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Waiting for Palestine

June 12, 2011 – 7:37 pm15 Comments

Galus Australis’ correspondent, Malki Rose, is currently in Jerusalem attending the ROI Summit. This article is the first of a series that Malki is writing on identity and homelessness.

It is two days before Pesach…and I meet up with Amira.

Amira was born in Israel. Amira calls herself Palestinian…but does not say she was born in ‘Palestine’. She calls it Israel. She does not call it Israel for my benefit.  She does not know what I call it, nor does she care. She says she was born in Israel as a Palestinian and devout Muslim, to a family longing for a sense of home. ‘This home…”, she tells me, “…is a place which does not yet exist”.

Amira explains that her family have lived in this land for many, many generations and whatever she or anyone calls it, it is her home. Their home.

“Who are ‘we’…”, she explains, “… ‘we’ are a people on the brink of existence.

We have always lived in this land, my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents – we have always been Palestinian”.

She stops and looks up, scanning her memory with the pleasant smile of nostalgia and relates to me a story her 104 year old great-grandmother , Nabala, had related to her, of her own childhood in 19th century Israel.  Great grandmother Nabala recalls stories when she was a child and she lived side by side with Jewish people, who also called themselves ‘Palestinians’.

“My great grandmother Nabala was part of a large and proud family who worked hard on their beautiful green farm with many olive trees, and some milk goats. Her father would spend spring afternoons sitting in the back of the field sipping tea under the shade of the largest olive tree. She remembered the neighbours, a Jewish Sephardi family who had also been living in Israel for several generations. The two fathers would often share a laugh and a smoke and the children would play together in the afternoons.

At the end of the week the two families would go their separate ways, as the Jewish neighbours would retreat into their home to celebrate the Sabbath.  A distinct singing in Arabic could be heard from their home, the tunes long and melodious.  These told of a joy in ritual and a delight in a day spent in celebration and reflection amongst another proud, but different, large family.”

But one spring evening stood bold and clear in my great grandmothers memory all her days. Although a girl of only 8 years old, she remembered that she had not seen her Jewish neighbours for some days. She had heard them next door, coming and going and busying themselves with something that seemed terribly urgent and important.

As the sun set that evening, a sense of foreboding filled the orange sky and for several hours all seemed quiet from the neighbours next door. Until suddenly came the sound of an unfamiliar song from our neighbour’s father. It was not in Arabic. For a moment she felt that she no longer knew the family living on the next property and wondered why the father was speaking in another language.

She heard the children call out loudly in Arabic, “You there with your pack, where are you coming from?”

They then heard the father answer, “I am coming from Egypt!!!”

To which the children exclaimed, “And to where are you going?”

“I am going home to Yerushalayim”, came the father’s proud response.

At which a beautiful song poured from their neighbour’s home.”

Even as a young girl, Nabala had found this incident strange but warming.  Amira explained, “Towards the end of her life, my great- grandmother would refer to this story over and over, struggling to process it. When she passed away it seemed unresolved. She was a special woman who wore a sad, incompleteness about where she belonged”.

Amira sees both Israelis and Palestinians as ‘wanderers’.

“But”, says the young Political Science student, “as goes the phrase…not all who wander are lost, the Jews are a people with a strong ritualised memory of where they have come from and where they are going to.  My people are lost, and my great grandmother felt this on that night. The night which I came to realise, only after my great grandmother’s death, was your people’s night of commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.”

I stop and reflect on a moment shared between a Jew and Muslim; a sobering reminder of the homelessness and sense of identity which every soul yearns to cure. I ask her how she came to be in Australia, so far from the farm her family called home.

“Were you refugees?” I ask her, “or did you already have family here?”

“No, we are alone; we were not refugees, but we had no choice, because we were forgotten people; invisible to our brothers.”

I pause and for a moment am overcome with a sense of irregular Jewish guilt. Of needing to take ownership of the actions of wayward Israeli Soldiers overwhelmed with a sense of their own power, and of shame at some of the military actions which may have caused her family to feel abandoned and invisible. A feeling I know all too well.

“We tried to go to Egypt. But they blocked the crossing and would not let us in. We tried to go to Lebanon but they did not want us. My father applied to Jordan and Syria and we were rejected there too. Not a single Muslim country would take us.  Australia was difficult but accepted us”.

I am confused, “But why did you want to leave? Wasn’t it your home? Your family’s land? Could you not fight to stay?”

“Malki, you are an idealist. My parents worked very hard to keep us there, on our family’s land, selling olives from the same trees as my great, great grandparents. My sisters and I did well in our studies, my father waited at Israeli checkpoints every morning from 4am till 8am. It took him nearly 6 hours to get to work every day – his whole truck needed to be inspected.”

Again I feel bad.

“What’s wrong?” she asks me sensing my self- blame. “This is what happens when idiots sneak weapons into Israeli towns under crates of medicine or in the backs of Ambulances; it ruins it for the rest of us who just want to work and live” – she pauses – “and travel!!! You have the same thing here in Australia at customs. You wait in a queue to be processed, the sniffer dogs come and check for drugs and illegal substances, most people are just wanting to come and go, but the idiots ruin it for everyone. People have to protect their borders, Israel is no different.”

This 25 year old girl speaks with the wisdom of an 80 year old. Like a woman who sees the world not with the bitter cynicism of blame but through the tip-of-her-nose-poised spectacles of a grandmother who has watched, listened and learned for a long, long time.

“So what happened to your farm?” I ask her.

“They took it from us. First they blackmailed my father. He had to pay them everything he had. Then they told us that they would be back in the morning because they ‘needed the house for storage’.  She pauses.

“The IDF?” I ask.

“No, the Hamas. They were bringing in materials from a tunnel in the south of Israel near the Rafah Crossing and after they had my father’s money they told us they would be using our farm as a base.  We are expendable to them; they care about the fight, not the people they claim to be fighting for, these are the people in power, and these are the morons the UN wants to lead our people, the Hamas? Where are our Muslim brothers? Why have they not spoken up?”. Amira pauses in frustration, and shakes her head.  “These people claim to be our brothers? The Israeli government at least protects its own people. We do not have such a thing. There was nothing left for us; so we left in the middle of the night…”

She trails off. Amira drops her head, clutches at her chest and begins to sob. But not like a child. Her tears bear the pain of a deep, long held memory.

“…Exodus”, I hear her beneath the sobbing.

“I understand”, I try and comfort her, “this was your family’s exodus.”

“No, you don’t understand… It was Pesach”, she surprises me with her knowledge of its Hebrew name. She sits up and affirms, “It was YOUR people’s Exodus, it was your night of commemoration that we left; and it was US being oppressed and cast out by our own people. We were in ‘no man’s land’, a land we thought was ours. It had always been our family’s home and the farm our family’s pride and joy and livelihood, for almost 200 years. How can we have an ‘Exodus’? we may know where we have come from, but we do not leave with purpose because we don’t know where we are going. We wander BECAUSE we are lost. Even if tomorrow you once again did not have the state of Israel, your people would always have an identity and a clear sense of why you wander and to where, at least to the idea of Israel.”

I think for a moment of our commonality; that my ancestors were also not welcome in so many lands; of their being expelled from Spain, Magyarized in Hungary, pogrommed in Poland, libelled in Slovakia, then burned in ovens in Auschwitz and labelled ‘stateless’ in Germany only 30 years after my great grandfather had served proudly in its army in world war one.

Amira’s strong words interrupt my thoughts.

“Malki, your family were strangers in a strange land.  But we were strangers in our own land… my great- grandmother could feel this on that Pesach night, and I felt it on the Pesach night we left”.

We are both silent for a few moments.

“Be proud of your people, they have built their dream. Your identity is strong as are your people.”

She wipes back her tears and laughs. “It’s funny that both our families have ended up here in Australia. Like so many other wandering people; immigrants, refugees, again on someone else’s land. On the back of another people’s ‘Dreamtime’.

I ask her if she ever dreams of home.

“Not yet, Malki.  It is not yet built to dream of. But when my people finally unite and instead of taking your people’s dream, take responsibility for building one of our own, I will dream of it and yearn for it always… as you dream of yours every Pesach when you say “ L’shanah Habah B’Yerushalayim”.

 

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15 Comments »

  • Kovi Rose says:

    Malki, touching article. It pains me to hear of other people’s tribulations and hardships in a time when many are being too self-centered to care.
    As a somewhat right-wing Israeli, i have to beg the question: Exactly how deep are Amira’s familial roots in Israel.
    I only ask this because i know that the families of many who identify as Palestinians, have been living in the land for less than a a handful of generations.
    Also the analytical part of my brain asks skeptically why were Amira’s ancestors not absorbed into the state of Israel at the time of its founding; something which would have seemed the obvious course of action for a family that you depicted as being largely neutral or even pro-israel.
    Thanks

  • el says:

    Malki, the spirit and intensity of Amira’s words are extremely poignant.She describes the Jewish identity better than I have heard Jews describe it themselves Her final comment

    “Not yet, Malki. It is not yet built to dream of. But when my people finally unite and instead of taking your people’s dream, take responsibility for building one of our own, I will dream of it and yearn for it always… as you dream of yours every Pesach when you say “ L’shanah Habah B’Yerushalayim”

    says it all
    Thank you for this article and reminding us that there are human beings at the end of all our actions.
    Hakol Hakavod

  • Hugi says:

    Jews and Muslims can and have always lived side by side but the Jews must be the real ones the Sephardic who do come from Ancient Palestine but not the Askkenaze Jews who are descendants of converted Eastern European Jews and these people have NO CLAIM to that land. They (the Ashkenaze) have a region in Russia called Birobidzhan that Stalin gave them in 1939.

  • Malki Rose says:

    el,
    thanks, glad you appreciated its purpose. Its unfortunate that all the usually vocal human being/social justice whingers on GA have chosen to remain quiet on this issue.
    Their silence echoes what most of us already know to be true, that their purpose is not in protecting the rights and needs of ALL people when they speak for the rights of Palestinian people, but instead a need to demonise Israel, the idea, the culture and its people (perhaps to absolve themselves of some kind of white european colonialist guilt which is so common in Jews from Australia, probably because they sit on stolen Aboriginal land). – Instead of demonising the particular and specific perpetrators of evil, who live both inside and outside of Israel. These are the people who remain silent when Hamas takes property from its own people. It’s pathetic.

    Hugi,
    There is no REAL ones. We live on a planet populated by thousands of different cultures and peoples who have ALL come from somewhere else originally.
    Just as the phrase “Real Australian” has no value, as it disregards the fact that every white Australian was originally from somewhere else.. and in truth the only “Real Australians” would be the native Aboriginal people. Even saying that, those we call indigenous in any land have usually moved from place to place with world and climate events over the millenia. It would be foolish to suppose that any single human being’s origins are ever to be found in the country in which they live.

    Ideally, nobody has any claim to any land. Claims to land are an idea that we invent for ourselves and they never seem to coincide with where others feel we should live.

    The issue here is one of identity and belonging. Of having a home and knowing you are safe within it. As Jews we know this well and should be the first to see the plight of the homeless, the displaced or the wanderer.

    If a Palestinian woman has a familial tie to a piece of land because her family has history there, then a does not matter whether its only for a few generations (ahem, Kovi), or for 2000 years. Why should any woman or man be refused the right to live peacefully on a land they call home.

    Everyone has a right to the dream of a home. This is the point of this article.

  • Malki,

    I concur with your humanitarian statements:

    Ideally, nobody has any claim to any land. Claims to land are an idea that we invent for ourselves and they never seem to coincide with where others feel we should live.

    and

    If a Palestinian woman has a familial tie to a piece of land because her family has history there, then a does not matter whether its only for a few generations (ahem, Kovi), or for 2000 years. Why should any woman or man be refused the right to live peacefully on a land they call home.

    The question from Kovi that prompted that response begs the question, who is more entitled than anyone to any home? I don’t want an answer to the question, but it needs pondering. And I think Malki, your first statement that I have quoted in my reply here is a good response.

    Thank you.

    Michael.

  • frosh says:

    Hugi,

    Your statement that Ashkenazic Jews are not a Semitic people is a complete fabrication. Apart from being highly offensive, it ignores all known historical facts. It’s a bit like claiming Australian Aborigines only immigrated to Australia from Indonesia after European settlement of Terra Australis. In other words, it’s moronic with probable racist motivations.

    The irony is that European anti-Semites (the Semite part is no accident) always told the Jews there to “Go back to Pa-le-sti-ne!” Today the grandchildren of those anti-Semites say to the grandchildren of those Jews “Get out of Palestine!”

  • Marky says:

    …and now Helen Thomas wants us back in Europe..

    It’s gone full circle.

  • lombard says:

    beautifully written article. exposing hamas as the true villian and descendents of amalek with hitlers great friend the mufti of jerusalem as their inspiration in their modernday form of nazism.eichman yemach shmo would be so proud

  • Kovi Rose - Malki says:

    Malki,
    I probably didn’t phrase myself well enough, however what i meant to say was NOT that a small amount of time in a land revokes the right to live peacefully.
    I just bothers me that there are those on the Palestinian front who claim that Jews have no right to the land (but yes i guess we aren’t talking so much about those people)
    Can i just ask of you once more “why were Amira’s ancestors not absorbed into the state of Israel at the time of its founding; something which would have seemed the obvious course of action for a family that you depicted as being largely neutral or even pro-israel.”
    Thanks

  • Malki Rose says:

    Thank you Lombard,
    I would like to suggest that any beauty in this story comes from the beauty which both of us found in recognising our equally strong desires to belong and connect to our ‘homes’.

    I know that there is a somewhat flawed tradition to associate any force of evil with the Amalek mentioned in the Torah. The problem with this association is that its not accurate.

    There is very little evidence to suggest that Amalek even existed, short of the Torah’s mention, which if I were a purist I would say they did not exist, but because I view the Torah AS a historical document of sorts (apologies to Mr Holloway), it suggests that they did once exist, although no longer. There are some discussions of them being a fringe nomadic group who may not have existed for very long at all.

    Even if we were to presume that Amalek, as Esav’s descendants, did exist, that from them came Agag, and from Agag came Haman. There is no familial connection between Haman and any modern day people.

    It seems to be a metaphor only for “evil force that attacks Jews”.

    It is one thing for Hamas to perpetrate violence against those whom they unashamedly declare as their natural enemy, meaning Israel, Israelis and the Jewish People. – One wouldn’t expect the Arab world to stand up in defense of our position.

    But it is altogether another thing for Hamas to steal, kill, maim and torture their own brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.

    When someone in the Jewish world is hurting, the rest of the Jewish world speaks up.
    What pained Amira was that Arab brothers do not speak up against evil perpetrate by their own and against their own.

    If, come September, the UN hope to hand power over a Palestinian state to Hamas, then the ones who have the most to fear may well not be Israel (who already have ways and means of dealing with Hamas)… but rather, the innocent Palestinian and Arab family’s who’ve lived peacefully on their family land since British rule, Ottoman rule and who’s lives are being destroyed every single day by their ‘leaders’ who’s guiding force and justification for their violence is that they HATE Israel MORE than they LOVE their own brothers.

    Egypt may have a similar problem with the Muslim Brotherhoods newly formed coalition.

    As an aside, Lombard, I would suggest that fighting hatred with hatred is not helpful… doing so only makes one as bad as them.

    When you speak to intelligent Palestinians and Arabs here in the middle east (not embittered white people in Australia), there is a unanimous view that acts such as boycotts and sanctions harm alot more than just Israeli businesses and families, but also those of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. They seem to prefer getting involved in initiatives such as the AFL Peres Peace Team – a fantastic initiative which fosters team work, understanding and respect between young Palestinians and Israelis.

  • Malki Rose says:

    I chose not to answer that in the hope that in the cold light of day you’d realise you’d both not understood Amira’s family’s position and that your remark made them appear to be collateral damage of a political process needing to be swept into a category. I am not sure why you would expect them to be absorbed into the state? and what that even means?

  • Kovi Rose - Malki says:

    Malki,
    I meant that many of the Arabs who were living in Palestine in the years leading up to the Declaration of Independence, chose to become “absorbed” into Israel and become Israeli citizens; as opposed to those who refused that or left the country temporarily in order to aid the invading Arab armies.
    (Keep in mind i am not saying that all Palestinians today are associated with this)
    And yes i didnt truly understand Amira’s family position, would you care to educate me in that regard?
    Thanks

  • Letters in the age says:

    Nice!! Well done, great piece about identity and could translate to non-jews alike.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Nice piece Malki.
    Isn’t it a shame that people like Amira are not among the current Palestinian leadership, and that much of the world would prefer to ignore their take on recent history. I wonder how she envisages Palestinian unity and state-building coming about in reality – or is it just a dream that remains in the realm of a “ha lachma anya” prayer?

  • Eds: Michael, your link and comment was in no way relevant to Malki’s article above.

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