Palestine – Love, Loss, and Hope
At 12 years of age, my life was about to fall apart.
I sat, uncontrollably shivering, huddled in to the corner of the room, clutching on to my mother and my baby sister, Safiyeh. Unimaginable stories of brutality and bloodshed had circulated from neighbouring villages only days earlier, however, we hadn’t enough time to flee – where were we to go? Would Safiyeh survive? How could we leave our home, our possessions? So we sat, awaiting our fate.
In the early hours of the morning we were awoken by father – he and other men of the village acting as guards and look-outs had spotted several Jewish militias heading towards our village. I will never forget the look on my father’s face that cold morning; helplessness etched in to the expressions of a man who prided himself on never showing any outward sign of weakness. Looking in to my father’s eyes I knew, and he knew, that we were saying goodbye. As father embraced us, our door smashed open to the sight of two young men, indoctrinated with an evil ideology, and empowered by the metal in their hands. One of the men stormed in and dragged my father away from us. I escaped my mother’s clutch and grabbed hold of my father’s ankle, pleading for them to leave us alone. Somewhere amidst the screams of father shouting me to let go, to the shrieking cries of Safiyeh, the second man booted my face, sending an excruciatingly painful sensation through me which left me unconscious. I never saw my father again.
Abdullah Khalil, now a 77-year-old man, sat peering through the car window at the modern neighbourhood which towered over him. A single tear trickled down his crusty skin, over the bumps and cracks of ageing, as the haunting recollection of his past looked directly at him. After 65 years, Abdullah was revisiting his home. With further hints of tears forming through his watery gaze, he turned to the man in the driver’s seat, and continued.
When I eventually regained consciousness, I first caught the confused look on my baby sister. She was just one month old, unable to comprehend the unfolding tragedy – weeping, but not knowing why. This inability to answer the question of ‘why?’, however, is not conditional upon age. To this very day, I still find myself asking this very question, with overwhelming difficulty in formulating an answer. Of course, I can absorb the outer surface of the question; what occurred all those years ago was done in order to expel us indigenous Palestinians to pave the way for a Jewish state. But, this isn’t a satisfying answer – it does not reach the core of the question. It is when I dig deep in to the inner surfaces, to claw out some reasoning as to why, and how, a human being can inflict such pain on to a fellow brethren, it is then that I crumble to unanswerable questions.
Sometime later, the men who had taken my father re-appeared, forcibly expelling me from the frail shackles of my distraught mother. As my kicking and screaming body was dragged to the outside surface, another man entered my home, after which I heard a single gun-shot, followed by the short-lived cries of Safiyeh, and the painful wailing of my mother. An indescribable, sudden ambush of grief mixed with raging anger rushed through me. I was 12-years-old, but I felt like an old decaying man dying from a lifetime of pain. Lost in a timeless conundrum of emotions and thoughts, it is only when I was hauled off the ground, did I see the extent of the occurring brutality. Fresh corpses of women and children – some so disfigured, identity was indecipherable – lay in heaps in a pool of their own blood; the same blood gushing through the vessels of their killers. The men led me to a wall and shouted instructions in Hebrew, signalling with hand motions for me to walk towards the wall and face my back against it. Many others from the village stood with me, horrified. Some pleaded with the militias who stood in an unwavering manner, others recited prayers, women covered their children in a motherly fashion, and the elderly looked on in dismay. Scattering bullets from all corners met with flesh, bones, and stone. Bodies twice my size had fallen over me, knocking me to the ground. As armed men searched through the pile of collateral damage, piercing further bullets in to those who had the audacity to grasp final breaths of air, I lay still, buried under soulless masses. I don’t know whether I am lucky to be alive today, or unlucky to be able to continue feeling. I am alive in the sense that my physical body remains, but dead in that I have been left lifeless.
Abdullah walked out of the car and stood in an angulated posture, staring more intensely at his surroundings. His feet met the ground on which his family were erased – erased, in every sense of the word. To those living in the lavish houses where he once played, ate, and slept, there was never an Abdullah. The history which defines the plight of Palestinians rotting in refugee camps was blotted out, moulded and re-written. The screams of his mother being raped were fine-tuned and edited in to sounds of bloodless celebrations of the great Jewish return to their biblical homeland – an uninhabited land. His memories of running in the fields under his father’s loving watch, eating deliciously fresh-grown fruit with his mother, playing with his Jewish and Christian neighbours, was all a myth. Such a Palestine never existed.
A gush of wind blew against Abdullah, lifting slightly the keffiyeh wrapped around his head, sending a chilling, yet warm sensation down his spine. He shut his eyes, inhaled deeply, and thought – the air of the land had witnessed the horrors and felt his pain. People may have forgotten, but the memories of the land will forever remain ingrained deep within its earth, and share his grief. He inserted his hand into his pocket, guiding his fingers delicately along the outlines of a long metallic key, with a feeling of love, loss, and hope lingering over him as he stood amongst the houses in which this key once functioned. After absorbing his view a final time, Abdullah stepped back in to the car, signalling the driver to head back to the refugee camp.
The lifeless remains of an old man can still cling on to a thread of hope.
Authors Note: Although this is a short piece of ‘fiction’ in its technical term, in reality it is a story of non-fiction; a historical account of the Nakba (The Catastrophe). The Nakba refers to the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland, and the depopulation and destruction of their villages. This tragedy is not merely a piece of history, but a continuing theme even today. If we want to truly understand the present situation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with real honesty, then we must address and educate ourselves upon the historical facts of this conflict – which date as far back as the late 19th century – and the injustices which followed.
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