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.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Germany has lost the right to act as a referee on anti-Semitism

Note: This article appeared first in Mondoweiss where it was followed by a lively and worthwhile debate.Activism 
Hatim Kanaaneh on May 31, 2019 40 Comments
Through statements issued by both the PLO and Palestinian civil society groups, and protests at German Representative Offices, Palestinians have unanimously condemned the German Parliament’s anti-Palestinian resolution attacking the right to boycott. Photo: Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) 
Last week, the German Parliament passed a resolution that demonizes the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. Other countries, England and France for example, have taken a similar formal stand against BDS. More nations, such as Canada and the USA, are toying with the illogical option of delegitimizing their own long-held constitutional principles to guard the interests of a foreign country.
But, especially in the case of Germany, even though the decision is only a non-binding gesture, it is morally and esthetically revolting. Israel’s entire claim to its right to an independent racially-defined nation state is rooted in the mythical claim to an ancestral home and the equally mythical claim to descent from a single Semitic tribe that once inhabited it. With the factual revelations of the likes of Shlomo Sand, such claims lost any rock-bottom basis they might have sought to claim; their strength shifted to moral and esthetic aspects of that well-entrenched myth. Hence, morality and esthetics have gained the high ground in the relevant debate, relegating the legal issues to the background. Israel is the valiant realization of the romantic dream of the long-suffering Jews who were exiled from the Holy Land, the accepted myth holds. Buying into that, as most people in the West, especially evangelical Christians, have, requires much imagination, romanticism and ideology that skews rationality.
With the light now focused on the international debate regarding the legitimacy of Israel’s historical claims and with it having successfully pushed out the Palestinian presumed competitors in the international arena out of the Sumo wrestling circle, the entire cheering audience, nearly all the Western World, has little to go on other than the visible muscle power of the two wrestlers. In this light, the legitimacy of the referees becomes critical. To start with, such referees were supposed to have matched two equivalent competitors, a total fallacy in our case. And the referees are supposed, prima facie, to take a neutral stand. That is why the credentials of German politicians in judging what is and what is not anti-Semitic are critical, especially in terms of, again, morality and esthetics. Imagine American experts advising the Vietnamese and Cambodians on their roles in rejuvenate their forest canopies after the end of that war. Or, to take a more current example, imagine Myanmar’s ruling generals advising neighboring countries on how to settle Rohingya refugees.
Listen, my German friends! You have lost any moral right to even have an opinion on the matter, especially when arbitrating between two presumably Semitic peoples. It is not only morally wrong. It is esthetically ugly beyond a normal person’s ability to countenance. Just stay out of the damned mess and keep your mouth shut.
You, German politicians, have admitted your responsibility for all the anti-Semitic evil actions against the Jews that your predecessors have committed. That is admirable. And you rightly continue to pay compensations for the harm done in your names. But that has been limited only to the harm done to part of the direct victims of your predecessors. What you owe us, the Palestinians, is to stand tall and admit to colluding with all the other guilty Western Powers in making us, the Palestinians, your indirect substitute objects of blame. You all colluded with the Zionist settler colonialist project to push the Jews out of Europe and to assist them in claiming our homes as theirs. Ergo, we the Palestinians became, and are still viewed by you, Israel and the world at large as surrogate Germans who ought to pay up in kind for all Germany’s inherited guilt and to continue to suffer for its past criminal acts against the presumed Jewish branch of the Semitic race. And now you dare to pass judgement on us for peacefully demanding our rights under international law. Now you have the audacity to ascribe to me your predecessors’ innermost ugly sentiments in order to aid and abet our continued victimization as surrogate Germans and anti-Semites.
You guys are mixed up. Your attempt at atonement to the Jews is backfiring. From where I stand you look ridiculously and utterly uncouth, even when you think you are joining an international chorus. You are not only ethically wrong. You are esthetically ugly. Get this straight: Germany has lost the right to act as referee on the dark issue of anti-Semitism. “Never again” is the outcry of humanity at large. No one, including you and Netanyahu and his rabidly fascist supporters, has the right to assign Nazi guilt to far-fetched strawmen like the Palestinians. As a member of that aggrieved nation and a human being committed to peacefully demanding my equal rights and peace of mind, I hereby command you to step aside and to stop stoking the fires of hate by painting us, Palestinians, with Europe’s past bloody colors of anti-Semitism. Your only proper role is to apologize, not only to the Jews but to humanity at large. And to pay compensations, not only to the Jews but also to your secondary and indirect victims like us, the Palestinians. And, in addition to compensations for the harm that your predecessors have done us indirectly, you should pay an equivalent fine for your current depraved, uncouth and vulgar behavior. I dare you to reverse your steps and to start acting humanely. You can pay what you owe humanity at large to UNRWA.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The musical inspiration of Siraj in Rama

Note: This article was published at Mondoweiss with an added photo of the group and one of their original songs. Here the link to the posting there: 

Forty years ago, when three colleagues and I created a public health venture we called “The Galilee Society for Health Research and Services,” we chose Rama for its home. As the organization’s director, I befriended many of Rama’s leaders including its kind-hearted mayor, Elias Qassis, and its physician son, Anwar Awad. More recently, Rama has hot-housed another public institution, this time in the field of music, a chorus-com-orchestra whose six founders called ‘Siraj’—an oil lamp—a light to the world, they must have meant.
What is it about Rama, another Palestinian village in Galilee enveloped by ancient olive fields, that inspires and nurtures public activism? Perhaps Rama only encourages our inborn communal striving for progress and excellence. Perhaps it is Rama’s famed olives, its pure mountain springs or its fresh westerly breeze that are to blame. More likely it is all the culmination of a historical process: During the Ottoman era, as another small Christian community in Palestine, Rama attracted the special attention and investment in education from European nations especially from tsarist Russia. That was followed by further partiality from the British Mandate authorities. With time, the favoritism created a mini-class of modern-day professionals: teachers, lawyers, physicians and the like. Inevitably, the centuries-long process led to communal self-reliance bordering on haughtiness and revolutionary fervor.
Now, to our current alarming reality: With apartheid already sanctioned by law in Israel, I recently returned to my hometown of Arrabeh to the rumblings of open fascism gaining further grounds in Israeli electoral politics sponsored by no other than prime minister Netanyahu. On the eve of the invasion of Arab polling stations in Israel by hundreds of rightist ‘observers’ with illegal spyware of cameras and recorders, I sought solace in a rare cultural event in the neighboring town of Sakhnin. It was a musical performance by Rama’s homegrown Siraj. The event was sponsored and promoted by a human rights activist lawyer from the Galilee Arab community of Sha’ab. A niece of mine secured tickets for my wife and me from the lawyer who is the aunt of her daughter-in-law, a typical Palestinian clan-based wheeling and dealing that I have to match some day. I came out of the two-hour performance overwhelmed. I had seen this level of professionalism, musical talent and craftsmanship before only in movies and in TV shows broadcast from Arab capitals, say Cairo or Beirut. How could this level of professional excellence and musical refinement be achieved in the absence of a sponsoring state, a national authority and a supportive ministry of culture with massive investment of funds, I wondered? 
Rai Winery and Restaurant, in Rama again, is my favorite Galilee eatery. All through summer, the afternoon breeze off the Mediterranean shore to the west fans its scenic mountainside locale. That renders its outdoor tables under an expansive carob tree the perfect choice for a leisurely feast combining Palestinian hospitality with neighboring Mount Lebanon’s rural cuisine. Rai’s mezza is further supplemented with one’s choice of Bulgarian dishes, the specialty of the proprietor gained from his college years there and his marriage to a Bulgarian college mate, and with the house’s own home-brewed arak and wine. For the past two summers, I keep finding excuses to visit the special restaurant. You can imagine my excitement when a new acquaintance sprung an invitation to Rai at me.
A day after Netanyahu won his fifth term as Israel’s prime minister, I got in touch with Zuhair Ghanadri, the manager and cofounder of Siraj who is a practicing dental technician, and he suggested to meet that afternoon at Rai Winery and Restaurant. It turns out Adeeb, Rai’s proprietor, is one of Siraj’s six original founders. Rai himself, Adeeb’s firstborn, was there to wait on us. By the time we arrived, the day’s Spring burst of heat had already worn off and we enjoyed the sunset view in the warmth of the indoors from behind the glass portico. From where we sat we overlooked the expanding eastern edge of Rama physically pushing against its millennia-old olive fields. Further south we could see Wadi-Sallameh, the valley where my father once owned a field with a water-powered mill. Alas, he sold the property to cover the expenses of his and my mother’s wedding. With time, Israel’s tampering with the water table had dried the stream at source and the mill faded into a haunted ruin. Deir Hanna, Arrabeh and Sakhnin, the famed Land Day Triangle, decorated the next series of hills. Further south on the next visible mountain range, some Nazareth homes and steeples completed the magic panorama.
Yes, of course, Israel does have a ministry of culture and it does encourage and financially support community cultural initiatives, Zuhair reassured me. In fact, recent years have seen a sharp rise in the ministry’s level of financial support to our Arab communities in Israel. Except that, when you look closely at the figures, you discover that the total sum of such support to the communities of the over 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian Arabs has reached less than 3% of the total. Such miserly support mainly covers deficits that NGO’s such as Siraj incur regularly. With the advent of the Nation State Law, finally no one needs to ask the question many had raised since Israel’s establishment: Why are there discrepancies in funding levels? And why are the residential areas in Israel racially segregated in the first place? It is enough to rile one’s innards. And it is now the law; it is constitutional. 
Which brings up a related issue: With the high expenses involved in building and equipping a modern auditorium with the proper acoustics and seating arrangement and with the needed sound and lighting systems, very few Arab communities could afford such luxury. That was why, for most of its 15-year existence, and though it specializes in classic Arabic music and singing, Siraj had to rent halls for its concerts mainly in Jewish communities. Still, its self-selected nearly 100% Arab audience withstood the decade-long test of loyalty. More recently, Siraj, led by its manager, made a decision in principle: to take the group to its natural audiences across the Arab community in Israel and occasionally in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. To do that it started adding its own transportable sound and lighting system to existing halls, and sometimes even to outdoor spaces, so as to perform more often in such communities.
This audacious decision met with other difficulties: For example, in the City of Umm-El-Fahim, a city with a religious Islamic mayor and administration, some conservative residents raised objections in principle to the group’s performance in their city. When the management of Siraj would not hear of cancelling, thugs started calling individual members of the group, especially women performers, and threatening them. The group and its official hosts called on the police and the ministry of culture to step in. They did, but what helped more was the city’s local government including Muslim officials who finally came out in force to protect the defiant group. That night Siraj performed for a full house, the threat and polarizing having made the best advertisement for the event.
The locally-based and culturally-rooted group consists currently of 45 Galilee musicians and singers, equally balanced between the two types of constituent artists. Samir Bishara, the scion of a multi-generational musically-gifted family, is the group’s maestro and personal inspiration to each of its members. His musical conducting skill and inborn human relations talent enable him to unite the group into a single performing body. Samir’s animated presence magically spellbinds audiences and enthuses them to join the act as the group performs their favorite classics. He not only scouts for new talent across the Galilee but also trains and charms each new member into integrating smoothly and finding his/her right place in the orchestra and choir group. Having already met the challenge of establishing Siraj and promoting an avid following for it among the home crowd, the new dream of both the conductor and the manager is to reach the beckoning potential audiences around the world. Not only are Arab crowds across the Middle East and North Africa potential audiences, but also Arab diasporas everywhere and cross-cultural adventurers are likely to be intrigued.
With the exception of the conductor most members of the group earn their living from employment in other fields ranging from technical professions to teaching. None of the singers is salaried while several musicians join small bands performing in wedding celebrations and the like. Running the group’s affairs, the duty of the mainly volunteer position of manager assisted in the last couple of years by a half-time secretary, must be overwhelming. The challenge of balancing the high public demand for performances, maintaining the group’s high standards through rehearsals and individual lessons for new members, promotional activities and scouting for new talents is quite daunting, Zuhair, the manager, says. It all adds up to a high level of volunteerism and self-reliance, singers morphing into makeup artists for each other before performances and providing their own required special outfits.
The spontaneous self-reproductive process of rising out of the ashes of the Nakba to soar at the height of professionalism in a general atmosphere inimical to Arab culture is miraculous. Yet, the group has carved a special artistic identity for itself. It has innovatively adapted some of the best performances of lead ‘Renaissance‘ Arab composers and singers from the 20th century from Mohammad Abd-El-Wahab to Um-Kalthoom to Fairuz. Siraj offers the enchantment of such divas’ performances sung on occasion by a male singer. And yet the magic is never lacking, especially with its conductor’s easy interaction with his audience who are frequently called on to join the chorus. On occasion, the group offers an original piece written and composed by its inspired conductor, witness Wenak mentioned above. In one of its performances Siraj even featured a selection from Nakba-exiled Palestinian composers at which the group sang ‘Bilady, bilady’–the Egyptian national anthem that many Palestinians have adopted as theirs–joined by its local Palestinian audience even if at a Jewish town auditorium.
Siraj can no longer hide its light. International exposure is next.

Nakba Memory Revival, a book review

Nakba Memory Revival
Citation Information: Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies, Volume 18 Issue 1, Page 121-126, ISSN 2054-1988 Available Online Apr 2019
Nahla Abdo and Nur Masalha (eds) An Oral History of The Palestinian Nakba (London: Zed Books, Kindle edition, 2018). Pp. 315. Hardback. ISBN-13: 978–1–7869–9349–6
To start with, let me absolve myself of professionally judging the contributors to this valuable book: An Oral History of The Palestinian Nakba. I am neither a historian nor a social scientist. At the turn of the millennium, when I switched occupations from public health and medicine to writing, the jump seemed too wide. Yet, I rarely write free from my medical knowledge and clinical acumen.
Genocide's Body Politics
This was the case as I read this volume. Especially the earlier parts, including the chapter entitled ‘What bodies remember: sensory experience as historical counterpoint in the Nakba archives’, sounded to me like another case study from Dr Bessel van der Kolk's best-selling psychiatry opus on trauma and how to deal with its aftereffects, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma(2014)2. The current Nakba case study is a collective one of a whole people rather than of an individual patient. In his pioneering work, van der Kolk goes on to demystify the use of movement therapy to counter the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) of trauma sufferers showing up at his office, be they survivors of childhood sexual abuse or American veterans of the Vietnam War. When I raised my objection to the focus on war veterans instead of war victims, especially the children among them, my colleague explained that funding considerations impose certain limitations on research priorities in the field. That sounded like another direct link to the case of the Palestinian Nakba: Across-the-board collusion to enforce memoricide.
The current compendium of Palestinian Nakba oral narratives and the in-depth analysis the authors/collectors accord them are sure to evoke support and approval from Palestinian readers who can access them. What is hoped-for, one can presume from the authors' repeated statements, is that the impact of the rich scientific analysis they offer will lead the Palestinian public everywhere to accept and promote the art and science of oral history, whether as participating narrators or expert collectors of such testimonies. Thus, the authors are gaining, or perhaps hijacking, the permission to narrate that Edward Said had advocated for the Palestinians. In the process they attempt to render their joint task ‘a site of hope, liberation and decolonisation’. All along, the reader senses the uphill struggle of these efforts.
Take for example the following twist of logic, typical of its author: The book quotes Benny Morris blaming the Palestinians for their Nakba while softening the fall of his statement on the conscience of the readers by calling the Nakba ‘the Palestinian exodus’. That evokes the subconscious positivity of the legendary escape of Jews from their slavery in Egypt and their eventual arrival to ‘their promised land’, no other than Palestine itself. And if the Nakba is an exodus, you may well expect us to pen down our Aggadah in the present volume. Kafka would be proud.
In his introductory contribution, Nur Masalha opines: ‘However, the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people, their ongoing plight and trauma, have brought me to the conclusion that there is a need to nurture and establish an interdisciplinary subfield to be called Nakba Studies. This subfield would bring in historians, both literary and theorist, and scholars of trauma studies. It would continue documentation and expression of the embattled popular and cultural memories of Palestine as a liberating scholarly and ethical imperative’. Likewise, Rosemary Sayigh advocates ‘an anti-colonial feminism as the feminist methodology appropriate for analysing, understanding and acting on the context of indigenousness and settler colonialism’.
These two suggestions and the many other lofty ideas in this volume elevate it to an academic yet practical level, one of engagement and challenge to others in the field. At the same time, it is another testimony to the Palestinians' ‘heritage, suffering, resistance and endurance’, which recalls a short vide on Facebook3 in which several young Gazan amputees, including the slingshot-swinging child leader of the group, join a traditional Palestinian line dance, jumping in the air and raising their walking sticks to the sky in rhythm to the music. If that doesn't qualify as Dance Movement Therapy, advocated by my colleague, Dr. van der Kolk, I do not know what does. Perhaps such defiant responses are the reason Israeli snipers oftentimes shoot to kill and not only to maim Palestinian youth.
The Need to Popularise the Academic
The book has three levels of discourse in descending order of comprehensibility to the general Palestinian public and hence of significance in achieving the goal the authors set for their project: Oral testimonies by Nakba witnesses and their descendants, comments about and interpretation of such oral accounts with particular emphasis on feminist content and analysis, and the academic discourse that lays the theoretical background to the field as a whole. Throughout the book, there is a sense of mission: To popularise and sell the important field of oral/aural history to the Palestinian public and to the world as the ultimate target audience.
Reading this book brought me face to face with the shortcomings I opened with. From the start I realised that the high price tag targets libraries and learning institutions, not the casual reader. Then, as I surveyed the table of contents, I knew I would be reaching for the dictionary frequently. It seems to this humble reader that much of the material covered in this book is of the essence in convincing our public of the wisdom and need for widening the popular base for the art and science of oral history production, the seeming basic premise of the book. And yet, at several points in the discussion, especially when addressing the wider field of oral history and not only as it applies to the Nakba, it falls short on speaking to the non-academician and non-specialist. I, myself, survived but emerged with an urge to preach to the good authors and the publisher: The subject matter, the analysis and the intellectual debate are all superb. The volume has much information that would benefit our public and not only academicians. Oral history is promoted throughout the volume, as an ‘important methodology of decolonising hegemonic history’. Many of the narrators reinforce this statement in their oral accounts even though they lack the academic skill to articulate the principle. One aspect of countering the coloniser's efforts is to let the subjects willing to make their voices heard comprehend and appreciate the effects, practical and theoretical, of their speaking out and sharing their memories with supportive researchers. It is the researcher's duty to facilitate this and to demystify their scientific discourse, to reciprocate to their source persons by offering a simplified version of the analysis and discourse to which they subject their accounts. The book, to my mind, fails to fulfil this calling. That is why a special effort should be made to ‘popularise’ it, both stylistically and pricewise. It would be helpful if a wider section of our public could benefit from such a treasure in an easily accessible presentation, perhaps even in Arabic. From what I read in the last part about the Tamer Institute, perhaps it has the experience, skilled staff and contacts to make a go of the needed ‘popularisation’ attempt.
Food, Fields and Nostalgic Memories
The theme of the ongoing Nakba for its sufferers, whether in parts of historical Palestine, in refugee camps across the Middle East or in the wider diaspora, is revisited repeatedly by most contributing authors in this volume. The Nakba's primary 1948 ‘big bang’ continues to reverberate in the memory and the daily lives of all Palestinians. Several narrators address the live sensorial memories, the physicality of their remembered trauma decades after the events, another connection to van der Kolk's PTSD analysis.
The authors also point out that the severance of the Palestinians' connection to their land is a form of genocide since it has erased a major part of the identity of the agrarian majority of Palestinians. Comprehending this essential principle should suffice to cement a solid connection to other colonised indigenous nations still struggling to resist their genocide at the hands of settler colonialists. This is particularly true in the case of women who are closer to the land, as is duly observed in the book. One aspect of this genocidal process seems to receive less attention than it deserves, severing the cultural, especially the culinary, connection of indigenous women to their land. Palestinians draw much sustenance directly from the land and its natural treasures, the traditional foods we forage for from the fields and the wilderness, whether greens and wild herbs gathered in spring and eaten fresh or cooked, or wild fruits in the summer, cactus fruits being a lead delicacy and wild carob a close second. To this day, in my home town, Arrabeh of Galilee, tales abound about the older generations' expert palates, expert enough to pin down the specific field from which a wild fruit, a cucumber or a dish of okra came. Perhaps a hungry child's open access, say to wild summer fruits, without the competition of others during the one main meal of the day, must add a sense of satiety and a measure of flavor to the memory.
The Dead and the Living: Deir Yassin, Saffourieh and ‘Eylout
In an atypically poetic gesture, historian Nur Masalha overshoots his target and crosses linguistically from the horrific to the beguiling oration of beauty and awe: ‘The irony of Yad va-Shem and Deir Yassin’, he declares ‘is breathtaking’. I can hear him screaming. He then goes on to inform us briefly of the infamous premeditated massacre and of the no less deliberate, continuing and overwhelming memoricide. The stupendous weight of the holocaust and its entire ‘industry’ is brought to bear on effacing the memory of the qualitatively no less horrific Deir Yassin massacre.
The mechanism and process of the systematic erasure of Palestine's memory is well documented in Noga Kadman's book, Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948 (2015).4 As leftist and academic as Kadman tries to be, she falls morally short on some major points, seeming to prove Israel's success in its erasure attempts of Palestine from Israeli, and perhaps from the world's consciousness. Her book opens with a most appropriate epitaph by Amos Kenan, another Israeli leftist literary figure. In her text, Kadman covers both Deir Yassin and al-Dawayma massacres. Yet nowhere does she mention that Amos Kenan took part in both. It is akin to the current glossing over by most Israelis in their eulogies of Uri Avnery of his participation in the Deir Yassin war crime. The mental aggression of memoricide is widespread in Israel. But I have never heard of anyone before grasping the essence of its cruelty as breathtaking.
Then there is the example of Amina Qablawi Nasrallah's personal memories about her family's saga admixed with her grandmother's account of her life of resistance. It illustrates the futility of Israel's systematic memoricide practices. I had a hard time appending my notes in the margins as I read her contribution because of the tears I shed. Now, donning my MD hat, I know this to be the elderly's emotional lability. The account spoke to me in a direct, personal and intensely emotional way. It reminded me of the life story of my late friend, Palestine's village poet, Taha Mohammad Ali. Unable to gain permission to erect a memorial for him in his demolished hometown of Saffourieh, fellow refugee youth pasted his photo on a pile of old masonry stones, remnants of demolished homes, a true memorial to a loyal son and avid lover. Nasrallah's account has many other reality connections for me. It is the oral exposé of what underlies the iconic image of the Palestinian old woman farmer facing the blade of the bulldozer while protecting and holding on to her olive tree for dear life. The back-and-forth personal account informs the reader in much deeper and more eloquent ways than any detached academic discourse using specialised terminology. Again and again, I read in this account much more than its simple words say: There is the casual, comment-less exposure of our experience and understanding of Israel's democracy, marketed to the world as our due compensation for the loss of our land: Speaking of a local collaborator, she quotes her grandmother, the uncontested heroine of the account, as saying simply ‘He was also made a member of the Israeli Parliament’. Then there is the reality of Apartheid in practice: A native family living on its land in a caravan nearly seven decades after the Nakba while vindictive Zionist settlers splurge in plush homes of Tsepori, the new all-Jewish Saffourieh.
But nothing is harder to forget than the image of little Yosra, the diligent schoolchild, walking to school in a neighboring village, being robbed of a lettuce she had carried from her family's field for her teacher, the classic polished apple gesture. Or young Amina herself as a pupil, having walked miles on a rainy morning to the bus stop on the road to Nazareth, being left there by the bus driver who recognised her as Arab. What could a little girl do but walk back, sit under a fig tree in the yard and cry for her father, the perfect Palestinian father, loyal son and family man, murdered by another Tsipori settler.
And there is the powerful image of the mother from ‘Eylout, the site of another of the Nakba's many massacres, ‘bussing’ her two barefoot children daily back and forth on donkey back across the mountain to Nazareth for them to attend a nuns' school, receive a meal and learn metalwork and piano: The little girl survived to tell us that ‘[I sat] for the piano exam and then I sat for Brevet’.
God have mercy! How do Zionists plan to deal with such prodigies?!
1 Author of A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel: The Story and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel (London: Pluto Press, 2008) and Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor's Tales of life in Galilee (Washington DC: Just World Books, 2015)
2 (London: Penguin Books).
4 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press).
The Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies (formerly Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal) was founded in 2002 as a fully refereed international journal. It publishes new, stimulating and provocative ideas on Palestine, Israel and the wider Middle East, paying particular attention to issues that have a contemporary relevance and a wider public interest. The journal draws upon expertise from virtually all relevant disciplines: history, politics, culture, literature, archaeology, geography, economics, religion, linguistics, biblical studies, sociology and anthropology.
The journal deals with a wide range of topics: ‘two nations’ and ‘three faiths’; conflicting Israeli and Palestinian perspectives; social and economic conditions; religion and politics in the Middle East; Palestine in history and today; ecumenism, and interfaith relations; modernisation and postmodernism; religious revivalisms and fundamentalisms; Zionism, Neo-Zionism, Christian Zionism, anti-Zionism and Post-Zionism; theologies of liberation in Palestine and Israel; colonialism, imperialism, settler-colonialism, post-colonialism and decolonisation; ‘History from below’ and Subaltern studies; ‘One-state’ and Two States’ solutions in Palestine and Israel; Crusader studies, Genocide studies and Holocaust studies. Conventionally these diversified discourses are kept apart. This multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary journal brings them together.