saturday late afternoon my friends from deheishe refugee camp headed out of the west bank, illegally, of course, to 1948 palestine. we felt that it was important to spend يوم الأرض (land day) in 1948 palestine in the places where the massacre took place in 1976. of course we would like to attend the demonstrations here tomorrow, but traveling with palestinians who are not permitted to travel freely in their land means that we cannot go to places which will have a heavy military presence. we started our journey as we always do driving by two of my friends’ villages, which are just a few kilometers from their refugee camp. one of my friends wanted to spend some time in her village, deir rafat, so we drove inside. the first thing you see when you drive up the road at the entrance to her village is an old palestinian house, which israeli colonists now use as a drug rehabilitation center. we drove into the valley to the area where her family’s house used to be before israeli terrorists destroyed it. this area of the valley is not inhabited by israeli terrorists like the homes and land above on the hilltops. this area is inhabited now by bedouin shepherds who used to live in the naqab and areas near gaza. they were forcibly removed from their land several times before settling here. my friend from the village spent some time talking to one of the older bedouin men who was living there and he was very interesting. he invited us into his tent, next to his house, for tea before we left and we talked for a while. he told us his story and about his life in deir rafat. he used an unusual word to describe the israeli colonists occupying his land and hers: karawa (which seems to be a turkish word, an old word, meaning foreigner or stranger although tam tam and hala say it means pasha…though that is definitely not the context in which it was used). he used this word to talk about the jews and the british who colonized the land here.
we walked around the ruins of the destroyed houses in the valley, which are adjacent to the homes where the bedouin families live. i kept thinking what it must feel like to be an internally displaced person in your own country and at the same time be living on the land that belongs to others for whom it is illegal to even visit. i wonder what it feels like to wake up and see these ruins every morning knowing that these families live just a few kilometers away from their homes and have been fighting for decades to return to their land. it is striking to think about this, especially in contrast to another village, zakariya just a few kilometers closer to beit lahem from this village, where a number of my friends are originally from. the people who live there are entirely israeli colonists who are living on stolen land. but in the center of this village is a palestinian mosque (albeit one with an israeli terrorist flag on top of the minaret). there are still a number of palestinian homes still standing in that village, all of which were stolen by israeli colonists who live inside. but the mosque is different: it is at the center of the village. it is a symbol of those people not belonging there. that they are foreign. is it really possible to live in such a state of denial?
after deir rafat it was getting dark so we headed straight for nasra where our other friend is from. we got to her house and were fed an amazing meal of mlukhiyya, which of course made me very sad that baha’a was not with us. i started thinking about baha’a and thinking that he and one of my friends here would make a lovely couple. we started imagining a movement that we would call زواج العودة whereby we could create marriages with refugees outside palestine and those inside and help them to return through marriage. the only problem is that such a project would involve palestinians returning to the west bank, which is likely not their original village or city, which would not equal their right of return (and this would certainly be true of baha’a who is from yaffa). we spent the evening with my friend’s family and then woke up and headed out to saffuriyya, a village only a few miles from nasra. i had been wanting to see this village for a while now because thousands of palestinians from this village who fled during an nakba in 1948 wound up in nasra (and many are in refugee camps in lebanon). i love that these internally displaced people (idps) have consistently fought for their right to return to their villages alongside palestinian refugees who live in camps until now.
i was also interested in going to the village because i am a fan of a palestinian poet, taha muhammad ali, who is one of the palestinians from saffuriyya who lives in nasra until now. there is a beautiful anthology of his poetry entitled so what that has been translated into english, however this volume was a project that included translators/editors who are zionists and their offensive introduction is deeply troubling as well as ahistorical (they talk about the “idf” destroying his village: there was no “idf” in 1948; there were only jewish terrorist gangs which later became what the israeli colonists call the “idf” and what i call israeli terrorist forces). in any case, here is one of his poems, called “Exodus,” that i love, which i think is appropriate for land day as well as for our visit today and for asserting the rights of palestinian idps:
The street is empty
as a monk’s memory,
and faces explode in the flames
and the dead crowd the horizon
No vein can bleed
more than it already has,
no scream will rise
higher than it’s already risen.
We will not leave!
Everyone outside is waiting
for the trucks and the cars
loaded with honey and hostages.
We will not leave!
The shields of light are breaking apart
before the rout and the siege;
outside, everyone wants us to leave.
But we will not leave!
Ivory white brides
behind their veils
slowly walk in captivity’s glare, waiting,
and everyone outside wants us to leave,
but we will not leave!
The big guns pound the jujube groves,
destroying the dreams of the violets,
extinguishing bread, killing the salt,
and parching lips and souls.
And everyone outside is saying:
“What are we waiting for?
Warmth we’re denied,
the air itself has been seized!
Why aren’t we leaving?”
Masks fill the pulpits and brothels,
the places of ablution.
Masks cross-eyed with utter amazement;
they do not believe what is now so clear,
and fall, astonished,
writhing like worms, or tongues.
We will not leave!
Are we in the inside only to leave?
Leaving is just for the masks,
for pulpits and conventions.
Leaving is just
for the siege-that-comes-from-within,
the siege that comes from the Bedouin’s loins,
the siege of the brethren
tarnished by the taste of the blade
and the stink of crows.
We will not leave!
Outside they’re blocking the exits
and offering their blessings to the impostor,
Almighty God for our deaths.
we drove the 5 minutes it took to get to saffuriya and found not only signs judaizing the place–literally changing its name in arabic as well as in english as a part of the zionist project of erasing and ethnically cleansing palestinian existence here. once you enter the village there is a fork in the road. my friend from nasra told us to go to the left. we were confronted by a number of other signs, which my friend translated for us (growing up in 1948 palestine means she is trilingual). one of the signs said something to the effect of “this land belongs to the jews.” there were other signs about this being a national park (what israeli colonists often do with destroyed palestinian villages). the road to the left took us to a checkpoint with a gate, which we were able to get through. the entire area was just a series of israeli colonists’ houses with no trace of any old palestinian houses so we drove out of the imprisoned compound and decided to drive up the other side to the “national park.”
we drove up the road where we saw so many beautiful wildflowers and an amazing scenic landscape. at the end of the road was yet another checkpoint of sorts. this one was a ticket booth. apparently, if you want to visit saffuriyya you must pay 15 NIS (around $5). what is so outrageous about this is that this land is stolen. palestinians wanting to visit this land, which belongs to them must pay money to enter. i really wonder: if i decide to take over a jewish house in haifa tomorrow (which, of course, would really be a palestinian house) and started charging money for people to enter would that fly? of course, we did not pay one damn shekel and we did not enter that area, where we are told there are ruins of palestinian homes. we chose instead to walk along the fields and enjoy the land, the flowers, the air, the sky. but as we were walking around i noticed some people picnicking. the older woman was wearing hijab (a very helpful identity marker in 1948 palestine) so i asked her if she was from saffuriya. and she is. she was there with her husband, daughter, and grandchildren. they had been in the fields picking fresh za’atar and other herbs and flowers from their land that they were forcibly removed from in 1948. this, too, is something highly “illegal” here: if you are caught picking such things from your land you are fined 5,000 NIS ($1,400).
the family we spoke to told us that we should go back inside that checkpoint/gate on the other side of saffuriya because we would be able to see some old palestinian homes and a church if we drove further inside. we decided to go back. we came upon the church first and drove up the hill where we had an amazing view of the other side of the village, including a mosque we could see down below. it was sunday and there were some palestinian teenagers in the park area out in front of the church. we said hello to them and had a brief conversation, but it was a most disturbing one. one girl said, for instance “إسرائيل حلوى”. this is the level of internalized colonialism and brainwashing that we are dealing with her among some of the youth inside 1948 palestine. they think that the israeli colonists who murder, destroy, and steal from them are “beautiful” or “sweet.” this is, of course, not true of all palestinians here, my friend from nasra, for instance is nothing like that. but this was most disturbing. we left immediately after that and went down to try to find the mosque only to find yet another gated checkpoint and a sign that called it a “jewish” site belonging to some rabbi. we chose another road instead where we found a couple of palestinian homes that remained.
after we left saffuriyya we drove north to sakhnin, the palestinian city made famous for its resistance which we commemorate on land day. we drove into the center of the city where we found a cemetery with a monument to the martyrs of yom al ard (i will be writing about this more tomorrow on land day itself but the link at the top of the post will give you a bit of an entry point on the subject). the monument itself is quite beautiful and moving, but i was disturbed when i read the signature of the sculptors on it: it was a normalization project between a palestinian and an israeli terrorist. i find this difficult to stomach. for me the lesson of such events is that israeli colonists will never stop stealing land and murdering palestinians. the lesson is to continue resistance not to make nice with your killers. not to forgive or forget because they will always repeat their crimes. we have evidence.
after sakhnin we continued driving into the next village, ‘arraba, which also has its martyrs’ memorial on the same road, though it is not only for land day. they, too, have their share of land day martyrs, but the list of name dates back to the palestinian strike in 1936. this is also the town where aseel asleh was murdered by israeli terrorists.
aseel was in seeds of khara (otherwise known as seeds of peace, a american zionist organization dedicated to using soft power to make palestinian submit to israeli colonization even further than they already are forced to do). yet another reminder: trying to normalize or make “peace” with the warmonger colonists occupying this land will never work. whether you normalize or not they will murder you. the lesson we should take from this, since they will murder regardless, is take the bullet standing up and fighting for your rights to stay on your land, to return to your land, rather than dying on your knees begging for “peace.”
after ‘arrabe we drove to the next village, deir hana, because we heard that this is the site of the land day protest tomorrow, which we want to go to but cannot. we drove around the village a bit and found old palestinian homes at the top of the mountain. a man saw us wandering around taking photographs of those homes and invited us to his house. his wife was busy baking bread for their family (which was a bit shocking because she must have made at least 30 pieces of khoobiz baladi while we were standing there). she gave us some bread to eat, which was totally amazing, and they gave us some fresh olive oil to dip it in, which was also incredible. afterward her husband took us into a part of their house to show us around. it was like a museum of palestinian culture: all over the walls were various agricultural and cultural tools palestinians have used over the centuries and in the center of the room was an enormous, old olive oil press. it was amazing to have stumbled upon this family and to see all of this, but it was sad to hear that the only people who come up there to visit the area and to see his museum are israeli colonists (likely in search of more cultural artifacts or cultural objects to steal). in any case, i bought some olive oil from him before we left to give to my friend’s mom. and then we headed back towards nasra. and now it is 3 am so i’m going to sleep. more on yom al ard bokra. tisbah 3la watan to all my palestinian friends who cannot be here to commemorate land day.