Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Adventures of Andy in Disappeared Palestine

This sounds like a lovely title for a children’s book or even a fairytale. Indeed the tale told here is fantastic and hard for the sane mature to believe, fit only for the imagination of a child. It is about the surreal happenings in few days in the life of Andy, a real person who showed up at the Acre train station one evening with an assortment of video-recording equipment.

Andy hails from America. He belongs to the rare breed of self-assigned truth and justice seekers who dedicate themselves to the task of saving the human race at this late hour of its incessant march, lemming-like, to its demise. He has no plausible connection to Palestine or the Palestinians except that he, like Jimmy Carter, finds them awfully wronged and their suffering worthy of recognition. He wants to set the record straight. Together with another fighter for Palestine, Dr. Ahlam (Arabic for ‘dreams’) Muhtaseb, he sets out to document the wrongs done the Palestinians in 1948 through visits to their destroyed former homes and the recording of interviews with members of separated families in Galilee and the refugee camps in Lebanon.

November 05, 2008
I. Andy Visits the Living Ruins

Andy had a list of Palestinian localities in Galilee that he had to visit. He needed to take a good photo of Sha’ab. For that purpose I drove him to the outskirts of Ya’ad, the posh settlement established in the 1970s atop the hill overlooking Sha’ab that was once the thriving and proud village of Mia’ar. Ya’ad’s first residents were specialist engineers attracted from their original homes in South Africa to work in the nearby military industrial park, reputed to manufacture the electronic trigger mechanisms for Israel’s super-bombs including nuclear ones.

As we walked to our sought-after lookout, I stumbled across a derelict memorial structure overgrown by weeds and hardy local bushes surviving in the shade of the superimposed European pine forest. A marble slab had some writing on it and I stopped to read it. It was in Italian and Hebrew and sang the praises of some Italian Jewish hero, I presumed. I read the specifics: He is commemorated as an educator, a community organizer, and a fighter who lead the liberation of Torino “from a cruel and merciless occupier.” I looked around and felt as if someone hit me hard in the pit of the stomach. The monument is surrounded on all sides by the rubble of old Mia’ar, razed off the face of the earth not long after our hero finished liberating Torino from its usurpers. Rectangular rows of stone still outline the bases of destroyed homes. The profanity of the statement itched in stone in the midst of the ruins nauseated me; I bent over retching. When I recovered I called Andy over and he took pictures.

Next we visited the ruins of Ghabsiyeh, the destroyed village of Daud Bader, our guide for the day. He is a well-informed and hardened refugee whose family had been settled in the village of Sheikh Dannoun together with a humdrum collection of refugees from other coastal villages who didn’t cross the borders of the then forming state of Israel, borders still undetermined to this very day. Even families from Dannoun itself who returned to their own homes days or weeks after they were driven out of them lost all claims to their property and were forced to rent their former residences from the Custodian of Abandoned Property. I am familiar with this phenomenon from Sha’ab, the similarly aggregated village of ‘internal refugees’ where I have relatives among its original residents who stayed put. Also Dannoun was the home of my aunt’s family, but they all ran away to the other side.

Daud is a well educated man that dedicates his time to informing others about destroyed Palestinian towns and villages. Early on he had a run-in with the Shin Bet (Israel’s Stassi) and lost any chance of holding a job in the system such as teaching in Dannoun’s schools. Now he holds the position of Field Director of the Association for the Defense of Refugee Rights, an officially registered NGO that deals with issues of internally displaced Palestinians like himself, making up nearly a third of the Palestinian minority in Israel. He has an amazingly rich and detailed range of information with exact facts and figures about the geography, social life, land holdings, historical events and specific dates for every destroyed Palestinian locale. His audience ranges from curious locals and daring teachers with their inquisitive students to visiting pilgrims opting for alternative tours, to the adventurous Diaspora Palestinian interested in locating his not so distant roots, to the graduate student on a research assignment, to journalists with a sense of the obscure, to filmmakers documenting past events like Andy, the guest I was driving around the Galilee on this occasion.

In Ghabsiyeh Daud proceeded to beguile us with memories from his own past when his family ran away to neighboring areas then returned with other residents of the village to live undisturbed for some six months before they were forced to move out to Dannoun. On location he expounded details of the historical village mosque that once served the entire region, now sealed and encased by a high metal sheet barrier. For decades it stood neglected, used mostly to house cattle from the neighboring communal agricultural settlement. Then Daud and other agitators cleaned the place up, painted its walls and started to hold Friday prayers in it. The ever-alert Israel Lands Authority, having assumed ownership, very early on, of all refugee lands from the good Custodian, sprang to action and boarded up the place.

Daud pointed out to us some of the village distinctive remains: the surviving palm tree next to the balcony of the effendi’s home, now razed to the ground like all the other Ghabsiyeh homes. The four concrete steps to the entrance to the home of another prominent Ghabsiyan still maintain their upright position abutting a passageway, the village’s agricultural road leading west to its extensive land holdings in the coastal plane. Andy, our documentarian guest, next hoisted his field equipment to the cemetery to capture the neglect and abandonment on film.

On the way out we halted again to hear a rich stream of Daud’s memories about another village landmark, es-sidri, the imposing ancient native tree that stands in a clearing by the village’s paved road entrance. It features the combined status of a banquet hall and a shrine. In the days before 1948 it was the sight for zaffet el-a’rees, the showy and jubilant procession for every wedding in Ghabsiyeh. The groom would be brought on horseback to sit on a chair in the shade of es-sidri. An impromptu horse race would be held for the occasion in the open fields to the west. Guests, friends and next of kin would surround and regale him with song and dabkeh dancing till the sun tilted to dip in the shining sea. The happy groom could almost hold it in his henna-adorned right hand, the sea is so close! Then the men, guests and locals alike, would form a line, their torsos pressed together shoulder-to-shoulder, and proceed to move in unison in a swaying sideways movement to the staccato rhythm of folksingers toward the groom’s home, repeating their sing-songy refrain of “Ya halali ya mali,” a near mystic pronouncement the best translation for which would be “You are rightfully mine and all I own.” The to-and-fro movement of the well-dressed village men reminded the observer of the wavy motion of a breeze-swept green field of el-Ghabsiyeh wheat. The groom would follow mounted on his horse and accompanied by the singing and ululating women celebrants. A throng of young men with few village elders would have preceded the groom’s party to bring the bride from her home, also on horseback and edged on by song and street dancing, to the couples new abode to await the groom’s happy arrival and the conjugal union –ed-dakhli- preceded by the traditional dinner-for-two known as “ luqmit es-sa’adi - the bite of happiness,” and the receiving of modest monitory gifts acknowledged with the standard calling out of the name of each well wisher at the top of the professional village crier’s voice: “May God compensate so and so for his donation to the groom of x number of liras, for the love of his father and of the prophet and of all who bless him.”

The sidri was the sight for all happy Ghabsiyeh communal occasions. In many village cemeteries in Galilee the same kind of tree provides permanent shade without the need to be tended in any way. And its fruit, though small and flat tasting (Daud insisted we taste it), provides a healthy source of energy for children playing in its shade. Over time this tree acquired a mystique bordering on holiness and became the object of veneration. Indeed, there was a sheet of green satin shimmering in the midday sun as we arrived, a decorative present made by some Ghabsiyeh refugee in distress asking for God’s favors or thanking him for them.

Kabri sat on a rich treasure, its springs the major release valve for the building pressure accumulated in the vast water table under the seaward slant of the Western Galilee mountains. It bottled water long before Israel was established and put its name to the brand. Ahmad Basha ‘Aljazzar’, Acre’s notorious ‘butcher’ of men not cattle, and the Romans before him, brought the cleansing elixir to the coastal metropolis of Acre in specially constructed aqueducts. A length of remains of the multi-arched archeological gem has survived the destructive hand of history and its looting generals as well as the repeated tremors of earthquakes over the centuries. It stretches parallel to the road between al-Mazra’a, another focal collection of Palestinian refugees, and the neighboring Kibbutz of Lohame Hageteot, the sight of the museum honoring Jewish heroes who rebelled against and were executed by their savage oppressors in European Ghettos. The aqueduct provides a bold visual reminder connecting and juxtaposing the two realities, the Jewish historical and the Arab current ones, another evocative yet depressing reminder of whose reality takes precedence around this place. My visceral response was not as acute.

Andy, the documenter par-excellence, and Daud, our well practiced guide-cum-witness, stopped at one of Kabri’s springs, now fully metal-encased and mechanized. Not far from it, in the midst of a lush park that advertized itself with signs all around proclaiming its mind and body-relaxing magic (it did neither to me!), was an old water-operated wheat mill, the flow of its driving force of a stream now another historical relic, tapped dry at source. A Parks Authority sign explained the mechanics of the contraption; not a word about the miller or his wheat-consuming customers. Andy and his project partner, Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb, hope to connect between the mill here and the miller in his refugee camp a few miles away in South Lebanon.

A convoy of local tourists on their beach buggies, mostly Ashkenazi couples, drove by, the passenger seat spouses clicking their cameras. They and their ilk can’t afford to contemplate, even in the abstract, the logical conclusion to Ahlam and Andy’s tender undertaking: permitting the miller to tend to his mill at el-Kabri.

Two churches, two cemeteries, a boarded mosque, a nuns former residence, the two story elegant home of the Greek Catholic priest, and a shrine dedicated to the prophet Elijah (el-Khader, the Green, to Arabs) is all that remains of el-Bassah’s old days of glory. Before the Nakbah el-Bassah was a thriving little town of near three thousand people; it boasted a high school, a hotel, a café, and even a bar; it was that modern. Its location atop a hillock looking out at the Mediterranean sea less than five miles away is truly magnificent.

Another thriving community has now replaced el-Bassa, that of Shlomi, a name derived from ‘shalom’, Hebrew for peace. But the peace of the sacred remnants of old el-Bassa in the midst of shoulder-high dry weeds and wild thistles and bushes is disturbed by the noise emanating from factories around them. It is Shlomi’s industrial zone. And by a more wicked noise.

Andy hoisted his gear and disappeared in the brush. I worried about him, what with his jetlag, exhausting schedule and limited food intake. Eventually he emerged, camera and tripod on shoulder, ready to move to the next location. But I had spotted two items worthy of his documenting attention: Daud and I had climbed over the missing stairs of a church and pried its door open to access its haunting vast interior with its high vaulted, cracked ceiling. It is totally empty except for a wooden altar with few dust covered icons, including a couple of St George slaying the Dragon. A dusty leather-bound half-gnawed copy of the New Testament lay on the corner of the altar. Daud informed us that the Wakims, a fightsy Bassan internal refugee family, still baptize their children here.

Emerging from the church I directed Andy’s attention to another recordable scene, the source of that wicked noise: At the far end of the collection of dilapidated holy sites a Caterpillar was loading rubble onto trucks. The adjacent area of destroyed el-Bassa was being cleared for the construction of a new bus station. Andy recorded the scene, a beast munching at the boney remnants of a once beautiful body, another eerie reminder of the underpinnings of Israel’s modern development: American cash and equipment deployed to replace Palestine in every possible way: people, homes, culture, and memory.

Would the mosque and churches succumb too? Cemeteries are regularly desecrated and pillaged in the name of Israel’s progress and cultural superiority. In Jerusalem the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of the law of the land, has just ruled that an ancient cemetery just outside the old city walls, dating back to the days of the Khalif Omar, can be cleansed of the bones of Moslems to make room for the greater good embodied in the Gehry designed Museum of Tolerance. And what a great example of tolerance it is!

On the way out, using a short cut to the sea coast, we stopped at one of el-Bassa’s derelict cemeteries. Most of the graves are in the form of family mausoleums. Daud found a broken headstone with beautiful Arabic calligraphy. Between the two of us we could make out most of the remaining two thirds of a memorial poem whose letters when added give the date of burial. Daud made sure the slab was turned to lay face down among other unmarked stones to protect it from archeology buffs.

At the edge of the cemetery, just where I parked my car on the street, Daud pointed out another curiosity: a well preserved several feet-wide piece of Byzantine mosaic overgrown and hidden by weeds, edges lost in the surrounding rubble. He figured it must be Byzantine because of the neglect. Had it been Jewish the road cutting through it would have been redirected.

Our visit to Ez-Zeeb was curtailed by nightfall. We hurried to the hill at the northern edge of the national park that the Palestinian fishing village has become, its ruins shared to the south by Club Med and to the north by an anarchist declaring his squatter’s rights in bold signs of ‘No entry’ and ‘The independent State of Achzeevland.’ Andy had just enough light to record the picturesque scene before we rushed to the gate of the park to search for a sign that my wife remembered seeing. Using my car lights to decipher and photograph it, Andy reported its contents: There was a lengthy and detailed account of the place’s history over the centuries. Except that when it came to the over-thirteen centuries of Arab life and culture in the place, it was covered in one brief sentence: “Then it declined into a fishing village.”

Andy’s second night at our home was a little better for him; his jetlag had abated some and he was exhausted. Perhaps also he was satisfied with having witnessed in person the evidence of the trampling of Palestinian rights that he had heard so often from ‘opinionated informants.’ For my part I slept little despite seeking comfort in Melatonin. The evoked memories had coalesced into a nightmarish wakeful dream. I stayed up and wrote.

Dream on Ahlam!

November 15, 2008
II. Andy Meets the Present Absentees

The Musas
On our way back from the Palestinian Neverland of Western Galilee guided by one of its true sons, an actual ‘present absentee’ in the flesh, I called a phone number provided to us by Ms. Dreams. On the other end was a surprised young man who immediately figured out the source of my mix-up: The phone number was his but the name I asked for was that of his old uncle, so it had to be from some confused relative and such exist in refugee camps in Lebanon. I introduced myself and asked if we could meet within the hour.
“Drive up the main road of Deir el-Asad and ask anyone you meet. You and your guest are welcome. Consider it your home.” I reminded Didi of the old couple we met sightseeing on the outskirts of a village in Andalucía who kept repeating to us: “Mi casa su casa!”

When we arrived the young man was waiting. We shook hands and he welcomed us into his uncle’s guestroom. Coffee and fruits were offered and a dozen curious immediate relatives gawked as Andy set up his equipment and I explained the purpose of the interview to the octogenarian Mr. Musa: stocky, fair skinned, well shaven with a sporty white moustache, coarse earth-roughened strong hands and a screaming quarter-size basal cell carcinoma in the middle of his forehead. I made the latter the focal point of my conversation with him. That gave me, a physician, the upper hand in the forming relationship between us. Tangentially, I alluded to the purpose of our visit, the taping of an interview with him regarding his refugee niece in Lebanon. He assumed a heroic, devil-may-care air and expressed his readiness to speak to us of his personal experience of the 1948 tragic events in his village and of his feelings regarding the Nakbah and his changed life ever since.

His diminutive old wife, face deeply wrinkled and framed by a white scarf, sat at his side with her arms respectfully folded across her age- and reproduction-flattened chest (a dozen living children!). Intermittently she muttered her disapproval:
“Let bygones be! Of what use is it to talk of long forgotten events?”
“Osss! Hush-up! I will talk. What is there to hide? The good doctor here is no informant.”
“Of what use is it!” she stood her ground.
The couple’s assembled children and two generations of grandchildren laughed at their progenitors arguing and playing their expected roles, he the assertive, courageous and self-sacrificing head of the household and she the cautious and protective mother hen.

The stage and lighting was readied and I translated Andy’s questions. Despite his rebellious air off camera, Mr. Musa’s answers were brief and evasive and his memories clouded and generalized. His niece in Shatila camp was not exactly a blood relative, only the wife of one. And life in Deir-el-Asad is peaceful and comfortable, thanks in great part to Israel’s National Security Fund old-age payments. What little factual information about the events of 1948 he related, ones that are common knowledge to all adults in the room, had to be pried out of the intimidated old man by force. From the start of the session his wife could be seen to the side shaking her head and making tsuk-tsuk noises in disapproval.

As the camera was turned off, the adult children and grandchildren offered their apologetic explanations blaming it all on old age and psychological aversion to traumatic memories. The young man, my original contact, angrily shouted at the older couple with less than filial veneration. He offered to speak on record himself and Andy accepted the offer. He was open and fiery in decrying ‘our poverty, our loss of our land and dignity, our imprisonment within our communities and our separation from our next of kin across the border’ and more. At this the grand old lady shook her head in disbelief: “Who knows who will hear all of this and what they will do!”

The Krayims
The roles were reversed when we visited the Krayim family in Majd-el-Kroum, the visit arranged on the spot thanks to the fast detective work of my nephew there: The husband, a successful baker who supplies his bread to many a Jewish customer and hence, I suspect, may fear their boycott, was reluctant to speak up, while his wife took the plunge. She, a well preserved woman of short stature, ample girth, and a smiley full and youthful face with large dark eyes, opened up immediately to Andy’s questions in his halting college-learned Arabic. Yes, she allowed, she was a refugee of Al-Yajour, the none-existent suburb of British Mandate Haifa. She was the only refugee from her community to settle, through matrimony, in Majd-el-Kroum. In 1948 her father took the family and fled the onslaught of the fast-advancing murderous Haganah forces to the neighboring village of Usifya up the Carmel mountain, rumored then to be safe, perhaps because of its dominantly Druze inhabitants and the latter’s suspected connection to the enemy, later to be exposed and exalted into blood brotherhood. Eventually, with the wiping of their entire town off the fast shrinking map of Palestine, the family slipped into full refugee status, one part moved down to Haifa as internal refugees and the other chased across the border into Lebanon.

A scene from Haifa’s struggle to defend its Palestinian identity still singes her visual cortex to this day: the sight of dozens of bodies piled up at the edge of the Islamic cemetery, too many to be buried individually in the perilous circumstances, still scares the little girl in her many wakeful nights even today. And yes, she knows through the grapevine of her brother in Shatila camp (of Sabra and Shatila Massacre fame) and would give her dearest to talk to him after sixty years of painful separation, alleviated only once by a single phone call eight years ago when she and her sister visited a niece in Sweden. As she proceeded to search her aging memory for the family’s phone number that Andy had requested, the heavily mustachioed husband interrupted with his second ‘sho bidna bhatha kullo - what is that all for!’ of the evening. Eventually he gave his own mobile number instead of that of the home’s landline.

As we drove home I felt personally betrayed. I had to apologize to Andy for the disappointing responses we managed to elicit in Deir-el-Asad and the mistrust shown us by some of our hosts in both localities. Two factors colluded to undermine the confidence of these people: They had experienced life under a vile military rule with the intrusive, omnipresent and all-knowing Shin-Bet dominating their lives for the near two decades of its existence and for years afterwards, perhaps till the present day. They may have heard my name before but they don’t know me enough for my involvement to allay their fear and suspicion of an American carrying video equipment and asking strange questions about their most intimate feelings. The only members of the generation we were searching for who would dare speak out their minds with uncensored temerity are old communists, I told Andy. All others, barring the few who are close contacts of mine, will practice their learned timidity on us as untrustworthy outsiders.

The Zreiks
Before going to sleep I called and made an appointment for early the next day at the Senior Citizens Club in Eilaboun. The person to whom I was referred turned out to be Asa’ad Zreik, my older brother Sharif’s high school classmate. I joked with him about his senior position with the senior citizens of his village and he informed me that his younger brother Fayez, my own classmate, was a longstanding member of the club. I felt old, perhaps another reason I slept little that night.

In the morning, after a breakfast of cereal and a mix of organic fruits freshly picked from our garden, we headed to our appointment. Warm embraces and fond memories loosened the formal atmosphere of Asa’ad’s modern office. The two old resource persons that awaited our arrival were also a pair of brothers. Thing in Eilaboun, it turns out, show a peculiar tendency for twinning. The senior half, abu-Zreik, ninety four years old, showed his age by the use of a cane and a hearing aid, but otherwise was in full command of his faculties. He spoke first, as is only proper for an elder brother, and was clear-minded in relating his memories in his slightly halting speech pattern. He spoke good English thanks to his education under the British Mandate system and his service in the police force on the eve of al-Nakba. Still he preferred that I translate so as not to err in providing the right answers to Andy’s welcome questions.

Abu-Zreik and his junior brother, eighty six, were among the young men of Eilaboun selected by the conquering Haganah commander for execution. The two were spared the fate of the other fourteen, including a father and son pair, due to abu-Zreik’s driving skill. The commander asked for a driver to get in an army jeep and lead a column of army vehicles on the road north in case it was land-mined. “They didn’t invent human shields in Gaza and the West Bank. The British taught it to them back then before 1948,” he declared.

Abu-Zreik then took us in his account from memory on a zigzag trip north to Maghar, then west to Deir-el-Asad, east to Farradhyeh then north again to Kufr-I’inan, accompanied all along by his younger brother, who now sat there and nodded in respectful agreement, and by the people of Eilaboun who were forced out of their homes at gunpoint after the execution of fourteen victims in the four corners of the village. The firing squads were dispersed this way apparently to make the murders appear as combat fatalities, though the UN inspectors who arrived shortly thereafter on the scene realized what had happened from the nature of the wounds; all the victims were shot pointblank in the back of the head. The same was true of the additional fifteen Moslem men from the neighboring Bedouin tribes, including a father and his two sons, executed separately at the outskirts of Eilaboun.

From the start Israel had a way of segregating along confessional lines: Christians, Druze and Moslems, abu-Zreik explains; it maintains the tradition to this day. As a born (sans the ‘again’ so I don’t have to share even one adjective with George W Bush) Moslem, my own marriage to my Christian wife would have not been allowed had it not taken place in far-away Waikiki, I concur.

Abu-Zreik, with his kid brother in tow, made it alive all the way to Lebanon and back thanks also to another survival skill, his mastery of Hebrew. When he enlisted in the police force in Jerusalem the standard British Mandatory regulations decreed that those who passed their exam in Hebrew were paid a whole lira more per month. So he learned the enemy’s language. On his via dolorosa to Lebanon and Back, Haganah officers kept unwittingly leaking their plans to him and he kept a step ahead of their game. One reprimand from a commanding officer to an unruly Hagana fighter, who was terrorizing the gathered refugees at the Farradhyeh junction with his random shooting of his automatic weapon, still makes abu-Zreik cringe now as he relates it to us. In Hebrew the commander told his underling: “Stop your random shooting. You want to kill? Take four or five men to the fields and shoot them. But don’t do this”

The interview of the senior brother was over and it was his junior brother’s turn. Abu-Ziad’s silence so far was not out of any lack of memories to share or any reluctance to share them. He simply and respectfully awaited his turn. He needed no prompting for he had heard the questions asked of his brother and decided to relate to all of them sequentially avoiding any repetition. Instead of relating the chronology of events as his senior brother had done, he delved into a commentary and political analysis of them. He was sharp, concise, profound, orderly, and meticulous and spoke clearly at a rapid fire clip.

He quickly debunked all the rumors still circulating about the Eilaboun Massacre having been committed in vengeful retributions for the mutilation of two enemy corpses that a stranger had committed. The village’s wise priest, el-khuri Murqus, asked him to leave the village for the sake of its peace and for that of humanity and God. The man left to bury the two heads he had brought with him from a battle in another location never to be seen again. What happened in Eilaboun, he later explained to me by the monument commemorating the two groups of executed civilians, was part of a well-established pattern, a step aimed at the survivors who witnessed it so as to scare them into flight. If we are to blame this one on revenge, how do we explain the scores of others from Deir Yasin to Ramleh, to es-Sufsaf, to… and the list is too long.

Later, at an unrelated public forum, another Zreik, this time Raef, the young Harvard educated expert on legal theory, explained: It all is part of a well thought-out plan of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing was there all along in the Zionist discourse, written all over the place between the lines. It takes no special gift of intelligence to decipher it. Ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians was and still is an essential foundational element of the Zionist scheme. It has been the default option all along. If it was not, then why would Ben-Gurion instruct the commander that overran Nazareth that there should be no ethnic cleansing in the holy city, the center of attention of European observers? The case of Nazareth was clearly the exception to a rule.

And how do they justify their violent expulsion of the Palestinian native population? You may well be excused, though your act would not be legal, if your house is on fire and you break the door of a neighbor to get water to put the fire out. If your ship out on the open seas is sinking, you may well be excused for climbing on someone else’s ship, though you cannot claim its ownership on grounds of need. The Holocaust is a powerful and repugnant excuse for the Jewish people’s outmigration from Europe. But it doesn’t give them the right to expel others and live in their homes and on their land.

As to the theories crediting the return of Eilaboun’s residents from their exile to intervention by the Vatican, abu-Ziad dismissed that as well. He credits that exceptional move to the village residents’ determination and unity even in exile. They never gave up and they had good community leaders. He himself was directly involved in all of this. He recalls distributing leaflets, under fire, calling on people not to give up and to accept the 1947 UN division plan. He was a communist and that was the party line.

By midday the two sets of brothers took us to the village square, for an enactment of the events of 1948, a faint shadow of the real thing. We then proceeded to visit the nearby cemetery and memorial monument before we said our emotional goodbyes. By the time I left I felt connected.

The Shehadehs
A week later I picked Andy up at the traffic circle on the east side of Majd-el-Kroum. He was relieved to see me. He had to film the Galilee side of the conference call that Ahlam had arranged between Na’ameh Shehadeh, the same Mrs. Krayim we had interviewed before, and her brother Ahmad Shehadeh in Shatila camp in Lebanon. He came by taxi from Nazareth where he had been busy documenting the Seventh Sabeel Conference on video. While waiting for me he decided to shoot some footage of life at the edge of the village. He soon realized he was getting dirty looks from people passing by. He understood why and got worried because it had happened to him on another occasion while filming on the edge of the fertile Jerezeel valley and his hosts there had to interfere and explain. To Palestinian villagers in Israel someone standing behind equipment on a tripod is a surveyor and that means the first step in the process of confiscating their land. Andy’s Ashkenazi looks further confirmed their suspicions.

Soon we arrived at im-Bassam’s and found her at home all alone. I theorized that the other family members simply didn’t appreciate the true significance of the occasion and each must have gone to his usual work. Then it dawned on me that it was Saturday, the day of rest for us in this country. A better explanation is that indeed they realized the true nature of this orchestrated encounter and decided to split.

Elhajji im-Bassam welcomed us with Arabic coffee and fruits and awaited the call with an eager expression on her smiley fresh morning face. When the call came she handled it calmly and confidently, speaking in a loud and clear voice; no hysterics and no crying. Contrary to my preconceived ideas this was a very happy occasion sprinkled with bouts of laughter. Her full face and large black eyes radiated with pleasant emotions. She inquired from her brother, abu-Ali, about his health and about the health and marital status of her nephews and nieces and of other relatives there while in exchange sharing the news of her single sister in Haifa, of her children and of her retired husband who was now on ‘pensia’ –Hebrew for pension. The names Mahmoud, Hassan and Ali were mentioned often while the localities of Canada, America, Sweden, Lebanon and ‘Falasteen,’ –to balance off ‘pensia’ I presume- featured repeatedly on this side of the conversation. She wished her brother long life and hoped to see him some day “inshallah, God willing and with the benefit of his unbound generosity.” Then her voice went up another pleasant notch as she spoke to her nephew, Ali, the oldest in his family and the one who was born under fire on the family’s way to Lebanon. Now, I presume she was seeking reassurance about her brother and a sudden note of sadness crept in: “All alone, ya Haram! And bed-ridden! Who cares for him? What can we do! That is our destiny; we have been scattered as by a wild wind.” Then came another relative and another. And then the conversation ended as it was started with smiles, pleasantries and well-wishes and we were offered another round of coffee and fruit.

Andy was satisfied with his achievement. Alas, he still felt sad.

No comments: