This May marks the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) in Palestine in 1948 when over 700,000 Palestinians were forced off their land, in some cases at gunpoint, in other cases through massacres or threats of massacres like the massacre at Deir Yassin. Hundreds of villages were completely destroyed or depopulated. Today, the suffering in Palestine continues: from the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, to the demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, to the continued siege of the people of Gaza – deprived of food, water, electricity, and medicine- to the mass detention of tens of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners.
Each year we approach this date and I am overcome with a strong emotional reaction. It happened today. One thing I noticed this year is how deeply rooted this emotional connection to the Palestinian issue is, and that is one characteristic that is not unique to me, but widespread within the hearts of Palestinians around the world. This is a fascinating feat that is true even for third and fourth generation Palestinians who have never been to their homeland; a powerful emotional connection passed on from generation to generation.
Along with these thoughts, when I woke up today there was one name on my mind: Ghassan Kanafani. Few Palestinian writers will ever evoke as strong a response as a mere mention of Ghassan Kanafani’s name does. A teacher, journalist, and writer, Kanafani’s wide reach of influence continues even today. His works will forever have a seamless connection to the hope of a free and peaceful Palestinian state, and it is his words that I will leave you with; for I can’t think of any better words to express the emotion that I know many of my readers feel today as well.
“I heard you in the other room asking your mother, ‘Mama, am I a Palestinian?’ When she answered ‘Yes’ a heavy silence fell on the whole house. It was as if something hanging over our heads had fallen, its noise exploding, then – silence. Afterwards…I heard you crying. I could not move. There was something bigger than my awareness being born in the other room through your bewildered sobbing. It was as if a blessed scalpel was cutting up your chest and putting there the heart that belongs to you…I was unable to move to see what was happening in the other room. I knew, however, that a distant homeland was being born again: hills, olive groves, dead people, torn banners and folded ones, all cutting their way into a future of flesh and blood and being born in the heart of another child…Do you believe that man grows? No, he is born suddenly – a word, a moment, penetrates his heart to a new throb. One scene can hurl him down from the ceiling of childhood onto the ruggedness of the road.”
“I was just asking. I’m looking for the true Palestine, the Palestine that’s more than memories, more than peacock feathers, more than a son, more than scars written by bullets on the stairs… Tens of thousands like Khalid won’t be stopped by the tears of men searching in the depths of their defeat for scraps of armor and broken flowers. Men like Khalid are looking toward the future, so they can put right our mistakes and the mistakes of the whole world”
Until next time…