Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Salan Abu Sitta's "Mapping My Return"-A Review

 NOTE: This review appeared firs in Mondoweiss where one can view the images and possible comments.

Salman Abu Sitta. (Photo: Stephen Bradley/Bout Yeh)SALMAN ABU SITTA. (PHOTO: STEPHEN BRADLEY/BOUT YEH)

A Palestinian Memoir 
by Salman Abu Sitta
352 pp. The American University in Cairo Press. $36.05


To judge by his fellow Palestinian activist associates, the likes of Edward Said and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Dr. Salman Abu Sitta is among our living lead intellectuals. He is a low-key but persistent native contributor to documenting the life, and especially the “living geography,” of Palestine across the ages, a task to which he has dedicated his professional knowhow and time.  

In the preface to his 2016 book, “Mapping My Return: A Palestinian Memoir,” Dr. Abu Sitta, an engineer by training who was exiled from his prosperous childhood home in southern Palestine at the age of ten years, advises his reader:

“[The book] tells the story of the long journey of a refugee trying to return home. There were no guns or tanks. There were no secret missions. It was simply a quest for a right to be restored, a truth to be unveiled, and a patrimony, lost in a moment of historical aberration, to be regained. That is the fuel which sustains all Palestinians in their long struggle.”

Amen! I hereby admit that, though not a refugee, I fully subscribe to this form of resistance.

Abu Sitta’s “regular” professional life seems to have been rich and challenging enough: It involves the standard technical engineering office and field work and independent business ventures with the attendant achievements and reversals, especially in Kuwait with Saddam’s megalomaniacal invasion and defeat. He participates as well in the standard Palestinian intellectual and organizational activism worldwide. Such a career seems typical of many diasporic Palestinians, the genre known for its high educational and professional achievement. And for its reliability: “They would go anywhere, any time, and do a terrific job,” the author tells us.

Yet the loss of home, property and lead position of his family as well as all the familiar physical and sociocultural surroundings must have been overwhelming to Salman as a ten-year-old. It stayed with him for life. Then, half a century later, approaching retirement, the author is seized by his lifelong urge to discover what lay behind his dispossession: 

Cover of "Mapping My Return: A Palestinian Memoir" by Salman Abu Sitta, The American University in Cairo Press.COVER OF “MAPPING MY RETURN: A PALESTINIAN MEMOIR” BY SALMAN ABU SITTA, THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO PRESS.


“I was a tenured professor; I had a nice house and a lovely growing family. One night, after pacing around our sitting room hundreds of times until after midnight, I decided to go.” 

And that apparently was how his “crusade” to map his return finally started.

Thus, Abu Sitta’s professional career was bracketed by the childhood obsession around which his book of memoirs revolves. This obsession seems to turn him, the studious civil engineer, into an expert cartographer and historical researcher focusing his gained expertise on Palestine as is clear from repeated declarations regarding the burning fire of his desire to end his long exile: 

“My life’s mission became to try to put a face to this invisible enemy, in particular, the Zionist soldiers who attacked and burned down my home.”

The intense account in this book of memoirs draws on a life rich in successes and adventure but never without the dark hue of the author’s childhood Nakba experience and its traumatic and violent events. And yet, the author manages to sprinkle his writing with a homely sense of humor and snippets of human frailty. Take for example his trip from Gaza to Cairo with his older brothers after the Nakba where they are allowed on train carriages transporting prisoners. They all are placed in adult-size shackles as part of the trip’s standard procedure. As soon as the guards leave, Salman slips his slim arms free. And in Cairo, while attending school, he is entrusted to the care of friends of his family. The couple permit him to share their bed, sleeping between their physically mismatched torsos with all the fondly-remembered comic events on which only a child can embellish.

To gain some appreciation of the author’s perspective as a refugee and on the great loss of status and means that came with his family’s exile, we have to be reminded of the firm traditional leadership his extended tribe, the Tarabeen, and especially his father, Hussain Abu Sitta, had held among Bedouin tribes and farmers in the Beer Sheba district of South Palestine. PORTRAIT OF HUSSEIN ABU SITTA, THE AUTHOR SALMAN’S FATHER, A CENTRAL FIGURE IN THE HISTORY OF HIS TRIBE AT THE TIME OF THE NAKBA AND ONE WHO FIGURES CENTRALLY IN HIS SON’S MEMOIR. IT IS BY THE FAMED PALESTINIAN ARTIST ISMAEL SHAMMMOUT IN 1950.


“After the [First World] war, the British, with their usual diplomacy, confirmed my father as sheikh although he had never cooperated with them during the war. He assumed his duties with vigor. My father had a pleasant appearance and a commanding presence; he was well-spoken and persuasive. He chose the pursuit of justice without belligerence, an approach befitting his role as a judge. In the years to come, he would play an important part in the Palestinian national movement.”

Judge Hussain Abu Sitta was an autodidact chief of towering status whose tribe owned generous tracts of agricultural land in its native Beer Sheba district of south Palestine as well as fertile lands in Egypt. He could afford to send four of his sons to study at Cairo University as well as others to study in Jerusalem. He was in regular personal touch with other Palestinian national leaders as well as international bigshots, from Winston Churchill to Che Guevara. Yet the death of heroic members of the family in the midst of all the terrible Nakba events and what followed in the Tripartite aggression against Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Egypt, is announced by the author in a simple sentence: “On one of his trips, Hassan [Not to be confused with Hussain] stepped on a mine and died. We lost fifteen martyrs from my family alone in the early 1950s.”  The author seems simply too overwhelmed to go into detail.

Then we are given a quick run of the massive destruction from the air and ground that the Zionist forces inflicted on Salman’s childhood home, the school that his father had built for the village’s children, the family’s flourmill and the other landmarks of the area. There are the elders and the feeble and the rest of the distraught and fleeing crowd. 

The vivid picture of the overwhelming disaster is given full force in the author’s childhood memories with the site of a ravine that had formerly served as his agemates’ playground, now used as hideaway by the village’s women, children and the elderly. “[The] women splashed dirt on their faces to discourage rape.” The scene seems to have never left Salman’s active memory. That and viewing his family’s unharvested wheat fields.

“I had wanted to know, since the moment I had been hiding in the wadi with the women and children, who had done this to me, to all of us.” 

Fast forward for over five decades and Abu Sitta, the itinerant Palestinian refugee, having escaped his academic life, is a regular at British libraries in search of historical maps of Palestine from past Western missions starting with Napoleon’s invasion with all its experts and cartographers. It is the start of his self-assigned, self-propelled and unending mapping and documenting of Palestine, the rich field he continues to lead with academic vigor and which provides the arch that sustains the book’s narrative.

Unfortunately, the rape the Abu Sitta womenfolk dreaded did take place; all those rumors were not the figment of someone’s imagination. At this later stage we are presented with one account that the author discovers retroactively with all its inhumane and shameful details. He has entrusted the Palestinian Jewish anthropologist, Uri Davis, with the task of tracking down his father’s heirloom silver sword. The attempt fails. Apparently, the sword had been pilfered, along with photos, books and other valuables, from the family’s residence, the prosperous Ma’in village’s headman’s home. The investigation leads to a more damning side issue: A year after the Nakba, a gang rape was committed by a whole platoon, 17 men soldiers in total, with the victim, a 10 to 15-year-old Palestinian girl, given a bath and a haircut in full view of the platoon’s members before they serially raped her, (which, it must be admitted, was decided democratically by a vote at the mess hall during that Saturday eve gathering in Kibbutz Nirim, newly established on Abu Sitta’s private land). Later, they execute the girl and bury her body in a shallow grave. All of the details are exposed at this later stage by several of the Participants in an investigative report published in Haaretz. ABU SITTA


Recounting the childhood memory of the Hagana forces destroying his village, the author formulates the moving conception of his life-long commitment to the idea of “Mapping My Return,” the title and theme of his book:

I looked back at the smoldering ruins, at the meadows of my childhood, golden with the still-unharvested wheat. I was engulfed by a feeling of both anxiety and serenity: serenity because we were still alive and an anxiety that was never to leave me. I wanted to know who this faceless enemy was. What did they look like, why did they hate us, why did they destroy us, why had they had literally burned our lives to the ground? 

What had we done to them? Who were these Jews anyway? I thought to myself that I must find out who they were: their names, their faces, where they came from. I must know their army formations, their officers, what exactly they had done that day, and where they lived later. I scanned the horizon behind me, recalling the places where I was born, played, went to school, as they slowly disappeared from view. My unexpected departure did not feel that it would be such a long separation—it was simply a sojourn in another place for a while. 

If the future was vague for me at that moment, the past that I had just left behind became frozen in my mind and became my present forever. I never imagined that I would not see these places again, that I would never be able to return to my birthplace. The events of those two days catapulted us into the unknown. 

I spent the rest of my life on a long, winding journey of return, a journey that has taken me to dozens of countries over decades of travel, and turned my black hair to silver. But like a boomerang, I knew the end destination, and that the only way to it was the road of return I had decided to take.

As for those refugees gathered nightly at his father’s rented home in Khan Yunis:

“No one ever questioned the idea of returning home. The refugees discussed only ‘when.’”

And that is still the burning fire in Salman’s and other Palestinian refugees’ hearts. Here Salman shows a detailed map of his home village, Ma’in Abu Sitta, and the four Israeli Kibbutzim totaling close to one thousand settlers, established on the village’s land, mainly soldiers who are later ceremoniously declared civilians. In the meantime, the same four settlements became the launching grounds for the multiple massacres of Palestinian refugees in Gaza. 

“This river of blood that engulfed the Gaza Strip in 1956 was not deemed sufficient to earn even a page of coverage in a dozen or so of the western books on the so-called Suez Campaign.” 


Here Abu Sitta shares at length two sets of correspondence from two fellow Palestinian friends, one killed in one such massacre and the other, a vagabond, essentially walks his way from Palestine to Kuwait. Just two intimate examples of what the Palestinian diaspora feels like.


Saturday, August 29, 2020


 Share on Facebook Sha/var/folders/3w/fsbwk3t51vx4dzqdcy1sv2x00000gn/T/ on Twitter



For years now, I have scanned Haaretz every morning to assess the public opinion in Israel. The selective English version is delivered daily to my door with the international New York Times.

This morning [last week], a photo of a dozen masked (as in COVID-19) Jewish Orthodox male students in a classroom occupies the center of the paper’s first page. A portrait of Golda Meir hangs above the group and next to the portrait in the photo is the highlighted Hebrew quote: 

“If it were not for the study of Judaism, we would have been like all goys who were once but no more …” 

That puts me in my right place. As if to reconfirm my irrelevance in the Middle East arena, the main headline of the day announces: 

“Kushner: Israel won’t annex without our okay, and that won’t be for ‘some time’” 

Nobody seems to take my Palestinian presence into consideration. I guess I am included under the genre of ‘all goys who were once but no more.’ 

My throat feels parched. I walk to the kitchen for fresh water. For reassurance, I glance at the top of the buffet table with the photo display of various combinations of my five grandchildren. What impurity! Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Caucasian, Jewish and who-knows-what-more. Just my own amalgam of all the historical invaders of Palestine over the millennia depositing their odd genes in my family tree should suffice. They have left some of my siblings with the occasional honey-colored eyes, or light hair to embellish the dominant olive skin and prominent or hooked nose that may belie the goy accusation flung against us Palestinians. 

Or was that just a religious insult? I am even further away from being religious than race conscious. Could that be because of my telltale last name, the Arabic form of Canaanite. Go figure!

Two other first-page headlines are about the main current Israeli headaches, COVID-19 and the diplomatic breakthrough with the United Arab Emirates. A third headline seems less familiar and I read on: 

“IDF has big plans …” 

To me it sounds futuristic, a science fiction exploration of what the Israeli army will be marketing next based on its field tests of weapons in Gaza: drones with the next level of AI to maim and kill disposable human irritants. A quick glance confirms my suspicion with the added mention of Beirut and Hezbollah as additional possible targets.

That is it for the day, I think. Till I stop for coffee at a friend’s home. Not to worry! We both practice social distancing, wear masks and sip our coffee in the breeze of an open veranda. 

He happens to be scanning Haaretz as well. Except that he subscribes to the original Hebrew version. This extends over 12 pages whereas my English copy has only eight. I am fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English. A quick glance reveals the fact that the English version skips several items that the publisher must deem of little interest to non-Hebrew speakers. I persist in my exploration and find a most interesting article on page 8 with the heading (my translation):

“Without coordination the IDF turned an ancient olive grove in Upper Galilee into a firing range.” 

Olives in Galilee! They obviously are talking about me. I take my time and read on. The report starts with the romantic description of the “vandalized” olive grove as “a pastoral dream of ancient olives that have grown on the steep incline next to almond trees and pomegranates [with a stream] from a spring that refuses to dry up.”

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My sources date the establishment of the Jewish-only settlement of Amuka to 1949 on the lands of the Palestinian village of A’mka (see remains of mosque above), apparently from the Hebrew or Aramaic for ‘valley’, obviously from the same root as the Arabic word for ‘deep’. The locale is mentioned by historians for centuries and even rated a school built by the Ottoman system in 1887. 

But the Haaretz article for Israeli consumption dates the settlement of seven families in the Jewish village to around 1980.

Despite this shallow historical perspective, the concerned Jewish family in the article displays ‘deep’ attachment to the field the Israel Land Authority had assigned to it on renewable annual lease basis: “This is a livelihood but also a lifestyle,” says the wife, “a lifestyle that they are about to cut off.” The husband adds: “There are wild pigs and porcupines and bible students run around here … I have worked here 38 years. I am connected to the place with my legs and all my body. I am in love with this place. This is action therapy. We know every stone here …”

As a Palestinian, reading the article leaves me with a sense of surrealism. I want to shout at the guy: “You may ‘know every stone here’. Question is, do the stones know you? Go ahead! Throw some of them at me. I bet you stones will veer away from my body! We know each other much better than you think! Just don’t blame me if they mysteriously turn around and smack you in the head.” 

I was born and grew up with olives and stones all around me. Within shouting distance from where this argument is taking place are others, no less human, believe me, who are the current link in the broken long chain of inheritance of those olive fields for only-God-knows-how-long and who now survive on donations as refugees across the border or on pay for menial labor in Jewish settlements like Amuka. They were disinherited as internally displaced ‘present absentees’ at the hands of the same IDF that now awards their olives at will to its Israeli veterans. 

I have cousins in Refugee camps in South Lebanon from this very same area. They still entertain a vivid “pastoral dream of ancient olives” and streams that refuse to dry up.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

The extremes of human behavior


Note: This post appeared firs on Mondoweiss.

Of late I keep being reminded of my age. Fortunately, the impinging frailties are emotional, not physical. Emotional lability is common among octogenarians. I shudder to think of other more psychopathological explanations for the infirmity. Whatever the cause, in my rural Palestinian culture crying is not for strong men. But nowadays reading the news seems always to bring tears to my eyes.

The cases of near random brutalizing of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories, often multiple and often to death, is a near daily occurrence. Last week’s episode in Haaretz apparently is a case of mistaken identity, a border cop shooting a man from Jenin in the back seat of a car on sight. The Israeli heroic soldier’s quick finger on the trigger is in line with the a priori Talmudic license of “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” I cried for the injured man’s father visiting him in the hospital. Not only that one of his sons is in critical condition with a pointblank shot to the head but also that there is a death sentence for the other son, the intended subject of the attack. And the same newsfeed has this item as well as this, one of a mother and the other of a child, “the second such incident in three months.” A weekly inclusive summary of such abuses, deadly and otherwise, is the JVP Health Advisory Committee weekly report.

Then Haaretz (English print version) carried a report about the rush of so many Palestinian families including parents, children and some elderly to the shore of the Mediterranean, mostly at Jaffa’s beach, many of them for the first time in their lives. Not only that they had no permits but also that most of them crossed the so called ‘Security Barrier’ through illegal passages and breaks in the fence with the Israeli security officials looking the other way. This surprising event and the pleasure the Palestinian children derived from wading into the sea for the first time, as is shown in one of the pictures in the report, nearly made me cry with pleasure. But what really made me cry to where I was gulping for breath is a video that a search about the topic of Israel’s borders eventually led me to. It shows a football game between two teams of Palestinian amputees in Gaza. Those young men didn’t even touch the fence of their open-air prison, much less crossed it. Just as the unwritten permit to cross the Apartheid wall to reach the sea, shooting with intent to mutilate demonstrating youth in Gaza must have been a well-considered decision of security and political higher-ups. War crimes usually start at the top.

My home in Galilee is nearly equidistant from Jenin and Beirut. For the last five days the scenes of death, destruction and wide spread misery in the Lebanese capital’s port area is shocking. For many of us, natives of the region, the shock is in proportion to Beirut’s romantic place in our hearts as Paris of the Levant. The tragic scenes in the media, especially on Lebanese TV stations, are sufficient to shock the most stoic amongst us. The account of one touching human tragedy that I have seen on TV is also reported in the New York Times international edition. It is of a heroic young woman from a village in north Lebanon, a medic who had joined Beirut’s fire department and died while talking to her fiancé. She was buried in a typical village wedding procession with the standard wedding music and singing and with her coffin draped in white and her fiancé’ dressed in a wedding suit and carried on his friends’ shoulders as befits a groom.

But the one report that brought tears to my eyes the most was a two-line sketch in Arabic on a dear friend’s Facebook account which went as follows (My translation):

“You should be Careful. I have Corona!” an injured woman in Beirut told the man trying to rescue her.

“I am not letting you die,” the man answered as he carried her in his arms.

The humanity of both! I just can’t stop crying. I can’t breathe.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

In support of a straight shooter: Susan Abulhawa is right about ‘Apeirogon’


Note: This post appeared first on Mondoweiss where. one can see the deleted images.

Susan Abulhawa is right about ‘Apeirogon’


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Colum McCann. (Photo: Random House)COLUM MCCANN. (PHOTO: RANDOM HOUSE) 

I hadn’t intended to read Colum McCann’s “Apeirogon: A Novel,” (Random House, 2020) at this time. Till I read Raja Shehadeh’s article in Mondoweiss. My admiration and trust in the judgement of the human rights lawyer and prize-winning Palestinian writer compelled me to read the book. But first I read Susan Abulhawa’s critical assessment of the same book in her Al Jazeera article. That made my self-assigned task doubly difficult: I equally admire the lead living Palestinian novelist and poet and have read and reviewed all of her published books except for her forthcoming “Against the Loveless World,” which is high on my current reading list.

In his novel, McCann does a great artistic and creative job of reaching far and wide across time and space, constantly borrowing from world literature, history, folklore and sacred texts to impact his reader with the depth of the personal tragedies that two families, one Palestinian and the other Israeli, had suffered with the loss of one lovely young daughter each in the ongoing violence of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Both of the fathers have committed to pursuing peace through joining the activist circle of bereaved families on both sides of the ‘conflict.’ And McCann’s tersely poetic writing style is a cross between dwelling at length on the suffering and inner struggles of the two sets of parents of the assassinated promising young girls, and straying far afield in unpredictable directions in literary and popular cultural accounts on both sides of ‘the conflict’.

“Apeirogon” is an appropriate name for a novel that seems to aspire to transcend definition in space and time, a tense poetic tangle with a stylistic mix of William Faulkner’s stream of consciousness and the repeatedly mentioned Thousand and One Nights. Yet, as I read it with the intent to judge its author’s partiality to one side or the other in the assumed Israel-Palestine “conflict,” or his lack thereof, I kept stumbling across reminders that Bassam Aramin, the bereaved Palestinian father (with the repeated but never substantiated Israeli accusations of terrorism and his time in jail under a military court system with a record of 99.8% of all accused being found guilty as charged, as mentioned by the author), his wife, Salwa, and I are all operating at a disadvantage vis-à-vis Rami Elhanan, Bassam’s Israeli counterpart, with his Israeli fighter’s heroic image  which the author visits repeatedly, and his wife, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, the daughter of a famed Israeli general turned peace activist in retirement. And Rami’s sympathetic image is further fortified with details of his Jewish underdog status as a “Holocaust graduate,” the European Nazi crime against humanity which the countrymen of its own perpetrators use as a curse to smear Palestinians. Witness, if you will, Germany’s (and other Western countries’) current criminalization of Palestinian peaceful civil activism against Israel.


Think about it: To start with, the capable Irish author is European aesthetically and in terms of his natural milieu, his elementary frame of reference and his acculturation. That automatically makes us oriental creatures, and especially the long-derided Palestinians whose main role in the successful Zionist portrayal across most Western media, going back to the earliest church Zionist teachings, has been their absence from the imagined Holy Land till after the unleashing of the Zionists’ settler colonial project when the Palestinians were needed to show up as terrorists. Then comes the novel, “Exodus,” and the most successful film based on it confirming our non-existence except as terrorists. No wonder I still remember demonstrating against it along with my fellow high school mates in Nazareth as it was being filmed. Now, the film rights to “Apeirogon” have been bought by Steven Spielberg before the book was published. The famed film director, even when some of his critics deride him as “no friend of Israel,” is sure to visualize and present the whole mystic blur of “Apeirogon” through Zionist-glinted 3-D glasses. He has famously expressed his willingness to die for Israel but is sure to land alive on the Israeli side of the equalized “conflict.” 

Does no one but the Palestinian writer, Susan Abulhawa, find that alarming? On account of that film’s threat alone, I am compelled to join her in sounding the alarm. The most I can credit McCann with is to give him the benefit of the doubt as a misguided and honest bystander who is practicing his artistic gifts based on his lifelong inherent partiality. 

Author Susan Abulhawa. (Photo: Goodreads)AUTHOR SUSAN ABULHAWA. (PHOTO: GOODREADS)

Pointing this is the minimum I, as a Palestinian, can do. After all, most Westerners are just waking up to the suspicion that they may have been duped by the Zionists’ clever alignment of their own settler-colonial scheme with the God-ordained white man’s burden as colonialists. Given the success of the ploy, it is left up to the Palestinians to sound the alarm and call on their fellow-colonized dark skins to stand up socio-culturally if not politically to their further debasement through the guise of sharing the blame with their oppressors, their settler colonialists, as “equal partners” in a “conflict.” It is the acuity of their ongoing plight that lends urgency to the Palestinians’ ongoing Nakba and obligates their vocal objection to the continued blame as equal partners to a ‘historical conflict’ whether such blame is intentional or out of inbuilt sociocultural partisanship as is the case with McCann in “Apeirogon.” In her piece in Al Jazeera, Abulhawa shines the light on such standard equating of settler and colonized as follows:

“Imagine this (to borrow from McCann’s writing style): Somewhere on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a little girl from the Oglala Lakota Nation, whose head was shattered by a white settler’s petulant son, bleeds to death in her father’s helpless arms. Another white settler befriends the Native girl’s father (it has to be at the white man’s behest because the father can’t leave the reservation), and a friendship between the two men flourishes from their common anguish of having lost a child. The white man’s daughter had been killed by a group of young Braves who attacked an encroaching settlement. The friendship between the two men is real. The loss that haunts them for all their days is the same.”

There is much to quote in support of my contention of the inborn and life-long cultivated partiality to Western values and folkways of McCann, perhaps through no intended bias on his part. He simply is comfortable in his own Western skin. Such bias is nearly worldwide. But that is exactly the problem. Let me quote from a field with which I am more familiar: In his introduction to the current special issue of the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies focused on Settler Colonialism: The Palestinian/Israeli CaseMartin Kemp concludes at one point:

Silence, going with the flow, avoiding controversy above all else—taking the role of the bystander—does not absolve us of responsibility. It is a choice in itself that can lead us into collusion with injustice and harm of a kind that could never be openly acknowledged. … Like viruses, the political threats to life and liberty have no respect of national boundaries. In a period in which the specters of fascism and militarism once again haunt the world, this places the Palestinian struggle in its proper context. To join with Palestinians on their path to self‐liberation might then be considered to take one’s place in the unending struggle for universal emancipation.”

The obligatory outcome of McCann’s “neutrality” is that the highly artistic product that he puts in our hands is more empathetic with the characters with European values and behavior, i.e. the Israelis, than otherwise. Let me illustrate by quoting from two engaging moments from the lives of the two bereaved mothers. Here is Salwa, the Palestinian mother:

“Once she was filmed carrying her youngest, Hiba, through the apartment. She had stopped to look at a photograph of [the murdered] Abir and the cameraman caught her crying. If they could have understood her anger, if they could somehow have captured it without making a spectacle of it, she would have talked with them, but she knew, she just knew: a Muslim woman, a Palestinian, the crime of her geography. She supported what Bassam did, Rami too, Nurit as well, but she wanted only to pursue the ordinary. She would find blessing there.”

Compare this, if you will, with the Jewish mother’s less inward directed demeanor: She, Nurit, is loud and clear in her crying out to the world, accusing Israel of killing her daughter by maintaining the occupation of Palestinian Territories, a laudatory and just outcry. Nurit’s scream reverberates across the international media to all regions of the world and over one full month of articles and quotes in the media in various world capitals, as the author documents. That is the manner in which the West understands a mother’s outcry and not in the classic pained reticence of the Palestinian mother. Nurit and Israelis generally are not satisfied “to pursue the ordinary.”

A similar conclusion can be reached even in studying the school report cards of the two lost bright girls, Abir’s abstract grades of A, B and C, compared with Smadar’s more “modern” discourse regarding her performance and interactions with classmates and teachers in each subject. Modern Westerners are automatically drawn to the latter’s lively depictions than to dry grades. And the text is rich with similar contrasts playing in favor of Israel’s more familiar patterns of Western acculturation.

When the author comes to negative portrayal of killers on the two sides, the prominence is in reverse proportions, the Palestinians given the lion’s share. We are presented with the cruel portraits of the three Palestinian suicide bombers, Abulhawa’s “braves,” with considerable details of their horrid refugee camp lives and environment. The author goes on to explain the details of the explosive belts that they wore and the angle at which the explosives must have torn their bodies. He even details how the eye of one of them was found later hanging by its nerve over the edge of a shop’s awning in Jerusalem; utter disgust! When the author comes to the soldier who murdered the Palestinian girl with a rubber bullet to the back of her head just outside her school gate, the murderer’s identity is not known and he never really materializes in the account; the reader never meets or him or her. Little cruelty or gore is flung at the reader in association with the Israeli killer. In fact, the one character who shines most in that account is the Israeli woman judge who insists on visiting the site and ends up ruling in favor of a monetary compensation to the Palestinian family for the loss of their little daughter, a rare outcome for Palestinians in Israeli courts.

To be fair, a surprising exception has to be mentioned here: few people, whether Palestinian or Israeli, are featured in the book with recognizable presence outside of the members of the two victims’ immediate families. 

Yet, two Palestinian young women gain entry into the poetic milieu of the book, both unrelated by blood or circumstance to the victims at the center of the book. One is the well-known Palestinian artist, Emily Jacir, who is featured pursuing a project with a connection to Thousand and One Nights. The other is Dalia el-Fahum who, presumably, dies while pursuing her musical ambition of recording bird songs in nature. Yet those most sympathetic sketches of young Palestinian artists fail to balance the account, especially since they both are only tangentially-related to the book’s central theme.

To be honest, reading “Apeirogon,” I could sense Orwell’s presence at the edges tampering with its central premise and carefully balancing its weight and impact. “A swan can be as fatal to the pilot as a rocket-propelled grenade,” is an illustrative casual assertion in the book. It stands alone as one of its thousand chapters of varying length. The author has a fascination with migratory birds that fill many pages all through the novel. This brief statement, I feel, sums up the essence of his “balanced” political stand. Might he, for example, be equating the impact of the peaceful Great March of Return in Gaza with Israel’s frequently fatal and disabling reaction to it? At the end, I find myself in full sympathy with Susan Abulhawa’s stand especially because of the novel’s artistic refinement and inventiveness and the expected worldwide impact of the film based on it, quietly concealing the Palestinians’ ongoing Nakba and denied rights, collective as well as individual ones, witness, for example, Israel’s recently passed apartheid constitutional Nation-State Law.

To use a local Palestinian expression, Susan Abulhawa’s pronouncements “never hit the ground”; her aim is perfect and her fire power is deadly. I find her powerful discourse, centering on refuting the standard Western-style equivalency between the Zionist settler colonialists and their native Palestinian victims, flawless. Confirming and celebrating such unfair equivalency between victim and perpetrator must be decried, challenged and corrected by whoever has the conscience to fathom the depth of its disservice and the media outreach to attempt correcting it. Seeing the current success of the Netflix travesty, Fauda, for example, it is clear that Israel and its hired contractors, especially in the film industry, are retooling their old attack fleets. Raising the alarm, at the earliest possible time and with the loudest possible means at our disposal is the least that all of us, Palestinians and colonized and ethnically-cleansed natives everywhere, must do. Susan Abulhawa did that in her most eloquent style and I humbly second her opinion.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

المهنيون الصحيون الفلسطينيون مواطنو إسرائيل: إلى أين؟

  ملاحظه: هذا المقال مقتبس من مدونة مركز الدراسات الفلسطينيه 

الدكتور رياض مجادلة وفريقه الطبي
المهنيون الصحيون الفلسطينيون مواطنو إسرائيل: إلى أين؟ 
سلسلة خاصة
نشرت صحيفة "هآرتس" الإسرائيلية مؤخراً مقالاً حول عطاء الدكتور رياض مجادله وخمسة من أنجاله الأطباء في كفاحهم ضد وباء فيروس الكورونا. بالإضافة إلى الإشادة بالدور المركزي لهؤلاء الأطباء وتضحيتهم في هذا السياق لإنقاذ جمهورهم من خطر الإصابة بهذا المرض ولعلاج من أصيب به، بغض النظر عن هوية المصابين القومية، أكانوا عرباً أم يهوداً، تتعرض الصحافية كاتبة المقال أيضاً لموضوع ثانوي أكثر حساسية إذ تقول: "السعي وراء مهنة الطب يظهر كسبيل للاستقلال المادي والتميز الاجتماعي في بلد فيها العديد من المجالات الأُخرى، بما فيها 'الهايتك'، أكثر صعوبة للاختراق بالنسبة إلى المواطنين العرب"—(ترجمتي من الإنكليزية).
وتضيف الصحافية بعداً آخر إذ تتساءل: "هل ستبرهن هذه الأزمة أنها نقطة تحوّل في السعي وراء تغيير أساسي قد يؤدي إلى المساواة الاجتماعية والاقتصادية والاحترام تجاه المجتمع العربي (في إسرائيل). وهل سيصل وقع التضحية المتمثلة بما يجري في مثل هذه اللحظات الدراماتيكية في مستشفيات البلد، عندما تكون، في بعض الحالات، أغلبية الطواقم الطبية من العرب، إلى خارج جدران المستشفى؟"
هذه الملاحظات، وفيها كثير من العمق والصدق، تستدعي منا التمعن والتعليق، إذ إنها ظاهرة جديدة نسبياً في الصحافة العبرية. وقد يطرأ على مثل هذه المعطيات تغيير وتراجع، إذ لم تكن يوماً نتيجة تخطيط مبرمج من المسؤولين. وأشير هنا إلى مقال آخر نشرته الصحيفة نفسها سابقاً وفيه تطرح كاتبة أُخرى المشكلة بشكل حاد في مقال عنوانه: "الإسرائيليون العرب يحاربون الكورونا فيروس كأطباء من الدرجة الأولى لكن كمواطنين من الدرجة الثانية". وهنا تورد المراسلة المعلومات الرسمية التالية: "علماً بأننا نشكل٢٠% من مجموع السكان، فإن ١٧% من الأطباء و٢٤% من الممرضات و٤٦% من الصيادلة في إسرائيل هم من أبنائنا وبناتنا. أضف إلى ذلك دور القوى المهنية في المجالات المساعدة والعاملين غير المهنيين."
من المثير للتمعن، حتى وإن كان الأمر من الحساسية بمكان، مسيرة التقدم والارتقاء مهنياً وإدارياً لمثل هذه الكوادر ومدى علو 'سقفها الزجاجي'. أنا أذكر حين كنت صاحب أعلى درجه مهنية في وزارة الصحة الإسرائيلية بيد أني كنت في الدرك الأدنى من الأوسط بين الأطباء العاملين فيها، كما وأذكر جلياً أول طبيب عربي تبوأ مرتبة مدير قسم في مستشفى إسرائيلي. اليوم، وقد تغير الأمر، يتوجب أن نلقي نظرة فاحصة على مدى تغلغل المهنيين الصحيين العرب في الجهاز، وربما يرى المتنورون من القيمين على الجهاز المنفعة الجمة لمثل هذه الدراسة، إذ من الصعب إجراء مسح كهذا من خارج جدران المؤسسة.
ونشير هنا إلى البعد الاقتصادي للوضع القائم: الأغلبية العظمى من الأطباء الفلسطينيين مواطني إسرائيل، مثلاً، قد انهوا دراستهم خارج إسرائيل. كان السبق في هذا الأمر للإرساليات الدراسية التي رتبها الحزب الشيوعي لأبناء كوادره في شتى المجالات الأكاديمية، ولا سيما الطب والهندسة والمحاماة. لاحقاً تلى ذلك اعتماد الطلاب الجامعيين على دخل أهلهم الخاص. وعلى الرغم من محدودية مثل هذا الدخل، فإنه من المتعارف عليه بين أهلينا أن يتكاتف عدد من البالغين من الأهل لدعم ابنهم، ومؤخراً ابنتهم أيضاً، لاستكمال الدراسة الجامعية، بما في ذلك الطبية منها، وغالباً خارج البلد. وفي العقد الأخير ازداد عدد الطلاب من 'عرب الداخل' الذين يأمون الجامعات الأردنية والفلسطينية في القدس والضفة الغربية. وبحسب تقدير محافظ في مرجع موثوق ، يوفر مثل هؤلاء الأهل على الدولة ما مقداره بين نصف مليون إلى ١،٨مليون دولار لتأهيل الطبيب الواحد، وعلى هذا يتوجب القياس في المهن الأُخرى. لنذكر هنا أيضاً أن هذه الطفرة غير المبرمجة هي حديثة العهد. فأنا، على سبيل المثال، كنت أول طبيب عصري في بلدي، عرابة البطوف، من مثلث يوم الأرض في الجليل الأوسط. مدينة عرابة البطوف تتبوأ حالياً المرتبة الأولى بين جميع البلدات العربية واليهودية في إسرائيل على حد سواء، من حيث نسبة عدد الأطباء من سكانها لمجموع السكان. وقد ينطبق الأمر على عدد الأكاديميين وطلاب الجامعات أيضاً، ودراسة هذا الأمر في قيد البحث في المجلس البلدي.
بيد أن مثل هذه الظاهرة ليست بالغريبة، إذ إنه من المعروف في الولايات المتحدة مثلاً، أن المهاجرين الجدد والجيل اللاحق من نسلهم هم أكثر المجموعات السكانية اهتماماً بضمان التعليم العالي لأبناء عائلاتهم. كما ومن المعروف أن الجالية اليهودية في أميركا تعتمد التقدم اقتصادياً واجتماعياً من خلال التعليم العالي أيضاً. ونحن قد غدونا مؤخراً في مقام "اليهود المتجولين" في وطننا.  
المقلق في الأمر هو التضارب القائم والمشار إليه أعلاه بين الواقع الذي نعيشه، نحن المهنيين الصحيين من أبناء وبنات الأقلية الفلسطينية من عرب إسرائيل، وبين قناعات أصحاب القرار من القيّمين على الدولة، وهم جميعهم حالياً من التيار الصهيوني اليميني المتزمت. وتشير ريم خميس-دكور، دكتورة العلاج بالنطق، في تحليل لها إلى التفرقة البنيوية القائمة في الكيان الإسرائيلي. وتكثر الإشارة عادة إلى الجهاز الصحي في إسرائيل على أنه المجال العام النقي من التفرقة العنصرية. وعلى الرغم عن ذلك، مثلاً، لم تبن الدولة مستشفى حكومياً واحداً في أي بلد عربي في إسرائيل منذ قيامها. لنذكر هنا أن الرؤية الصهيونية تاريخياً كانت وما زالت ترتكز أساساً على نظرة مبدأية وممارسة واقعية استعمارية-استيطانية لا دور فيها للأغيار، بمن فيهم الفلسطينيون المواطنون في إسرائيل، إلاّ الدعم كخدم للسادة اليهود الصهيونيين، "كحطابين وسقائي ماء" لا غير. بالطبع، هذه الرؤية مرفوضة من غير اليهود، منا نحن مواطني إسرائيل. من هنا يظهر جلياً أن التضارب في وضعنا الحالي سيستمر وسيزداد وضوحاً وحدة مع مرور الزمن. هذا الأمر يعيد إلى الذهن ما جرى تاريخياً لنا في مجالات عمل أُخرى، ألا وهي مجالات أعمال البناء والزراعة. وبعد الانتفاضة الثانية، وحين ارتأى القيّمون على شؤون الدولة الصهيونية أن مستقبل مشروعهم الاستيطاني يتطلب استبدال العمال الفلسطينيين، فتحت أبواب الاستيراد لمثل هؤلاء العمال من شرق آسيا وتركيا وأوروبا الشرقية وسواها، وهكذا فكت تلك الأزمة وما زال الحل جارياً إلى يومنا.
وفي عودة إلى المقال الذي افتتحت به حديثي هنا: تتطرق الصحافية في طرحها إلى مطالبة الأطباء من "عرب إسرائيل" الذين تحدثت إليهم بتغيير النظرة الإقصائية من جانب السياسيين الإسرائيليين تجاه القيادة المنتخبة من أبناء مجتمعهم الفلسطيني في إسرائيل، لكن حالياً ما من مجيب. لنذكر هنا أنه بات من المؤكد أن لدى الجيش الإسرائيلي خطط طوارئ مبيتة لطردنا نحن الباقون من سكان البلد الأصليين، من قرانا ومدننا تحت غطاء حرب مع دولة عربية مجاورة. هل يا ترى سيصل الأمر بالقيادة الصهيونية اليمينية المتطرفة إلى مثل هذا الخيار التدميري اعتماداً على مصادر بديلة للقوى الطبية الفلسطينية المحلية المتوفرة؟ أم هل سيعي بعض المتنورين من المواطنين الإسرائيليين اليهود والعرب لحكمة الحل الدائم من خلال الدولة الديمقراطية العلمانية الواحدة بين النهر والبحر؟

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A village in the Galilee holds on, with sumud: The price of steadfastness

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Hatim Kanaaneh on October 30, 2019 2 Comments
Ahlam Shibli, Fatoma  (Unrecognised no. 17), ‘Arab al-Naim, Palestine, 1999–2000, chromogenic print, 60 x 91 cm. Courtesy of the artist, © Ahlam Shibli
Ahlam Shibli, Fatoma  (Unrecognised no. 17), ‘Arab al-Naim, Palestine, 1999–2000, chromogenic print, 60 x 91 cm. Courtesy of the artist, © Ahlam Shibli 
Palestinian history, similar to what James Baldwin wrote of black history in America, “testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.”
Sumud is Arabic for steadfastness, a term that we, Palestinians, have reinvented. It comes at a price. To paraphrase social and behavioral sciences professor Dr. Moslih Kanaaneh at Birzeit University, such a price is heavy psychologically, mentally and physically. Heroism is attained in remaining steadfast as one pays the price for steadfastness. There is sumud in practicing sumud.
When I use the term, I know exactly what I mean at a gut level. But I find it difficult to describe fully in words. It is the kind of term that is best explained by pointing to a living example. Recently, I witnessed such a miracle of sumud bearing fruit. A practitioner of sumud for over three decades ago has told me I had something to do with his community’s practice of it. He invited me to visit and see the outcome. I did and I was overwhelmed by the experience. I am a physician and I fully appreciate what it feels like to overcome cancer, even if only in the rarest cases. For a treating physician, it is elating and humbling in equal measures.
Before the Nakba, Arab al-Naim was a small semi-sedentarized Bedouin community well-hidden from public view on the western slope of Jabal Abu-Qarad, Arabic for Tick Mountain, a relatively wild peak where I remember my father going in spring to fetch wild olive seedlings. If one stops to think about it, that testifies to the spot’s desolation: In nature, olive seeds pass through the digestive tract of birds before they can germinate. The top of Abu-Qarad mountain served as a wild bird sanctuary and hence a source of olive seedlings. A gully in its western slope provided protection from winter’s severe easterly winds while guaranteeing ample pasture for livestock. Thus, the gully provided a natural sanctuary for the Bedouin tribe of Arab al-Naim.
Like other Bedouins in the Galilee, Arab al-Naim was semi-settled with some members of each family moving with their livestock in summer to greener pastures in lower grounds. In 1948, as the Haganah passed the spot during their Nakba sweep of the region, they stopped and–it seems in retrospect almost as an afterthought–demolished all permanent structures in the small village. To make sure the place would be uninhabitable, they exploded hand grenades inside the homes’ rainwater collection cisterns rendering them unusable. The tribesmen and women reverted to the Bedouin’s default option of life in tents they wove from the hair of their goats, and then, with time, in make-do corrugated iron shacks. Their womenfolk trudged the several miles to and from Sakhnin, the closest undestroyed Palestinian village after the Nakba, to bring water in ceramic jars on their heads or in metal canisters on donkey back.
When Israeli military officials got around to registering those Palestinians who withstood the traumas of the Nakba and stayed put, they did so in the few sizable surviving population centers. For Bedouins in our central Galilee region, they set up an office at the Kammaneh mountain just north-east of Abu-Qarad. Kammaneh was the domain of the larger Bedouin tribe of Sawaid. The two tribes, Naim and Sawaid, were related through marriage, so no one objected to the convenient step of a single point of population registry. The officials didn’t speak Arabic and the Bedouins didn’t speak Hebrew resulting in the incidental minor error that everyone who showed up was registered as Sawaid.
No big deal, everyone thought at the time; the nascent state had other problems to worry about. Even now, with America having its back and copying its Palestine-tested border technologies, Israel still has other priorities. It sees Bedouin locales mainly as targets for erasure, witness al-Araqib in the Naqab, or the Negev desert. Recently the village was razed to the ground for the 156th time so as to make space for a Jewish National Fund forest. I wonder if the Guinness Book of Records has a category for the number of times a community is demolished by its own state.
As the medical officer in charge of maintaining the health of the half-million residents of Western and Central Galilee, Arabs and Jews alike, I became tangentially involved in all of that. The most easily quantifiable task that my staff at the Ministry of Health sub-district office performed was the immunization of children. We received lists of all newborn babies in our region from the Ministry of the Interior and we reported annually, among other statistics, how many of them we immunized against which diseases. Except that a number of Sawaid children were lost to follow-up. That lowered our performance rates in immunization statistics.
One day, my health educator, Dr. Subhi Badarneh from Sakhnin, showed up in my office excited. He had discovered a new village. I asked jokingly if he had been trekking in Africa or the Amazon? He responded that he was serious. He had wanted to buy a calf for his family on the occasion of the Islamic holiday. Someone took him on the back of his tractor to Arab al-Naim. And he discovered that their children were not immunized and no one went to school. Lo and behold, theirs were the “lost Sawaid babies”! They didn’t even have a negotiable dirt road.
This all coincided with the time I had started writing memos to my superiors in the Ministry of Health pointing out the obvious: The Palestinian citizens of Israel (“minorities” was the accepted official term) had special health and development issues that needed to be addressed specifically. Their Infant mortality rate ran at twice that of their Jewish co-citizens. I was lectured about historical processes and the need for time to let natural development take its due course, etc., etc. The more I wrote the more disappointed I became. Finally, I reached my own conclusion and decided to take independent direct action through the establishment of a charitable organization broadly targeting the health and development of the Palestinian towns and villages in Israel proper. Three of my Palestinian colleagues and I registered a nongovernmental organization that we called “The Galilee Society for Health Research and Services.” In our larger communities we focused on environmental issues like sewage disposal. In the unrecognized villages like Arab al-Naim, we provided maternal and child health services through a mobile clinic.  A sister NGO, the Association of Forty, initiated a preschool for Arab al-Naim’s children and we both raised a ruckus about the system’s moral and legal obligation to provide unrecognized villages with clean drinking water and other basic amenities.
The system’s lack of goodwill toward Arab al-Naim became obvious when the Jewish Agency started to build Ashhar, a new settlement on the peak of Tick Mountain, and tried to dislodge the Bedouins from their corrugated iron shacks down its slope. Government ministries withheld all on-site services while community activists struggled to stay put. One such young Bedouin with the telling first name of Nimer (Arabic for tiger) joined the Israeli army with the clear-eyed agenda of wanting to be able to say that no one belonged there more than he did. “Should I get killed, my siblings can use that argument,” I remember him adding at the time. Yusef, my current host who had discovered me at the farmer’s market, used a different and less dramatic tactic: His father, an elder of the tribe, would send him to talk sense to anyone who was contemplating leaving the community to a less harsh locale. “We stuck it out till we were officially recognized by the government. They kept stumbling over us till they finally decided to notice us. For several years, we negotiated with the Misgav Regional Council, to which all the new Jewish settlements around us belonged and in which we now were members. Six years ago, we reached an agreement and we could build on our own land. They took 70 percent of my property for communal infrastructure. We even accepted that and now you can see the result. You and your colleagues had much to do with that. You helped us hang on when the state leaned hard on us.”
I am flattered and am happy to accept some of the credit. But no one truly deserves praise and acknowledgment but the run-of-the-mill Palestinian salt-of-the-earth who dug their heels in, suffered daily and stuck it out. It takes courage, willpower, gumption, resilience and a million other nuances to practice sumud successfully and survive. Witnessing the rare showy positive outcome brings back fond memories from the past when I and my colleagues at the Galilee Society rubbed shoulders with its convinced practitioners. Here are two pieces from my autobiographical book, “A Doctor in Galilee,” published in 2008:
“May 15, 1985:
… On several occasions on initial scouting missions for [the mobile clinic project,] Dr. Anwar Awad and I had to leave our car in the fenced-off new Jewish settlements and trek across the countryside to meet the Bedouin natives to find out what they need and win their support for our plan. Our standard questionnaire included asking the Bedouin to identify the one health service they wanted most for their village if we could guarantee only one such request. One leader of a Sawaid tribe wistfully asked for an ambulance service to be provided to the neighboring Jewish settlement. ‘A woman in labor could walk there in less than an hour and be transported to the hospital,’ he explained. His vision of the future excluded any possibility of a paved access road to his own village.
Another Bedouin leader was impressively astute in his response to the same question. ‘You are physicians and you write prescriptions for your patients that they take down to Musa, the pharmacist in Acre, and Musa fills your prescriptions by weighing the different chemicals exactly and mixing them in the right way. My prescription for the health of the whole Na’im tribe is simple, and needs no pharmacist to prepare it. It has one single component that is sufficient to cure all of our ills: water!’
I was dumbfounded. Where did this guy learn his public health? He understood its principles better than all of my Ministry of Health colleagues.”
Ahlam Shibli, Brothers  (Unrecognised no.12 ), ‘Arab al-Naim, Palestine, 1999–2000, chromogenic print, 60 x 91 cm. Courtesy of the artist, © Ahlam Shibli
Ahlam Shibli, Brothers  (Unrecognised no.12 ), ‘Arab al-Naim, Palestine, 1999–2000, chromogenic print, 60 x 91 cm. Courtesy of the artist, © Ahlam Shibli
“April 30, 1989:
More recently, a group from within the unrecognized villages, led by Mohammad Abu-al-Haija from Ayn Hawd, has established an NGO to speak on their own behalf. It is called the Association of Forty and aims to bring about formal state recognition of the villages. They have started with a very convincing public relations campaign.
A while back Mohammad Abu-al-Haija brought a group of leftist political activists—including leaders of Jewish NGOs and several Knesset members—on a tour of unrecognized villages in our area. I waited for them in al-Naim at the single-room, corrugated-iron family home that we use as our clinic there one day a week, with the family of seven relocating temporarily to the shade of a carob tree. After the traditional round of black coffee, one resident made his pitch to the visitors about the degree of discrimination suffered by the community. ‘Aren’t we human beings?’ he asked. The politicians answered with their standard slogans and vacuous promises: ‘We are with you in your struggle.’ Some of them sounded unconvinced and others totally powerless—Toufik Touby, the grand old man of the Communist party, clearly speaking for the latter.
As they were leaving, a little old man who had kept silent throughout the whole tour, and walked behind us at a safe distance, saw me returning separately to my car and came over to greet me. Suddenly he raised his arms to the blue spring skies in a gesture of thanking God and hurried over to me. He dropped his walking stick by his side and gave me a warm hug declaring ‘Whoever heard of al-Naim before al-doctour Hatim came and visited us the first time?’ I recognized him as the wise old man who sometime earlier had prescribed clean water as the cure-all for his village’s health problems. I was happy to see him still alive, for he had looked quite ill at the time.
Since the first day I visited al-Naim I have had a deep feeling of failing the villagers by not being one of them, not experiencing their actual pain and deprivation. My learned ‘knowledge by description,’ as Bertrand Russell puts it, can never be as real as their ‘knowledge by acquaintance.’ Or, as the local saying goes, ‘counting lashes is not like suffering them!'”
In 1991 and 1992, while functioning as the Ministry of Health Subdistrict Physician in Galilee I doubled as director general of the Galilee Society. A sizable measles outbreak spread among Bedouin children and young adults in the Naqab region of southern Israel with several deaths. The Galilee Society’s mobile clinic joined the emergency immunization campaign and I didn’t keep quiet about what was going on or how things got the way they did. The minister of health at the time, Ehud Olmert, later Israel’s prime minister who was convicted in an unrelated case of bribery after leaving office, fired me. Three years later, when I relegated my lead position with the Galilee Society as its director to the younger generation, Arab al-Naim had no water, electricity or telephone lines and no government-operated schools, clinics or social services of any sort.
Fast forward to two months ago at Arrabeh’s Farmers Market where I shop weekly for fresh fruits and vegetables. While meandering among the stalls, someone tapped my shoulder.
“Aren’t you Dr. Hatim?”
“Guilty as charged,” I responded.
“I am from Arab al-Naim,” he introduced himself in a clearly Bedouin accent.
“Ahlan wa sahlan,” I responded with the casual welcoming greeting.
“You should come and see the result of your hard work. Arab al-Naim has changed. You will not recognize it. We have paved streets, lights and permanent homes with running water. Just ask anyone on the street for Yusef Abu-Ali!”
“It will be a pleasure,” I said.
Then I forgot about it until the next Saturday when he caught up with me at the same fruit stand. Again, he encouraged me to visit and I promised to do it. Again, I forgot about it. Short memory issues and limited disc space for the long shopping list my wife orders, etc., etc. Then, for the third Saturday in a row, we met at the same stall and I decided to fulfill my promise that same evening.
“A good time to visit! The sunset from our roof is beautiful.”
I asked the fruit vendor for the man’s name again and left. At home I told my wife of the plan and called Dr. Subhi, the retired health educator who had discovered the village and solved the riddle of the lost Sawaid children. Both were excited about the prospect of visiting Arab al-Naim.
On the way there, Subhi added two nuggets from his experience of advocating for the Bedouin village: He was personally involved in negotiating the installing of a single water point from the new Jewish settlement, Ashhar, across its barbed-wire fence for Arab al-Naim as potable water source so that their women didn’t need to trudge the few miles to Sakhnin back and forth lugging water jars on their heads. As to who would pick up the tab, Subhi gave the name of one community leader who would distribute the charges among his fellow villagers. Still, two problems arose: The Misgav Regional Council official he dealt with, who is Jewish, objected to the village’s name that would appear on maps and road signs containing the word “Arab.” Of course, the official had to be excused. He didn’t have the Arabic language facility to realize that, colloquially, the noun Arab here meant “Bedouin tribe.” Good thing Dr. Subhi didn’t delve deeper into linguistic subtleties, for the plural of “Arab” in this context would be “Urban” which would cause further misunderstandings and stronger objections. And, even though the local officials could see the necessity of potable water for survival, they hadn’t been able to convince the officials at the Jewish Agency of the same. So, the whole plan was trashed for the next few years and members of Arab al-Naim continued to walk to Sakhnin and ask for the personal favor of being allowed to drink. “Those cruel neighbors in Sakhnin!” I could imagine the condemnation by the uninitiated.
A disturbing memory flared up in my head: In 1968, the first time I met Edward Said at a debate at Harvard, I remember him standing aghast as a Zionist propagandist (was it Alan Dershowitz?!) showed a slide of a fresh refugee camp in Jericho with the comment of “What culture is that which doesn’t even plant a tree for a refugee brother to shade under?!” No mention whatsoever of how those Palestinians became refugees!
It is tempting to denude the actors in the ongoing sordid cat-and-mouse game between the state of Israel and the weakest segments of the Palestinian native population such as Arab al-Naim and al-Araqib and to consider them in the abstract in the absence of any mitigating evil intentions or benignity. Equally, we can abstract the attitudes and acts of the tightly knit settler colonial system of the state of Israel and of its various supporting and constituent supra-national agencies such as the Jewish Agency, the Israel Land Authority, the water utility Mekorot, …  etc., into a neutral set of bodies unencumbered by the trappings of my conspiracy theories. In such an abstracted set of circumstances, even if absurdly unreal, it becomes easy to understand what has happened. In the Zionist movement’s attempt to modernize the space the West had granted it, it had to get rid of thorny native plants even if some of them were quite fragrant or colorful. Israel covets their space and the resources they survive on. But they refuse to disappear. That is all there is to the conflict. And, when thus abstracted, the conflict yields itself to Benny Morris’ spotless racist logic where he blames David Ben-Gurion for leaving Palestinians in what became Israel in a 2004 interview with Ari Shavit for Haaretz.
“If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country–the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River,” Morris said, “It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion–rather than a partial one–he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.”
Adding, “If the end of the story turns out to be a gloomy one for the Jews, it will be because Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer in 1948. Because he left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself.”
“The noncompletion of the transfer was a mistake,” the fathers of the country should have completed their ethnic cleansing, Morris concludes logically.
As we approached Arab al-Naim on its paved access road that winds around the new division being added to Ashhar, the Jewish-only settlement on top of Tick Mountain, a magic vista opened before us. New multi-floor stone mansions decorated the side of the mountain around the garden that I last saw a few decades ago. The old pit with its compacted collection of corrugated iron shacks is still there. But from the main road that ends there, a dozen or so paved streets issued in three directions with sidewalks, parking spaces on both sides and utility stands. If you overlooked the pit and focused at the western horizon you could feast your eyes on the Carmel Mountain with the pole-like University of Haifa tower and the twin towers of the Dan Carmel Hotel. The fire-red horizon with the setting sun outlined the Haifa Bay and the sweep of the Mediterranean coast north to the Lebanese border. That was the scene that awaited us after we located the new home of our host (“Just ask anyone,” he had instructed me. “It is one large family.”) and climbed the stairs to the roof where we met the rest of the family over coffee and summer fruits.
The panoramic view and modern facilities of the household were worthy of professionals like the accountant and the construction supervisor that our host’s two boys were. A daughter turned out to have been a former student of my wife who had joined the womenfolk upon arrival and before we all regrouped at the roof for the finale. Didi inquired about another student that she had at Sakhnin High School: Yes, he was now a teacher and the family will mention her to him.
As we took our leave a car passed by with a sing-song announcement of cotton candy. Subhi was displeased: The likes of this salesman should be prevented from entering our towns and villages. Not only that cotton candy ruins the kids’ teeth, but also the salesmen spike the candy with addictive drugs. In our conversation on the ride back, sweets vendors led to drug dealers, illegal firearms, crime on our streets and the laxity of the Police in controlling any of that in our Palestinian communities in Israel. “As long as we shoot at each other and not at the Jewish neighbors, the police will leave well enough alone,” he summed up our situation. And I mentioned James Baldwin, Mosleh Kanaaneh and Edward Said again.
Ahlam Shibli, Abu 'Ali (Unrecognised no. 18), ‘Arab al-Naim, Palestine, 1999–2000, chromogenic print, 60 x 91 cm. Courtesy of the artist, © Ahlam Shibli
Ahlam Shibli, Abu ‘Ali (Unrecognised no. 18), ‘Arab al-Naim, Palestine, 1999–2000, chromogenic print, 60 x 91 cm. Courtesy of the artist, © Ahlam Shibli
Two months later, on the Jewish New Year, I visited Nimer at his mansion at the center of Arab al-Naim village. Toufiq, my childhood friend and fellow gardener in retirement, came along. The panoramic view from the living room of our host made Toufiq shake his head in envy while I kept my composure. After black coffee and fruits, we delved into an excited conversation about the village’s hard-earned progress and about our host’s role in it.
“You see the village now,” he announced proudly. “I had that picture in my head for seventeen years before the process of clearing the rocks and opening the streets began.”
Nimer repeatedly pranced to the kitchen and back and I noticed a slight limp in his gait. I refrained from querying him if it was acquired during his army service. Toufiq was more direct. He wanted to know how many Young men from the local al-Naim tribe of about a thousand people have volunteered to serve in the IDF?
“Yes, there are few young men who volunteer their service in the armed forces. It can provide one with higher education after serving,” even if none of our boys has taken advantage of the opportunity, he should have added.
“The army service was my only real education. Now I speak their language and know their ways. They can no longer pull the wool over my eyes.”
Nimer’s Arabic was sprinkled with many Hebrew words. With his dark brown skin, his hands constantly flying up and down in my direction with lively gestures and with his darting alert black eyes, he could have been another Yemenite, Iraqi or Moroccan Jewish immigrant. And he was assertive in his statements, almost to the point of chutzpah. He criticized the whole lot of local Arab leaders: parliament members, mayors and the like.
“They don’t persist, they don’t utilize the potential of their educated new generations, their lawyers, doctors, engineers, town planners, professors and what have you. They only know how to complain.”
But he spoke in generalities and refused to name names. I guess his constant attempt to reach out to influential officials, ministers and heads of government departments had damaged the image he had formed of fellow Arab leaders who are estranged from the system and get regularly blamed for it. That, apparently, is how an Arab pays for gaining favor within the system. To go by the names he dropped in his Hebrew-rich conversation, he has known every significant politician in Israel on a first name basis. All along, I sensed a level of discomfort in the man’s rapid-fire Hebrew-sprinkled talk. He smoked non-stop and I, the public health expert preacher, refrained from lecturing him on the matter. Did I subconsciously wish him ill? Did he actually limp or was that an expression of my own evil wish of imagining him injured during his military service?
I changed the subject to the history of Arab al-Naim. He shifted to his Bedouin colloquial Arabic dialect with no Hebrew admixture: Parts of al-Naim tribe, which claims descent from a companion of the prophet, are known to reside in most countries of the Arab world. A large such clan lived for centuries in the Golan Heights. During the Ottoman rule, a splinter of that clan migrated across the district of greater Syria to settle finally in northern Palestine. Over two centuries ago, two brothers and their nuclear families reached the spot where we now sat and bought some hundred and fifty dunams of land from its local owners. A more romantic and less historical version blames it all on a fisherman from the ancient Palestinian coastal village of al-Zieb. The fisherman’s name was Naim. One stormy day, he rescued a man clinging to a board out in the wild sea. He nursed the dying man back to health and took him in as a member of his family. The rescued man married his rescuer’s daughter, took his first name as his own last name, and moved inland to buy and settle in the fertile area on the side of Tick Mountain, thus establishing the thousand-member strong village.

Fatima has the busy and caring demeanor of a mother hen. Didi and I took advantage of our prerogative as distant relatives to pay her a visit in the company of her parents. She welcomed us into the living room of her relatively new home among ancient olive trees in the recently expanded residential zone of our neighborhood. Her welcoming chatter and clucking alerted her four teenage children who came down from their rooms, shook hands with us, kissed their grandparents and proceeded to compete in extending the standard welcoming offers of soft drinks, fresh fruits, roasted nuts and coffee.  Except for the oldest girl who retreated to her room to continue studying. She had successfully graduated from the American University in Jenin, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, commonly known in our parlance, we, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, as the West Bank but officially designated by Israel as Judea and Samaria. In two weeks, she takes the state nursing examination and then she will qualify to join the extensive Palestinian cadre of health professionals who have become indispensable in manning the Israeli health care system. Unplanned and unrecruited, such cadres are tolerated or even welcomed after the fact. The two other sisters have graduated from high school and are revving to go to college, one to train as a medical lab technician and the other still undecided. The brother is still a tenth grader. Will he go into taxi-driving like both of his grandfathers?
Which brings up the painful subject of Fatima’s marriage and divorce: Her father’s best friend had been a colleague of his from a different clan in Arrabeh. The two taxi drivers stretched their friendship to the breaking point. They had agreed on an exchange marriage: Fatima and her brother cross-matched with the friend’s marriageable boy and girl. After several years the arranged marriage of the opposite pair soured, ending in divorce. Fatima and her husband got along fine but were forced by tradition and the parents to put an end to their marriage as well. “What starts conditional dissolves peacefully,” the accepted dictum goes. Fatima ended as a single parent with four children and a high school education. That was what she had already fallen back on to support her family: With no training, and before her divorce, she had already started a daycare center in Arrabeh.
“I have been pre-schooling for 29 years,” Fatima now tells me. “In 1994, the Association of Forty recruited me to open a preschool for them in Arab al-Naim. The rest is history.”
In the 1980s, when Mohammad Abu-Elhaija started agitating for Ayn Hawd, his village of internally displaced Palestinians, to receive basic amenities and services, from electricity and drinking water to schools and health clinics, he found out that they were not alone. He and his fellow activists first counted a total of forty such villages. They called the NGO they registered to promote their cause of regaining legitimacy for their communities the Association of Forty. All such communities, retroactively derecognized by being designated as agricultural or forestry zones in the 1965 Zoning and Planning Law, were Palestinian and many had existed before the state of Israel or even the British Mandate, the first gross international collusion against Palestine and the Palestinians. In the 1990s, when the late Yitzhak Rabin narrowly won Israel’s premiership and with peace talks in the air, he relied in part on the support of the Arab members of the parliament (MKs) from the outside and not, God forbid, as coalition partners. Against that he made some specific concessions including the formal recognition of a dozen or so Unrecognized Villages. The Association of Forty and the Galilee Society had raised the issue of these villages, now, with those in the Negev, numbering in the hundreds, in national and international public forums including the much-publicized International Water Tribunal in Amsterdam. In the second round of such government gestures, Arab al-Naim was included. The eventual permission for its residents to build their homes on their privately-owned land took another dozen years and the signing away of 40 to 70 percent of each plot for infrastructure and public spaces, depending on size and location.
“It wasn’t all that easy for us all,” Fatima explains. “You remember how bad the road was? But people stood together despite all the internal bickering. I remember once when trying to negotiate a gully after the rain I ended up with my front wheels hanging in the air over a rocky edge. Enough women gathered and carried the car over to safety. It was a small car but quite reliable. Only once or twice someone from Arab al-Naim had to drive me home.”
Then, self-consciously, Fatima addresses her father: “You remember, Dad. The man was very decent. And never accepted any pay.”
Not surprisingly, that turned out to be my new contact, Yousef Abu-Ali.
“Now there are some women drivers in Arab al-Naim and perhaps half a dozen women attend the teachers’ college in Sakhnin.”
The official representative of Arab al-Naim to the Jewish dominated regional council works closely with Nimer who heads the local committee. Fatima thinks Nimer is clever and quite reliable even though she doesn’t approve of his joining the IDF.
“His boys also served in the Israeli military. I know them all as little snotty boys and they still act shy when we meet. One of them wanted to shake my hand and I told him to put away his gun first. You know, the father had a building license early on. But, out of solidarity with others, he stayed in his corrugated-iron shack till other homes were ready.”
Every little achievement had its own story of struggle. “The official government recognition of the village was one thing. But getting hooked to the electric grid was another. It took the sad case of a chronically ill child who was released home from the hospital attached to a machine. After his initial failed efforts, the father went public with news reporters splashing his appeal on public media across the country with his bitter complaint that his child was dying with electricity stopping at the border of Jewish Ashhar next door. Water, telephone, schools, etc., had their own horror stories as well.”
“Barbed wire fencing crisscrossing all of the Galilee mountains has put an end to our traditional livelihood of goat herding,” my host later explained. “In the war Israel waged against goat herding, the outdoors was put off limits by declaring it forest zones. I hear experts are now regretting that decision. With no goats to clear the grass, forest fires became inevitable. They want to allow goats back. Mark my word: They will issue permits only to Jewish settlers. It will backfire in their faces in some other mysterious way. God is not in the habit of throwing stones at his enemies. He finds other ways”
A sad but inspiring story as well as that of Fatima’s near dismissal: After nearly two decades of functioning as the preschool teacher with an illiterate local girl as her assistant, the preschool was now official and came under the control of the Misgav Regional Council. Fatima had no formal training and had to be replaced. Except that the mothers in Arab al-Naim kept their children home until a compromise was reached: Fatima shifted gears down to the rank of assistant to the formally-trained new teacher. The mothers let their children return. But Dov Yarimya, the late ex-military commander turned peace activist, stopped visiting the kindergarten to play his accordion and teach the little Bedouins peace songs.
Some relatives came to visit while I interviewed Fatima. I didn’t feel at liberty to raise the question that begged to be asked: How can a single mother support four growing children, put them through 12 grades of schooling, buy a plot of land and build a modern home for them on her meager preschool assistant’s salary?!
As we left, Fatima insisted on picking a couple of grape bunches for us from the vine canopy at the entrance to her home.
Delicious! Sweet sumud for a change.
Photographs courtesy of Ahlam Shibli. 
 PS: This post has benefited by the editorial help of Philip Weiss and Allison Deger at Mondoweiss who also secured permission from the visual artist, Ahlam Shibli, for using some of her beautiful and realistic photos.