Note: After reading the writing below, I could not resist but ask my fellow delegate (Wendy) to permit me to publish her piece at this blog. Many thanks Wendy for teaching us to look at things with eyes in the heart and in it, a pair of eyes!
IFPB MAY 31, 2008
THE DUST ON MY SHOES
By Wendy H.
Today I took a lot of notes, as has become my custom. But tonight is different, because I have a personal connection story to tell.
It happened this way. After the talk by Abir Kopty of Mosawa, who told us of current issues of racism and inequality facing Israeli citizens who are Palestinians, we lunched on Palestinian “hoagie style” sandwiches, and then rode the bus to begin the tour of destroyed villages. At the second village, Birwe, we were met by Ali, a second generation, middle aged man who works with the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons in Israel, and two men in their late 60’s, Abu and Akim, survivors of the Naqba, and Cyrine, the beautiful 14 – 15 year old granddaughter of Abu. The men were dressed in (wrinkle free) spotless short sleeve buttoned shirts, tucked into belted trousers. They could have been at a business meeting, and perhaps they were, standing on the dry, dusty earth littered with stones, desiccated thistles, and patches of cowpats. Cyrine is small, slender in her black South Park tee shirt, her wavy black shoulder length hair crowned by a perky black and white checked baseball cap.
As Abu Asad began to tell us the story of his village’s destruction, my mind began to run on two tracks. Abu was born in 1939 (he is 3 years older than I), and was 9 years old at the time of the 1948 assault on his village. The Israeli military surrounded the village on the North, West and South, leaving the East open for an escape route. There were 1600 residents in the village, Muslims and Christians, sharing one life. There were no problems between the two faiths. Even though the town priest was the Christian leader, the Muslims participated in his selection because he represented the village.
The Israelis forced everyone to flee; this was equal opportunity oppression. Although some have remained living in nearby villages, others have scattered to cities in Israel, and the occupied territories, to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the United States – a full diaspora. No one is allowed to return. Israeli Jewish Settlers have built houses on the land. A barn stands where the church used to be.
Abu is a short man with sun weathered complexion and grey-white hair. He has deep creases on his face, and speaks with clarity and emphasis. He is a good storyteller. Hearing him put me in mind of my Grandma Bertha. She was born in a Jewish village in Russia near the end of the 19th century. In the year 1900, after suffering pogroms and attacks by the Cossacks, Bertha’s mother decided to send her two daughters to what she prayed would be a better life in America. Bertha, age 13 years, took her 8 year old sister, Jeannette, by the hand and joined a group of refugees to walk out of Russia and across Europe to an Atlantic port. They hid in barns during the day, progressing under cover of nighttime darkness. Sometimes they had to stay in hiding before crossing a border, waiting for the right (bribed) guard to be on duty. My grandmother made it to America, but she never saw her mother or her village again. Bertha was a good storyteller, like Abu. As I saw and heard him telling his story to us, and to his granddaughter, probably for the umpteenth time, I had a sensation of merging circles, of my family history merging with theirs.
People want to live their lives in harmony with their families, neighbors and land. When a mighty oppressor overpowers and displaces the people and demolishes the villages, it crushes more than houses and lives, it breaks the harmony composed by people and land that has been created and sustained for countless generations. The Israeli military has demolished Abu’s village, trying to change the landscape by knocking down all the homes and the mosque and church. They have taken stones from the church to use in road construction. They destroyed 3,000 – 4,000 olive trees. They desecrated the cemetery. Yet every refugee believes he will return. They come each year to plant new trees, and each time the Israeli bulldozers uproot the plantings.
Abu’s granddaughter, Cyrine, says, “We can’t give up. It is important not to forget…. Tell (young) people in the U.S. not to give up if they are oppressed. Keep hope.” A delegate asked what she would say to George Bush. A brief pause, and then, “I’d ask him what he would do if what happens to us happened to his kids.”
When I removed my shoes this evening, I noticed the crevices on the soles had retained the dust gathered by walking through the destroyed village. I shall not wash off this dust.