Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Arrabeh’s Eid in Gaza’s Shadow

 Shortly after an unremarkable Galilee summer’s sunset the ‘Allahu akbar’ cries of half a dozen muezzins confirmed the sighting of the new moon and the commencement of celebrating Eid Al Fitr ending the fasting month of Ramadan. I perked my ears attentively straining to pick up any special announcement marking the 22nd day of the ongoing massacre in Gaza. I didn’t have to wait for long. When the young man leading the prayers in the mosque closest to the household hosting our breaking of the fast reached the end of the fifth and last formal prayer of the day he waxed inventive in asking for God’s favors on our collective behalf. He started with the usual requests of forgiveness of our transgressions and shortcomings in performing our duties toward Him and for mercy on all of us and on all of our parents “for tending me in childhood.”  He then progressed to ask for God’s punishment of our oppressors specifying two by name, the Zionist enemies and their Egyptian collaborators. He needn’t be more specific. He must have assumed, correctly I should add, that all his flock knew what sins General Sisi had committed: Banning the Moslem Brotherhood and sealing the Rafah border with Gaza. Still, the young imam saved the harshest of curses for the Zionist infidels: “Please God, dry up all of their women’s uteruses!” he pleaded. I broke out laughing at the anatomically specific ill wish. My communist host objected. He didn’t quite agree to the cursing of General Sisi but he would like to allow the drying up of the Zionist uteruses.

“How is that different from ‘Death to Arabs?’” he wanted to know.

“But the young man is an employee of the Ministry of Religious Affairs,” I argued. “He collects a monthly salary from the Zionists’ treasury, for God’s sake!”

“So do members of the police force protecting fascist gangs attacking Arab civilians for no reason except their race. It is Israel’s version of democracy and balancing of the forces of evil.”

The cacophony of loudspeakers exploding one after the other from seven different directions ended the dawn’s bucolic peace waking me from a fitful sleep. For a moment I almost understood the attitude of a colleague, a Polish immigrant physician as I recall, who informed me in my Ministry of Health days that she had encouraged officials of the Jewish city of Upper Nazareth where she lived to run their collected sewage refuse openly down the valley to the Arab village of Reineh because of the latter’s disturbing of the Jewish resident’s sleep with their dawn time calls for prayer. My two children at markedly divergent time zones around the globe were text-messaging us throughout the night. Israel’s deadly incursion into Gaza and the ensuing air travel confusion in and out of Israel’s own airport had thrown a monkey wrench in our family’s scheduled annual summer get-together in Arrabeh. But my outrage quickly dissipated.

I decided to take advantage of the morning’s cool weather to pick some dew-washed figs and cactus fruits from my orchard. But first I had to check the Internet: The death toll had exceeded the magic figure of one thousand. Somehow, that wasn’t as sad as my friend Ramzy Baroud’s pained status on Facebook decrying his family’s fate. They were on the run again, refugees from their shelter as refugees in Gaza. I wanted to advise patience, forgiveness and magnanimity. Then I wondered how magnanimous I would have felt if I and my family had been driven out of our home in Arrabeh to have a Polish or a Brooklyn immigrant family live on my father’s land, collect its olive crop and enjoy its figs and cactus fruit, and then to have them now send their son in an American jet fighter bomber to chase me further away from ‘their homeland?’

As I picked my daily supply of summer fruit, the sudden silence that descended on the empty village streets after the end of the morning prayers in the mosques had a deadly quality. There were no children with toy guns out celebrating on the streets, no flares and no firework. I went for a stroll on the newly paved desolate street in our neighborhood risking the likelihood of a village rumor about my sanity. The neighbors had lined the entire sidewalk with a thousand candles in memory of Gaza’s martyred children. The butcher sat on a chair and twirled his moustache. A lone skinned lamb hung by the door. Usually on a day like this he would have two or three of his children helping him out. He offered me the standard sip of black coffee:

“No family gatherings to celebrate the Eid today,” he said more in apology than in anger or dismay. “Men coming back from the mosque look like a snake had spewed its poison in their faces.”

I agreed. I realized that none of the neighborhood’s children, including the dozens of grandnephews, had come dressed in their new clothes to knock at our door for the usual Eid treats and monitory gifts.

The first and only holiday visit I made on this sad Eid morning was to an octogenarian former patient of mine. He is terminally ill and needed help with an injection. After the usual but subdued formalities of exchanging Eid greetings I asked for his opinion regarding what was going on in Gaza.

“I am dying anyway. I wish someone would take me back there and give me my old English rifle,” he responded, tears rolling down his leathery cheeks.

As a young man he had enlisted in the British Mandate border police and served in Gaza training young recruits in marksmanship. Desperation, at the personal and national level, fueled his wish for martyrdom, he explained.

As I returned I checked my email again. Someone had posted a moving poem in English beautifully recited by its animated Palestinian author, Rafeef Ziadeh, declaring her body “a TVed massacre.” I couldn’t hold my tears of sadness and pride in her concluding line: “We Palestinians wake up every morning to teach the rest of the world life, Sir!”
I watched the video. Twice. The second time I cried more. Then I saw it a third time, then a forth, a dozen times. And I cried more each time than the last. At first, as I sat with a pair of tweezers to pick the few tiny thorns from my hands I pondered the adaptive defense mechanism of the cactus. Then I switched to more distressing thoughts: Even if they hadn’t taken over my home and though they had left me some of my land, those foreigners had stolen my culture, I realized. They had claimed my cactus fruit, the Sabra, as the simile for their children who were born on my land.

Let us join hands Ramzy! We all are in this together.

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