabki line dance and with his Druze sisters singing and ululating for him.

A third narrative on which Asa’ad, in his recollecting days, always touched was that of his children’s nationalist activism. Especially Mohammad, his firstborn and hence the one who incorporates the father’s first name in his own nom-de-guerre of Abu-As’aad, and who has risen to the post of general secretary of “The Village Sons,” has been pursued and imprisoned innumerable times. Abu-As’aad, the political activist son, boycotts Israeli elections and maintains close contacts with other Palestinian revolutionaries. Abu-Mohammad, all through his life, has managed to successfully compartmentalize his pride in his children’s nationalism separate from his close friendship with so many Israeli Jewish and, especially, Druze contacts, many actively serving in the security forces. Also, none of his four boys has taken plastering as a source of livelihood, even if, like most of our village boys, all of them had dabbled in it at one time or the other. However, his only daughter did literally follow in his footsteps as a fancy Dabki lead dancer, even if for the most part her magic footwork is confined to our village weddings.

Where did I start and how did I get here? Could it possibly be an early sign of the ‘tongue-twister disease?’ I am still trying to tell that foreign-looking immigration officer at 26 Federal Plaza in New York that there were other extenuating circumstances for my return to Galilee this Spring. Samira now brags to me about how fast she walked after her recent hip fracture and hip joint replacement. Physiotherapists and nurses held her as an example to others. Sima, her Iraqi Jewish roommate in the Rehab Department of the hospital, though younger, hadn’t started ambulating when Samira could climb the stairs. First, she blamed it on experience; it was her first and Samira’s second hip replacement. Then she admitted the real cause, an obvious one for a lone elder: “Your kids visit you more! And there are more of them,” Sima told Samira.

We, in traditional Palestinian society, still value family connections and respect for our elders. Additionally, we excel in two types of mass socializing, with progressively more of both occasions with time: weddings and funerals. Toufik, my closest childhood friend and fellow gardener, lost his brother, the last of his six siblings, two days after we arrived back and I joined him for a couple of hours at the traditional family function. He is struck by the extensive social network of his next of kin: three generations of descendants of the deceased and his siblings, each member with their circle of relatives through marriage, their friends and their fellow workers and casual contacts. Upon arrival, each visitor proceeds to shake the hands of the line of first-degree relatives of the deceased seated at one side of the shady space minimally furnished with rows of rented plastic chairs under a wide stretch of tarpaulin cover. The standard accommodations are provided automatically by the Islamic Movement’s social arm that arrives with its ware uninvited and accepts whatever donation the family offers. The only concession the movement’s lead religious activists are sure to exact is their occasional sermon to the gathered crowd. I tried to listen seriously to such a sermon and found it fairly reasonable in terms of the advice it offered regarding social behavior and the like. All guests are promptly received with offers of back coffee, dried dates and a cup of cold water. The reception space is surrounded by half a dozen multi-story stone houses, homes of the sons of the departed man, all self-made and successful: one agriculture labor contractor with the highest and most ostentatious castle-like home, then the homes of the two smiths and of the professional plasterer. Less grandiose are the homes of the lawyer, the civil engineer and the physician sons. The three sisters had married and spread out. The absence of home gardens and playgrounds add to the funerary ambiance of the yard. “The young women have hit on an even narrower sphere of showing off,” Toufik tells me. “They do funny things to their faces. Arrabeh’s two plastic surgeons do a thriving business.”

A group of female nurses shows up and huddle conspicuously in one corner with their colleague, the anesthesiologist-physician son of the departed. Later he comes to dutifully shake my hand as does his second cousin, an ophthalmologist at Hadassah Hospital who has just returned from two years of super-specialty training in Paris. A third medical scion as well as the lawyer in the family afford me special recognition as well, themselves gaining social recognition through the gesture as well. After all, I am the first physician in Arrabeh, now the record-holder community in Israel in the production of medical doctors. That demanding immigration officer should take notice.

Arrabeh had just delivered another knockout punch to its academic Israeli competitors: Naftali Bennett, Israel’s current Minister of Education, who thinks Palestine and the Palestinians are all fake, is on record appealing to worthy Israeli youth, to him Jewish youth by definition, to prepare for the future by focusing on science. He urged high-schoolers to go for the highest math preparation by choosing the challenging five-unit track. The principal of one of our three high schools in Arrabeh, a local boy, took that as a personal dare. His twelve graders this year scored the highest five-unit math average in the land. Toufik asked me to join a group of town elders who plan to visit the principal at his school as a meritorious show of support.

Eat your heart out, lady!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Plea for Ahed Tamimi’s Protection




The Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick of Che Guevara black and red portrait fame has done it again: He has painted a minimalist poster of another iconic leader of her people and of a worldwide liberation movement, this time of an oppressed child who had slapped power with her bare  truth. When I read his rationale for painting the new portrait I cried. The man’s pacifism, sincerity, and especially his concern for Ahed Tamimi’s life touched me.

Like Jim Fitzpatrick, I am apprehensive about Ahed’s life. No one really denies the real reason for incarcerating her: to teach a lesson to other Palestinians, especially the children among them. Fitzpatrick is taking the essence of the lesson, regardless in which direction it will be resolved, to its ultimate conclusion. He is saying this is a model for every native and underclass oppressed child in the world. And he knows how meaningful and dangerous that can be:
“Ahed Tamimi, to me, signifies nobility in the face of oppression. This is a kid, a child,” said Fitzpatrick. “When I was 15, I think I would have been petrified. Wherever she’s getting her courage from, there’s a resonance of it echoing across the world. I’m just a part of it. There are organizations doing more than I could do, but I do think the pen—in my case, the brush—is mightier than the sword.”

Remember, Che Guevara didn’t live to celebrate his portrait. Ahed’s arrest was in direct and clear response to the Israeli public outrage at seeing the iconic Palestinian teenager giving physical expression to her anger with occupation and the occupiers. They had shot at close range and severely injured her cousin and friend, Mohammed Tamimi, and then had come to physically stress their frightening infringement of the rights and freedom of all Palestinians right there at her family’s front yard. She gave expression to her loathing of the occupation by attacking the soldiers with her bare hands.

What moves me most is the realization that right there and then, but for the grace of God, we could have lost Ahed. Members of the Israeli occupying armed forces have killed Palestinian children younger than Ahed for lesser offences or for no offense at all. Tens, hundreds, if not thousands of times. It is not unknown, even in living memory, for settler colonialists, say in Australia, to have organized native-hunting parties for the fun of it. And Palestinian lives are cheap, we all know. Remember Mohammed Abu Khdeir and the Dawabsheh family? That is why I want to give kudos to those two soldiers who resisted the temptation to put their deadly weapons to use against Ahed and her mother and cousin. Their death would have hardly registered a bleb on the rising statistical curve of the occupation’s Palestinian victims. But then those soldiers shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Kudos are reserved for the scores of young Israeli conscientious objectors who resist serving the occupation. There are those in Israel, you know!

What makes my heart sink is the fear of Israel’s lynch mobs: The same crowd that had successfully agitated for her lockup and compelled their occupation army and the entire governmental system behind it to invade the Tamimi’s peaceful home in the dark of night to snatch Ahed and her mother from their bed will be driven crazy by the inspiring image Fitzpatrick has artfully drawn and made available for all to download freely. Israeli crowds had lynched presumed enemies before. That is what scares me about the world class image my fellow pacifist artist has just released. The same fascist agitators who demanded Ahed’s arrest may not shy away from staging a lynch. Perhaps her military judge has a point in claiming that he is banning the media from his military court for Ahed’s sake. Stretch that just a little and you can imagine him justifying her imprisonment for life for her own safety.

“This girl is memorable, her face is memorable, she seems a courageous, dignified girl—she captured my imagination. And I think she’s capturing the imagination of the world. She symbolizes resistance.”
How fully I agree with you, my friend! You dub her “the real Wonder Woman.” She is a symbol of a wonder generation or even wonder generations. You remember all those improbable images from the First Intifada, the image of the child, stone in hand, facing a tank its tracks twice his height and its gun turret four times that. And the children held in place by soldiers while other soldiers swung bricks at their arms to break their bones on orders of their high commander. And the Tamimi boy, Ahed’s brother with one arm in a cast being freed from a soldier’s stranglehold “tooth and nail” by his mother and sister. Then again, the same boy demonstrating with the second arm in a cast. That was enough to make one of the sanest politicians in Israel go crazy, why wouldn’t the daring of his sister whip up the masses into a frenzy demanding her blond head? No wonder you want the whole world focusing its attention on Ahed as a protective measure. This is the microcosm rendition of the oft repeated human rights axiom that, across the globe, one’s stand on Palestine is the true measure of their humanity. Indeed, sumoud—steadfastness—and their instinctive holding onto their homes, land and olives, renders the Palestinians a wonder nation.

That is a worthy note to end on. But please, everyone, keep our Ahed Tamimi in your thoughts and keep her and all the hundreds of imprisoned Palestinian children at the focus of your actions till Israel comes to its senses.