From the Palestinian Festival of Literature's Festival Blog for Sunday, May 24
After the drama of yesterday we were well prepared for the potential tranquility of a walk in the Ramallah hills with Raja Shehadeh. We got on the bus and headed through the Wall and Qalandia checkpoint and north to Raja’s house. After a brief introductory talk we took the bus out to middle of a valley – to the start of a walk Raja had chosen that would keep us as out of of sight of the army and the settlements as possible.
The walk was slightly more challenging than people had been expecting – we dropped down into the valley then slowly scrambled up the other side, finally reaching a qasr: a solid16th century stone structure that used to house workers and crops during the summer agricultural months. We moved back down and through the valley to reach the village where the bus was to pick us up. On reaching the outskirts, we fanned out on to the new tarmac in front of us. But we are quickly called back, behind a barn. An Israeli watchtower looms on the crest of a hill in the distance and we are advised to stay out of its sight.
We had a few problems checking in to the hotel, as seems to happen rather too frequently in Ramallah , but managed it eventually and people headed to the home of Dr. Saleh abd el-jawwad and Islah Jad for drinks in their garden before moving to the Sakakini Centre.
The night’s event was held in the garden of the centre, and though it was a windy at times, it is a wonderful setting. The night passed with an atmosphere of calm and ease that had been so missing in Jerusalem, and as with the combined comedic forces of Michael Palin, Suad Amiry and Carmen Callil it was a night that brought us back to feeling like a literature festival. This night didn’t insist on being dominated by Israel and by occupation. Though they are never far away, just having the choice of when to talk about them felt empowering. Which shows just how totally consuming, mentally, this occupation is.
Day 1-Palestine Festival: 'Confronting the Culture of Power with the Power of Culture'
Participants in the Literature Festival are pictured in the new venue for opening night as they were kicked out of the Palestinian National Theater by soldiers carrying out their government's genocidal plan to rid Jerusalem of its Palestinian culture.
Unfortunately, I can't get this video from Day 1 of the 2009 Palestinian Festival embedded, but here is the link.
And here is a video of Chinua Achebe reading his poem "Refugee Mother and Child" for the 2008 Palestinian Literature Festival. Achebe, the acclaimed author of Things Fall Apart is a patron of the Paletine Literature Festival.
Palestinian children wear traditional clothes as they reenact the 'nakba,' Arabic for catastrophe, in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, near the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Thursday, May 14, 2009. The children marked the 61st anniversary of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who either fled or were driven out of their homes during the 1948 war over Israel's creation.(AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
I was checking out the Guardian's"Comment Is Free" all day to see if anyone was going to write about the Nakba, but the Guardian's propensity is to have Israelis explain the Palestinian world view to us, so no story is better than having an Israeli write about the Nakba, I guess. They did post a story by that great ueber Zionist mensch, Benny Morris. I posted a comment on an editorial which just appeared encouraging Obama to persuade Netanyahu to agree to some two-state solution. No mention of Palestinian refugees anywhere in the generic editorial except here, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense:
[Regarding Netanyahu's starter that Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state] But the purpose of raising it [Netanyahu's crap that Palestinians must recognize Palestine as a Jewish state] before a final status solution is to deny negotiation on the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, which Israel says threatens the in-built Jewish majority. Not even those Palestinians who recognise the state of Israel could accept this formula. It is a show-stopper.
Here's my first comment:
I was hoping for a story from a Palestinian; i.e., Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, or someone of his caliber, about the Nakba, which is today.
Maybe next year, since it's ongoing for sixty plus years.
And I was moved to write another comment, just because I am so ticked off that the Guardian didn't acknowledge the Nakba today:
Instead of an informative story on the Nakba, we get another story about Israeli politicians who are all the same. Livni [the editorial said she didn't find a Palestinian state "anathema"] advocated transferring the "Arab Israelis" (what a sickening term to erase the Palestinianness out of the Palestinian) to anywhere except where they are from. She is not the great hope for the Palestinians. And no one may "negotiate" my personal right to return to my home. [This in response to their stupid assertion: "But the purpose of raising it [recognizing Palestine as a Jewish state] before a final status solution is to deny negotiation on the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, which Israel says threatens the in-built Jewish majority.] It's an inalienable right, no matter how some of the erudite Zionists try to spin it.
"It is our ancestors' legacy that we never leave our land that we never let go of 'Ayn Ghazzal, that we never forget that it is us and our families who are Palestine, and that ultimately we have to return to our beloved land, and that its love will return to us." Mohammad Mansara
In disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes Alone,
beweeping our outcast state suffering a deaf heaven, heedless of our cries, our truncated country, our jacked up lives.
They pulled off a big armed robbery In Jaffa, the Bride of the Sea, One hundred sixteen thousand expelled four thousand remaining forced into Ajami.
Hot march away from Lydda Audeh sees a baby suck
of its ummi Dead under the Palestinian sun.
Another mother, jostled by throngs
Drops her baby, a metal cart wheel
runs over its neck
Farmers work for the land thieves Who call them Israeli Arab They work To feed their children scorpions.
ummi: mother in Arabic
Read further about the ethnic cleansing of Jaffa, how its residents who weren't expelled were forced to live in a slum in Ajami as they watched Jewish immigrants take over their houses and possessions, and how once proud landowners were reduced to working as laborers on their own land that was stolen by the Zionist immigrants in "Jaffa: From Eminence to Ethnic Cleansing."
Read excerpts from Father Audeh Rantisi's Blessed Are the Peacemakers: The Story of a Palestinian Christian. Father Audeh, a refugee from Lydda, witnessed the baby sucking at its dead mother's breast and also the death of the baby from the metal wheel as he and his family were forced to walk in one hundred degree heat after expulsion from the town in which his family had lived for 1600 years.
Al-Nakba means 'catastrophe,' and it not only refers to the horrifying events of 1947-48, but also to the ongoing genocide of the Palestinians and their way of life. It is commemorated May 15, but it is lived every day by Palestinians. Father Audeh Rantisi remembers (from Al-Nakba):
From "Blessed are the Peacemakers ...The History of a Palestinian Christian
In these extracts from his memoir, Father Audeh Rantisi remembers the horrific scenes that confronted him, aged 11, when his family were brutally deported from their home of many generations to make what life they could for themselves in the refugee camps of Ramallah.
Father Rantisi was born in Lyda, now the site of Ben Gurion Airport, in 1937. From 1955 to 1958 he attended the Bible College of Wales, moving in 1963 to continue his studies at Aurora College in the state of Illinois. He then served as a missionary in Sudan. In 1965 he opened the Evangelical Home for Boys in Ramallah, West Bank. In 1976 Father Rantisi was elected as Ramallah's deputy mayor and he is now the director of the orphanage of the Evangelical Home of Boys.
I cannot forget three horror-filled days in July of 1948. The pain sears my memory, and I cannot rid myself of it no matter how hard I try. First, Israeli soldiers forced thousands of Palestinians from their homes near the Mediterranean coast, even though some families had lived in the same houses for centuries. (My family had been in the town of Lydda in Palestine at least 1,600 years). Then, without water, we stumbled into the hills and continued for three deadly days. The Jewish soldiers followed, occasionally shooting over our heads to scare us and keep us moving. Terror filled my eleven-year-old mind as I wondered what would happen. I remembered overhearing my father and his friends express alarm about recent massacres by Jewish terrorists. Would they kill us, too?
We did not know what to do, except to follow orders and stumble blindly up the rocky hills. I walked hand in hand with my grandfather, who carried our only remaining possessions-a small tin of sugar and some milk for my aunt's two-year-old son, sick with typhoid.
The horror began when Zionist soldiers deceived us into leaving our homes, then would not let us go back, driving us through a small gate just outside Lydda. I remember the scene well: thousands of frightened people being herded like cattle through the narrow opening by armed soldiers firing overhead. In front of me a cart wobbled toward the gate. Alongside, a lady struggled, carrying her baby, pressed by the crowd. Suddenly, in the jostling of the throngs, the child fell. The mother shrieked in agony as the cart's metal-rimmed wheel ran over her baby's neck. That infant's death was the most awful sight I had ever seen.
Outside the gate the soldiers stopped us and ordered everyone to throw all valuables onto a blanket. One young man and his wife of six weeks, friends of our family, stood near me. He refused to give up his money. Almost casually, the soldier pulled up his rifle and shot the man. He fell, bleeding and dying while his bride screamed and cried. I felt nauseated and sick, my whole body numbed by shock waves. That night I cried, too, as I tried to sleep alongside thousands on the ground. Would I ever see my home again? Would the soldiers kill my loved ones, too?
Early the next morning we heard more shots and sprang up. A bullet just missed me and killed a donkey nearby. Everybody started running as a stampede. I was terror-stricken when I lost sight of my family, and I frantically searched all day as the crowd moved along.
That second night, after the soldiers let us stop, I wandered among the masses of people, desperately searching and calling. Suddenly in the darkness I heard my father's voice. I shouted out to him. What joy was in me! I had thought I would never see him again. As he and my mother held me close, I knew I could face whatever was necessary. The next day brought more dreadful experiences. Still branded on my memory is a small child beside the road, sucking the breast of its dead mother. Along the way I saw many stagger and fall. Others lay dead or dying in the scorching midsummer heat. Scores of pregnant women miscarried, and their babies died along the wayside. The wife of my father's cousin became very thirsty. After a long while she said she could not continue. Soon she slumped down and was dead. Since we could not carry her we wrapped her in cloth, and after praying, just left her beside a tree. I don't know what happened to her body.
We eventually found a well, but had no way to get water. Some of the men tied a rope around my father's cousin and lowered him down, then pulled him out, and gave us water squeezed from his clothing. The few drops helped, but thirst still tormented me as I marched along in the shadeless, one-hundred plus degree heat.
We trudged nearly twenty miles up rocky hills, then down into deep valleys, then up again, gradually higher and higher. Finally we found a main road, where some Arabs met us. They took some of us in trucks to Ramallah, ten miles north of Jerusalem. I lived in a refugee tent camp for the next three and one-half years. We later learned that two Jewish families had taken over our family home in Lydda.
Those wretched days and nights in mid-July of 1948 continue as a lifelong nightmare because Zionists took away our home of many centuries. For me and a million other Palestinian Arabs, tragedy had marred our lives forever. Throughout his life my father remembered and suffered. For thirty-one years before his death in 1979, he kept the large metal key to our house in Lydda. After more than four decades I still bear the emotional scars of the Zionist invasion. Yet, as an adult, I see what I did not fully understand then: that the Jews are also human beings, themselves driven by fear, victims of history's worst outrages, rabidly, sometimes almost mindlessly searching for security. Lamentably, they have victimized my people.
Four years after our flight from Lydda I dedicated my life to the service of Jesus Christ. Like me and my fellow refugees, Jesus had lived in adverse circumstances, often with only a stone for a pillow. As with his fellow Jews two thousand years ago and the Palestinians today, an outside power controlled his homeland-my homeland. They tortured and killed him in Jerusalem, only ten miles from Ramallah, and my new home. He was the victim of terrible indignities. Nevertheless, Jesus prayed on behalf of those who engineered his death, "Father, forgive them..." Can I do less?
BETHLEHEM, West Bank – Pope Benedict XVI will not be standing on the stage prepared for him by Palestinians inside the Aida Refugee Camp following Israel’s disapproval of the stage’s position. The Vatican gave in to Israel’s demands not to have the separation wall and a military watchtower behind him on Wednesday as he visits this camp hosting around 5,000 of the refugees forced out of their villages since 1948.
It will go down as an insignificant footnote in the history of this troubled region, if at all, but the people here are clearly furious. “It’s the occupation,” a Palestinian Authority (PA) official told said resignedly at a press briefing ahead of the pope’s visit last Wednesday. “The Vatican has agreed to Israel’s demands, but the wall will still be very visible behind him.”
Even though the modest stage prepared for the occasion lies on the Palestinian side of the wall, Israel declared the stage illegal last week in what appeared to be an attempt to conceal the uncomely signs of the occupation.
Just days ahead of the pontiff’s visit, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a damning report about Israel’s measures that are stifling Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born.
The OHCA said that out of 660 square kilometres, only 13% of Bethlehem’s land is available for Palestinian use, and much of it is fragmented. The wall cuts Bethlehem off completely from its historic, religious and economic connection to Jerusalem, denying villagers access to some of the most fertile farmland in the area.
However, the PA official said that despite Israel’s efforts to divert the wall from media attention, the pope’s route will still take him next to the wall and a gigantic icon that symbolises the plight of Palestinians denied their homeland for the last 40 years.
In fact, as he enters the camp on Wednesday, Benedict will pass through an arch shaped into a massive keyhole with an iron key (muftieħ) above it.Many refugees forced out of their homes in 1948 still hold the key to their old homes, in the decades-old hope of returning to the villages of origin.Incidentally, Palestinians commemorate their expulsion in 1948 the day after the pope’s visit to Bethlehem. 14 May is remembered as Nakba Day (the day of the catastrophe).
Mohammed Adrahman Azza, 75, from Beit Jibrin, is one of the oldest refugees at the camp.He vividly remembers the night his family was forced out by the Israeli military 60 years ago, when he was aged 14. The Azza family owned most of the land and properties in the village.“In the summer of 1948, my village was attacked by Israeli forces. They came with war planes launching an air attack that lasted from the evening till the next morning,” he says.
The local police station was guarded by Egyptian forces, which had entered Palestine to protect the locals for a short while, but these were quickly overpowered.“The Israelis came again to attack by land. They reached the police station, mined it and exploded it, killing two and injuring many others. Most of the people were fleeing the village and started living in caves.
“The Egyptians suffered deaths and injuries. Some Palestinians stayed with them to help in the fight, but it was an unequal war. Only few tens of Palestinians were left. The city was empty. When Israel occupied the village, we had to leave through the mountains towards Hebron, where we lived between 1948 and 1963.”
We will return
During his visit to the refugee camp, the pope may see the many murals along the separation wall. One of them says: “If the olive trees knew who planted them, their oil would become tears”. The most recurrent slogan is: “We will return”. That is what Azza dreams of everyday, holding on to his old iron key. “I lost my land, my home, my friends, everything,” he says. “But I dream of returning and I keep telling my children and grandchildren that our home is in Beit Jibrin... It’s always on my mind. We have many acres of land there. Why is it forbidden for me to go to my house? There is someone from Poland, Russia, or the US on my land, and it’s forbidden for me to even touch the land where I was born.”
Before the 2000 intifada – after which moving into Israel became totally forbidden – Azza often visited what was once his village. “Everything was demolished, schools, houses, mosques... nothing remains.”
Denied to this day, the Israelis’ “cleansing” operations 60 years ago wiped out hundreds of Palestinian villages and displaced thousands of families who are still living in the multitude of refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan. For Azza, the 1948 catastrophe wiped out his childhood.
“I was the oldest of four brothers and one sister, so I was the one most responsible for them,” he says. “Our father was old, so I left school to work. I had to do lots of jobs, from carrying heavy things for people to farming. In one summer I went to Jordan on foot with my father. It took us three days to get there, but after working there we managed to buy two sacks of wheat. That would feed us for most of the year.”
After working in Jordan, he could return to school, moving on to become an Arabic language and religion teacher, but his meagre salary could not sustain him and his family.
“In 1963 we moved to Aida camp. We couldn’t pay rent or buy a house, so the refugee camp gave us shelter. My uncle was the camp leader and he encouraged us to move here. We were some 150 families at that time.”
Even inside the refugee camp, things only got worse with time. Besides the expanding families that nowadays have no more space to build new houses within the camp’s confines, refugees and Bethlehem villagers have been cut off completely by the wall erected since 2002.
“The wall makes our life much worse; we can’t work in Israel as we used to. Our sheep and cows used to feed on the mountains, now they have all died because the mountains are closed to us. Our children used to play on the green hills, now they’re confined to a prison cage. Families are getting bigger but spaces for houses remain limited, in fact we can’t build anymore. Agricultural land of the villagers from here has been stolen.”
Israeli forces still come here, especially at night, arresting people and imposing curfews.
“For them anyone could be a fighter who should be arrested,” Azza said. “They enter freely arresting people, demolishing some houses, and leave. My grandson was arrested for two years ... they said he was a ‘Fatah fighter’ but he couldn’t defend himself in a military court.
“In 1983 they arrested my 14-year-old son. Released two years later, he must have been the youngest Palestinian in prison. He was a 14-year-old fighter... throwing stones. He was beaten, tortured, hanged upside down from his legs and pulled by ropes.”
Azza clutches his old key as he speaks. His mind is clearly in his faraway village of Beit Jibrin, as he dreams like every other refugee of the right of return – a right consistently denied to them for decades.
“You know, if I had to meet the person who is staying where our house was, I can’t fight with him,” he says. “I would explain to him that this was my father’s house; it was our family’s land for hundreds of years. I would tell him ‘You came here from nowhere and took it just like that. You’re a foreigner in my house.’ Israel always teaches foreigners that they just came over to live in empty lands, or in villages where people just left voluntarily. They never admit the truth that their country is built on stolen land.”
firstname.lastname@example.org Karl Schembri is a correspondent for Ramattan news agency in the West Bank and Gaza
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13, Section 2 states "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."
This blog advocates for the implementation of the Palestinians' inalienable right to return home and calls upon each and every blogger concerned about human rights, justice, and a durable peace in the Middle East to get behind the effort to advocate for its implementation. If you support implementation of this inalienable right, please e-mail me or leave a comment and I will link to you.