Mornings in Jenin …

” He looked on the silence at the proof of what Israelis already know, that their history is contrived from the bones and traditions of Palestinians . The Europeans who come know neither hummus nor flafel, but later proclaimed them ‘authentic Jewish cuisine’. They claimed the villas of Qatamon as ‘old Jewish homes’. They had no old photographs or ancient drawings of their ancestry living on the land, loving it and planting it. They arrived from foreign nations and uncovered coins in Palestine’s earth from the Canaanites, the Romans, the Ottomans, then sold them as their own ‘ancient Jewish artifacts.’ They came to Jaffa and found oranges the size of watermelons and said ‘Behold!’. The Jews are known for their oranges. But those oranges were the culmination of centuries of Palestinian farmers perfecting the art of citrus growing.

Mornings in Jenin is a novel written by Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa. It’s a novel that takes us through the painful history of Palestine by tracing the story of Amal’s family from 1948 right through to present day. It is one of the very few mainstream novels that depicts the story of Palestinians post 1948, nakba, the catastrophe or simply the creation of the state of Israel. And although this is a fictional story of a made up family, it really makes us feel every drop of tear and the deep pain that was felt by Palestinians throughout history.

Pre 1948, Abul Heja family; Yehya and Bassima and their two sons were living in Eid Hod, a small village in Palestine. They owned a house, lived in peace, loved their neighbours, life was simple. When one of their kids marries Dalia and has their son Ismael, the state of Israel was created. Zionists who came from all over the world, particularly Europe invaded their land, destroyed their homes and forced them out of their village and into refugee camps in Jenin. Ismael was kidnapped by Israeli soldiers, this destroys his mother and she is forever changed. They have two more children, Amal and Yousef. Mornings in Jenin allows us to understand the suffering, humiliation and the psychological effects the occupation had and still has on Palestinians. Amal grows up in cramped conditions, poverty and the ongoing fear of guns and violence.

The 6 day war in 1967, or better known as the naksa, tension became dangerously heightened. Palestinians were hoping to go back to their homes but instead Israel was left in control of the Gaza strip, Sinai Peninsula, West Bank,  East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. A quote from the novel that really describes what was happening at the time and that really pierced through my heart is ” They are slowly being erased from the world, from its history and from the future.” Palestinians were being kicked out of their homes yet again, leaving Palestine to nearby countries and to the West, and “Refugees are made refugees again.” As the author describes.

Amal’s mother becomes increasingly isolated in her misery and withdrawn from her children and from life. Her husband dissapears and she never sees him again, as is the story of many Palestinian families who loose their loved ones. Yousef moves to Lebanon, where he gets married. Amal moves to America to study and work. There, she looses herself, changes her name to Amy and lives the American life. After thirteen years of living abroad, Amal decides to go to Lebanon in 1981 where she reconnects with her brother, meets the love of her life Majid, gets married and has her child Sara. They all lived happily in Shatila, a crowded refugee camp in Southern Beirut. Where refugees fled to find safety and security, they were massacred again in the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982, where thousands were brutally killed including Majid and Yousef’s wife. All Amal wanted at that moment was to die. She seeks refuge back in America where she becomes exactly like her mother, withdrawn, miserable and resentful of her daughter.

Amal reunites with her brother Ismael, she also learns that her brother Yousef has joined the PLO and is living in exile. After decades of living away from Palestine, Sara forces her mother to visit again. Amal describes to us that after six decades of occupation, Jenin refugee camps have been transformed from what was believed to be ‘temporary’ tents to ‘permenant’ tall crowded buildings, one next to the other. The refugee camp is now labelled “the nurturing home for terrorists.” where apparently Palestinians in this region are committing crimes against Israelis living on their land. People’s faces were no longer hopeful to return to their homes, but instead they were filled with anger and resentment.

The tragic ending of the novel leaves us wondering; How did we come this far? How did the temporary tents become permenant brick homes? How did the rightful land owners become terrorists and the occupiers become the rightful land owners?

Mornings in Jenin is a heartwrenching novel that really allows us to live in Palestine through its detailed painful history.

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I admire you …..

I admire those that fight for the Palestinian cause, those that are able to speak up and raise the Palestinian flag all around the globe. It takes real courage and determination to fight for such a cause, one that is standing so fragile against the world’s strongest powers, one that has left many scarred for life and a cause that has been wounded and left to bleed alone for close to seven decades.

Dr. Mads Gilbert. Norwegian physician, humanitarian, activist and politician. .

Dr. Mads Gilbert.
Norwegian physician, humanitarian, activist and politician.

 

My heart is touched when I see individuals that have devoted their lives to spread the truth and to tell the world about the injustice that has happened and is still happening decade after decade in Palestine.

I was lucky enough to attend the 7th annual conference for American Muslims for Palestine in Chicago this year, where I felt as though I fell in love with Palestine all over again. I fell in love with that place that I long to see, long to touch, long to smell. Hundreds of people gathered there and our love for this piece of land united us. I felt a different sense of belonging and security. I felt as though I found some of the missing pieces of a puzzle that I was looking for, between these people, that shared the same love for Palestine as I did.

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There’s a famous quote that Yaser Arafat repeatedly said and that is

النضال ليس فقط بندقية، بل هو ايضا ريشة رسام، قصيدة شاعر وصوت مغني

Struggle against injustice is not just fighting with a weapon, but it is also the brush of a painter, the words of a poet and the voice of a singer.

I strongly believe this quote and I believe that we can fight with our words, we can fight with whatever we are capable of fighting with. In the end we are all fighting for the same cause. And although I know and strongly believe that fighting injustice by sacrificing yourself is the strongest form of struggle, I also believe that words can be just as strong at times. An article can change the minds of people, a poem can tell a story of Palestinian child, a song can be heard by millions all over the world, a painting can remind us of Palestine, a boycott can ruin an economy, a book can take us back home. One doesn’t have to have a weapon to be able to stand up and fight for Palestine, but we can fight in any shape, way or form. We can use whatever talent or occupation we have to fight and to tell our story to the world. This is the only way our story will survive and this is the only way we can pass our narrative from one generation to the next.

Rafeef Ziadah.  Palestinian academic and spoken word artist and BDS National Committee secretariat member

Rafeef Ziadah.
Palestinian academic and spoken word artist and BDS National Committee secretariat member

 

I was lucky enough to listen to and meet so many great individuals, ones that used their unique talents solely for the great cause of Palestine. I fell in love with each one of them and realized how truly valid Arafat’s quote was and still is. They touched me and left me inspired to do so much more. Each one of us has a role to play, each one of us can do something that can bring us a step closer to ending the occupation in Palestine, even if that step is thousands of steps away from that dream. What have we done to deserve a free Palestine?
What have we done to deserve to go back to  this land? It is only with true activism and determination that we will  witness this day. It is only with true activism and determination that our story and our history will never be erased.

Mohammed Zeyara. Palestinian public speaker and human rights activist.

Mohammed Zeyara. Palestinian public speaker and human rights activist.

 

Ahmad Tibi. Member of the Parliament at the Knesset.

Ahmad Tibi. Member of the Parliament at the Knesset.

 

Mustafa Barghooti. Palestinian physican, activist and politician.

Mustafa Barghooti. Palestinian physican, activist and politician.

 

Ghada Oueiss. Lebanese presenter at Al-Jazeera.

Ghada Oueiss. Lebanese presenter at Al-Jazeera.

Miko Peled. Israeli peace activist and author.

Miko Peled. Israeli peace activist and author.

To the land I will never know..

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To the land I will never know ….
I think I know you through abstract pictures I have drawn in my mind about you. I pictured the birds singing over the old Jerusalem city. I felt the breeze over your beaches in Yaffa and Haifa, I touched the sand in my hands. I smelt the trees spread all over Akka. I walked through your countless masajed and churches. I walked through the crowded streets of Gaza. I breathed your air. I stopped breathing when I saw your breathtaking god-given beauty.

To the land I will never know ….
I think I know you when I hear fayrooz singing ‘zahrat al ma’athen’. When she says ‘our eyes travel to you everyday’, I feel  myself walking through Jerusalem and then praying in masjed Al Aqsa.
I think I know you through Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry. There’s on this land what is worth living, the lady of lands. the mother of the beginnings and the ends. It was called Palestine, its name later became Palestine. My lady, I deserve, since you’re my lady. I deserve life. Through his words, I picture a beautiful land that has been deprived of happiness, deprived of love, deprived of her beauty.

To the land I will never know ….
I think I know you when I see a picture of the handala drawn by Naji Al-Ali, the refugee child. A picture so simple yet describes much of the struggle of the Palestinian people for justice and self determination.
I think I know you through some traditional things we held unto with our dear life. The beautiful toob I wear and the Koofiah I keep in my closet. I think I know you when I eat zeet and zaatar in the morning and I eat msakhan for lunch. I think I know you when I see a picture of Yaser Arafat and when I watch your news on Al Jazeera.

But the truth is; my human right to know you  has been stolen from me. I will never know you, I will never know how it feels to touch your land, to breath your air or smell your trees. I will forever know you in my heart, my mind and my soul through abstract thoughts I have created for myself so I feel like I know you, my beloved Falasteen.

 

 

 

Inspired ……..

People that have been through hardships, lived through poverty and crisis and were able to rise on their feet, change themselves and make a positive change in the world have always inspired me. We live in a world filled with heartbreaking stories, a world filled with corrupt leaders and dying consciousness. A world where the strong steps on the weak and the weak are only drowning more and more in their weakness, loneliness and poverty. Yet in the midst of all this chaos, we see these special, blessed individuals that are able to jump over the obstacles, rise above and are able to send a message of hope, love and peace all over the world despite the kind of difficult life they have faced. These are the kind of individuals that we should honor and recognize and they are the kind of individuals that should be on top of our hierarchy of role models.

While walking through the bookstore last summer at college, I came across a book called ‘I shall not hate’. I am not going to lie, the first thing that caught my eye was ‘ A Gaza doctor’s journey’. I immediately bought it and immediately started reading it. This book was a true inspiration from cover to cover. It was the kind of book that gave you goose bumps and made you wonder how on earth can some people be so strong and so resilient.

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Doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian Obstetrician and Gyneacologist who specialized in infertility. He has worked in several regions of the world including Gaza and Israel. He was born and raised in Jabliyah refugee camp where he witnessed the transformation of this camp from tents into apartments and has witnessed much suffering, wars and poverty in this region. Doctor Abuelaish describes the harsh and humiliating conditions that Palestinians face as he was one of the people that lived there and crossed the checkpoints countless times to get to work in Israel. Yet despite all this humiliation, he continued to use his profession to work in Israeli hospitals, to treat Israeli patients and build bonds with Israelis, which he believes is the only way to reach a peaceful resolution in the region.

After decades of service, during the 2008/2009 22 days of war on Gaza, Israeli military launched shells on his apartment where three of his daughters and his niece were shredded into pieces. One would think that after this horrific event this man would fall into anger, hate and despair, but no, he was able to turn this tragic event into yet another reason to fight for peace and love in the region. Doctor Abuelaish has won numerous awards for peace and survivorship. In honor of his daughters he founded the daughters for life foundation, a foundation for advancing the health and education of young women in the middle east. He is now an associate professor in global health at the University of Toronto, where he resides with his family. He is a man of faith, strong will and an ability to make a positive change and awareness in the world.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Doctor Abuelaish, where I was able to talk to him about his book and about Palestine. I was able to see pictures of his blessed family and talk to him about his journey to Canada. He is a very talented, knowledgeable and educated man and I am grateful to have met such an incredible and inspiring individual.
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I am Palestinian

A poem I wrote back in 2002

Handala Facing the Sea

A child without a home,
A bird without wings,
A human being with a lost soul,
I am the one that doesn’t belong and the battle cry of freedom echoes through my corridors and every fiber in my being.
I stand against those who stole my beautiful land with a few rocks and stones in my hand,
Not afraid – for truth is with me and God is on my side.
I face tanks, guns and bombs every single day of my life.
I feel so lonely in this cruel, harsh world that has labelled me a “terrorist” and labelled the killer a “Freedom fighter”.
They came and stole my land, kicked me out and killed my mother and father.
They took away my hopes and dreams and made me an orphan, an orphan that has been rejected out of every spot in the world.
A rejected human I am, who has been silent for the last 54 years of my life.
I’ve seen my parents dead, my three sons tortured and shot dead in front of my own eyes,
Their blood has filled my hands and my tears have never stopped,
Yet when I finally decide to respond to this cruelty, the world labels me a terrorist.
I wait for the death angels to come and take me every single second of the day,
While people of this world run away from death, I run to death with my own two feet.
And when I die, a choir of angels will honor me.
I am the footsteps of our beloved prophets walking through Bethlehem & Jerusalem & praying in Al-Aqsa mosque
I am the tears of mothers weeping over their dead sons.
I am the thirsty one and nothing will quench my thirst except the return of Palestine.
I am the desperate cry of liberty,
And no matter what you take away from me Israel, you will never, ever, ever take away my identity or my love for my country.

“While people of this world have a home to live in, my home lives in me”

Photo credit: Mαzen from Hadhramout / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/programmer/2297324529/”>Mαzen from Hadhramout</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com/re/3e3965″>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

A nation not accustomed to happiness …

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Recently I have been feeling the urge to write my feelings on paper, my feelings about a young man who was unknown to most of us a few months ago, but now is an Arab idol. What is it about him that has moved me so much and brought tears to my eyes. I tried to dig deep inside and understand my mixed feelings and I decided the best way to express them was through writing. This young man is Mohammed Assaf, a man with a passion for singing, a voice that has entered many of our houses without knocking on the door. A voice so strong that has moved many of us and took us to a place where hope and peace still exists. Mohammed Assaf is a 23 year old man from Gaza, a city that has been under blockade and recurring conflicts for decades. He lived most of his life in Khanyoones refugee camps, under god knows what conditions. His dream of becoming a singer made him try the impossible to reach Arab Idol trials in Egypt, and his luck made some contestant give up his number so Mohammed can get in. When Mohammed started to sing, he moved so many of us, his voice so powerful and filled with unspoken stories about Palestine. Forget his incredible voice, because it wasn’t only his voice that moved us but his songs about a country that has long been forgotten. His words about this beautiful country reached every inch of this planet. He woke up the patriotism that was buried and forgotten in most of us. He reminded us of the streets of Gaza, he sang about Jeneen, Safad, Tabariah, Haifa, Ramallah, Al Nasra, Beesan, Al Quds. Cities that most of us only dream of seeing one day. He reminded us of this piece of land that was once filled with our ancestors picking olives from the olive trees, he reminded us of our strong men that fought for this country.

Yes, Mohammed Assaf is merely a singer with a nice voice. Some argue that he is just ‘another’ singer. But I argue, but I cannot argue without saying that if I could and only if I could separate ‘music’ from ‘religion’ and I don’t even know if that’s possible to do. But if I could do that, I see a man that has brought tears of happiness and hope to a nation not accustomed to happiness. To a nation that has forgotten what it feels like to win, even if it was over  something as unimportant as it may seem ‘ a singing competition’,  he brought a whole nation inside Palestine and outside together, even if it was just for a day. His songs about Palestine were heard across the globe. Our flag was for once held up high in every spot of the world. Who did that but a ‘singer’, not a politician, not a humanitarian, not anyone with ‘better qualifications’.  I saw the desperate cries all over Palestine, from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Cries of a people with shattered dreams and hopes. People waiting for a joyful moment just to escape their burdens even if it were just for moments.

I saw my father in law in tears when Mohammed Assaf won, and I am sure those tears had nothing to do with his voice or even what he was singing, those were tears that were buried deep down along side the painful memories of every Palestinian that once fled Palestine.  Those were tears of pure happiness that we have finally won something and felt the joys of victory rather than loss. Tears that our flag was all over the channels. Tears from remembering fleeing a home and leaving behind so many joyful memories. Tears from remembering what once existed but now has disappeared, the cities that have been completely evacuated and wiped off the map. Olive trees that filled our country. Tears from remembering the humiliation we faced and still face.

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No, Mohammed Assaf did not end the occupation! And yes maybe he made people forget the misery they are in for a few minutes.  But he brought us back to a place that we have almost forgotten. He gave us a sense of belonging again, he gave the Palestinians a much needed break from the never ending conflicts and wars and sorrows. He brought tears of happiness to people that only cried tears of desperation and humiliation. He united us with songs about Palestine. He made us remember that we are a nation filled with talented and gifted individuals that are only waiting for an opportunity to excel and achieve in every aspect of life.

Yes, soon enough Mohammed Assaf might just be ‘another singer’ we see on television, but to me at this point in time, I see far more than just a singer. I see a strong willed Palestinian who went against all odds and jumped over every obstacle. I see a man bringing us back a sense of identity and victory that we lost along the way, who else did that but a singer??