The Day My Palestine Died
My grandparents were born in Palestine. All four of them. They lived there, got married there and had children there. They lived through the British Mandate of the region, revolted on it, got beaten down, witnessed the migration of Jews, saw the Jews revolt on the British Mandate, saw the British Mandate allowing it to happen and then withdrawing from Palestine. It was too theatrical to be considered a coincidence.
They never ceased talking about it though. Throughout their lives, Palestine was always on their minds. They would talk like they left yesterday, and that they will return tomorrow. I would hear them always say “May God return us to our homeland in peace.”
Its funny, I went to university for four years and still talk about the place like it is the best place in the world. How ridiculous I would sound if they would hear me now. A child lived four measly years of paternal freedom now calls that place the best place in the world. Fool.
I never met my maternal grandfather. He died of “that sickness” when he was young, but like every deceased man in a small village he was the best man who ever lived in that place. They would tell me to walk up to any vendor and tell him that my grandfather is so and so and he shall refuse to take money from me because of the nobility of my grandfather.
I always thought it was a tad exaggerated but who would want to pick a fight with a reminiscent old woman talk about the love of her life. If I would go to a vendor and tell him I am the grandson of my grandfather he best refuse my money. For his sake, and the sake of my grandmother’s broken heart.
My maternal grandmother had a tough life. It probably comes with the territory of being Palestinian. The Prophet has talked about a group of people who will remain in struggle until the day of judgement. When asked about who these people were he said that they are the people of the sacred land and its vicinity.
Her husband died leaving her with 9 children, age range of 36 to 6. Doesn’t really help with anyone’s mental capacity. She was younger than my paternal grandmother but looked at least 10 years older. The Arabs would say “time has eaten and drank off her.” High blood pressure was standard. Her sphygnometer was always by her, and she would ask anybody who would visit to check her blood pressure.
At the end of every summer, as our overweight baggage was being hauled down the stairs (since taking the elevator would deem to risky, for the electricity was unpredictable in Lebanon in those days – and still is), my grandmother would always utter these words as we left: “Next year either you will find me (alive) or you will not find me.”
We always thought it was funny and it was the common coinage for farewell amongst members of the family. As one would leave he would say to the other: “Either you will find me or you will not find me”.
I guess it wasn’t only because she thought that her life would end; she probably had an underlying feeling that she might be asked to leave again. In 1948 she had to leave Palestine to Khyaam, a village in the south of Lebanon. Shortly after that she had to move further north to Nabatiye. In 1982 she had to leave again for Saida. At one point in time, 7 of her 9 children left her to live in other countries for their livelihood or marriage, and eventually 3 of them returned after sometime, the curse of a Palestinian living in an Arab country one can say. So her statement can be seen as a truly Palestinian one: “Either you will find me or you will not find me.”
She fled Palestine at gun point, with nothing on her except the clothes on her back and 3 Ottoman gold ounces she had hidden in her garments. Since then she always had them with her. Anytime, anywhere she would go, they were hidden on her. She would be seated watching the TV in her night gown, and in her night gown were her gold coins. After living through wars for most of her life she had to always be prepared to flee.
She was a strong lady; she wasn’t an educated person, not one with intellect or thought, all she had was heart, and a strong one at that, one that kept on for nearly 90 years, despite what she has been through. She seemed angry all the time, sarcastic and hilariously foul mouthed. She only spoke in rhyme and had a proverb for every situation, luck, fortune, love, money, seasons.
I never realized how much influence she had on me. I must say I didn’t think much of her in my later years, but looking back at the posts that I have written I do reference her a lot, maybe more than I realize that I do.
At the fate of cancer sometime in the 1970s, part of my Palestine died.
On a disharmonious Saturday morning during the holy month of Ramadan in 2004, as people were scurrying a few bites before sunrise, another part was gone.
In 2005, as a frail lady, who’s hair for the first time since it started to grey wasn’t hennaed, took her last breaths, a part of Palestine ceased to exists.
On the first day of spring, 2013, after years of questioning whether tomorrow she will be found or not, Palestine died.