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Home arrow Blog arrow May 2008 arrow May 15, 2008

May 15, 2008
WAWA Blog May 15, 2008: Telling A Story of Al Nakba/The Disaster/Catastrophe

Today begins-for Palestinians and all who pursue justice and peace-a year of remembering the Palestinian side of the story of 1948.

The following is EXCERTPED from Chapter 2: KEEP HOPE ALIVE:

The Evening Before June 4, 1968


...By the time Khaled had finished his story; Ahmad had parked the car and was emptying the trunk of their bags. The three Diabs checked in and boarded the plane to their new life in Orlando, Florida in relative silence.

By the time their plane reached cruising altitude, Khaled’s mind had taken him back to October 1948, to his ancient olive grove village of Majd Al Krum, located in Upper Galilee, just a day’s walk from Nazareth. His mother, sisters, and brothers surrounded him once again at the well-worn kitchen table that had been hewn from an ancient olive tree trunk decades before. They sat in silence, waiting for the elder Mr. Diab to return from the meeting with the leaders of the community.

Khaled had just turned twenty-one and had graduated from Government Arab College in Jerusalem. He had received notice of a full scholarship and board at the university in London. He was imagining his life unfolding, when his father silently opened the front door, choking back tears.

The senior Diab told his nervous family the news that shattered their happy lives. Khaled could hear as clearly now as he did then the tremor in his father’s voice. “The village is surrounded by the Israeli Defense Force. Khaled, you must take your sister Khaldiyeh and leave for Lebanon tonight. I just left the village elders. We all agree that the young people who can make the journey must flee, or they might be slaughtered. Do you remember what happened on Mount Zion five months ago? On your mother’s birthday, May seventeenth of this very year, two of the Christian churches and their elementary schools were shelled with mortar rounds, killing eight and wounding six scores of innocent Christian people. These Zionists do not respect innocent civilians. Until we are assured of justice and peace, you and Khaldiyeh must leave us. I will remain, to keep claim to our homestead and protect the very young and very old.”

Khaled’s mind raced. “I have compassion for the Jewish people, but this is insanity, chasing us off our lands. I know they are acting out of a deep wound within them; the horrors of the Holocaust are unbearable to comprehend! If only the whole world had welcomed them as neighbors during the Holocaust, offering them sanctuary in their time of need, we would not be facing their weapons now!”

Mr. Diab intruded upon Khaled’s contemplation with a mournful wailing, and then poured out, “These Zionists are forcing us off the land we have lived on for decades. Our family has cared for this grove for over six generations. And now the Israeli Defense Force has come to claim it as its own! We have a deed recorded in the city of Acre, just as every other landowner has! How can another claim what is legally ours? We have been caretakers of this land for generations, and a recorded deed has always been legal and binding. I cannot think of anything more unjust than to force people out of their homes and land. These trees are living, breathing beings, and their roots are entwined with our family!”

Mrs. Diab stood up, trembling, and spoke directly to Khaled. “We have always lived in peace here in Majd Al Krum. Although we have been ruled over by the Turks and the British, these Zionists are taking control without any regard for our rights! These Zionists claim to be good Jews, but they are not like our Jewish friends! No, they do not practice what our Jewish friends teach — justice, love, and common welfare! These Zionists have corrupted Judaism!”

Khaled’s voice quivered. “These Zionists are secularists; they are not like our Jewish friends. But, we must get moving; I hear people gathering outside.”

As the family wept, Khaled remained stoic and thought of his great-grandfather, bewailing about all the European Jews who settled in the land after the Ottoman Empire fell. Khaled muttered softly to himself, “Surely, it was because he feared Western thought, not Judaism or Jewish people. We are all people of the book, and we should all honor Allah and Abraham and live in peace together. We Arabs suffer a lot as a people, because we have not accepted the good things Western thought brings, such as modern technology and medicine. There must be a balance between accepting the good and refusing what would hurt our customs and traditions. I want to help my people come into the twentieth century, but still retain our deep roots that are anchored in the God of Abraham. We cannot go backwards. We must move forward, or we will be crushed, and I pray this is not our crushing!”

When Khaled and his sister had gathered their belongings in a pillowcase, Mr. Diab spoke sternly. “Oh Khaled, how many Jewish families do we know? We know many. We have always gotten along in peace. We have gone to their weddings, and they have celebrated with us at ours. Never have we had a fight with any of our Jewish neighbors, or Christians, for that matter. We have always lived in peace and harmony in Majd Al Krum. All I want to do is care for my olive grove, as my forefathers did. The United Nations deemed Majd Al Krum Arab territory just last year, and look what is at our door! I see history repeating itself. The Jews were persecuted, and now they persecute us!”
“Look, this may be just a temporary situation. I accept charge of my sister Khaldiyeh, and will keep her safe until we may return.”

“Your Uncle Mohammed and Aunt Latifah are being told the news now by your grandfather, and they will accompany you. I have a good friend in Lebanon. He owns a large olive grove, and he will help you when you arrive.” Khaled watched his father write out the name of Ali Al Hussein, open the family money box, and hold out the entire contents with a trembling hand.

In the house next-door, Khaled’s grandfather shared the same news with his second wife and their children: sixteen-year-old Latifah and fifteen-year-old Mohammed. Little Mo was barely five feet tall and loved his mother very much. Like Khaled, he had spent many months away from home in the urban center of Acre, ten miles away. Due to the rocky and wildly mountainous terrain, both boys had spent months at a time living with grandparents and missing the rest of their family. Latifah and her parents sobbed and embraced one another tightly. Little Mo had frozen in his chair, and his throat had choked up. Not until his tears had puddled upon his lap was he able to budge. Then he bolted towards his mother as if he were iron and she a magnet, and both were inconsolable.

The wailing of families throughout Majd Al Krum could be heard for miles that night. Within an hour of hearing the news, the entire village lined up along the main road in town. Families hugged and stifled cries. Everyone carried pillowcases stuffed with food and a few essentials. In single file, under the cover of darkness, thousands of Palestinians set off as if they were half of a ripped-apart chain of heartbroken people praying for wisdom and peace. The half of the chain that remained prayed for their safety. In total silence the broken chain of humanity set off, guided by the light of a crescent moon. Through Galilee to Lebanon, a twenty-one hour journey, over rough mountainous roads and through the dark wilderness, the citizens of Majd Al Krum were bound together forever viscerally.
Khaled ruminated over how the half-century-old conflict over land rights between Jews and Palestinians had become so inflamed as to force him from his family home. He remembered reading the magazines and newspapers he had pored over in the library at Jerusalem College. He visualized the pages: Balfour Declaration, November 1917. The British rulers promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine. He remembered the photo of the kings of Iraq and Syria, and Feisal Hussein executing a treaty with Jewish leader Chaim Weizman in 1919.


He recalled once more that in 1922, Britain received a mandate from the League of Nations to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, opening the floodgates of Jewish immigration from Europe. By the end of the decade, hundreds of Arabs and Jews had died over land rights in Palestine. In 1936, the Arabs revolted against Britain — their controllers after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish domination. Farouk became King of Egypt, and a good friend to the West. He relived the grief he felt when he had first read in November of 1940, that Arab’s had been blamed for the bombing of the Patria, filled with Jewish immigrants at the port of Haifa when 276 Jews and most of the crew perished after the boat was sabotaged by the Haganah because the British refused to let the refugees enter Palestine. 15


Tears fell from his eyes as he recalled two years prior how Menachem Begin led Jewish terrorists in the destruction of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the British military and civilian headquarters and ninety-one people died. He became inflamed again remembering that only one year ago the United Nations ordered the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, with an international zone around Jerusalem and the havoc that action wrecked. As the Jews created the state of Israel, Arab leaders condemned the United Nations’ plan, and the Baath Arab Socialist party was founded in Syria.

On the very day in May 1948 that Israel declared her independence, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq attacked. The last newspaper Khaled read before returning home had printed the horrific news of Haganah, the underground Jewish militia’s massacre of Arabs in Lydda, Ramle, and Doueimah. Khaled realized he had become a player in history and felt a deep connection to those in front and behind him.

The Israeli Forces had surrounded his hometown, Majd El Krum, which was once a peaceful village of fruit and olive groves. A sea of people walked in single file for hours, in a dazed silence and all prayed that peace and security would once more be their reality.

Just as dawn was breaking, Little Mo whispered, “I am thirsty.”

For the first time since they had started their trek eight hours prior, Khaled had enough light to actually see his family. His gut ached when he saw their cracked and swollen lips, bleeding legs scratched by thistles, and Khaldiyeh and Latifah’s worn-out shoes. While Khaled and Little Mo were protected with long thick pants and closed shoes, all that the girls owned were sandals and flowing gowns. Khaled was overcome with grief and helplessness.

The tallest stranger in the queue cleared his throat and walked towards a broad-leafed carob tree a few feet away. Being a shepherd by trade, he knew the secrets of the large evergreen. At the top of the tree grew large red pods that contained sweet fruit. The broad leaves dripped with morning dew, and their edges glistened in the rising sun.

It was as if Khaled still heard the comforting voice of that shepherd saying, “Everyone, come here. Stand under this tree, and cup your hands together. Catch the dew as I shake it from the leaves. Drink the sweetest water in the land.”

Everyone became ecstatic as their cupped hands filled with the sweet water, and they all drank with gratitude, and then continued on their journey, with pockets stuffed with red pods, known as locust bean gum or St. John’s bread. Legend has it that the locusts that the Baptist ate in the wilderness nearly two thousand years prior were from that carob plant.

Just beyond the Palestinian border, they reached the town of Bint Jubayl in Lebanon, and the line of Palestinians now broke up. The small family huddled closely and made their way through anxious crowds. Khaled remembered asking dozens of people if anyone knew Ali Al Hussein, a prosperous olive oil producer. They finally pointed towards a gathering of hundreds of people. Khaled had asked everyone who the owner of the grove was, when another traveler pointed down the grove to the water well and said, “I do not know the kind man’s name, but he is at the well, welcoming us with water and bread.”

The four young people waited patiently in line for their turn to receive a drink from the well. It was with great joy that they received the good news that Ali Al Hussein was the man at the well. The younger ones sat and devoured hard crusts of bread and did not pay attention to the fear in Khaled’s voice as he shared their twenty-one hour journey with Ali Al Hussein. Ali fought back tears and only shrugged, handing Khaled a blanket and pointing them down the grove to the east. There, they found an unoccupied olive tree. In silence, they spread the blanket atop the dirt and roots and huddled together in the cold October night beneath the tree’s broad canopy. They fell into an exhausted sleep. Khaled, Little Mo, and the young girls remained under that olive tree another night, before Khaled decided they must find shelter.

A mile from the grove, the young family found a vacant, unfurnished room in an unfinished building and sat down. For two days, they moved in a cloud of unknowing and disbelief, as more refugees flooded Lebanon. Daily, Khaled ventured into the town for news, while Little Mo and the girls stayed in and held their ground.

The news was discouraging. Their meager funds were dwindling. Food was expensive and scarce. Khaled looked at his family, anticipating a life of poverty and shame. After returning home on the third day, he announced, “We must move on. I say we go to Damascus. I have my teacher’s certificate with me. I will teach the children of wealthy merchants, and we will eat and sleep without fear until we can return home.”

He smiled, remembering the fierce joy of Khaldiyeh and Latifah when they erupted into song and dance, and Little Mo asked, “Why not?” It was their first laugh since leaving home.

The only transportation available was a decrepit old train that had once carried livestock. Hundreds of refugees packed in like standing sardines. People relieved themselves and vomited all around the young family. After five hours, Khaled noticed the girls looked ready to pass out and announced that they must all jump off.

“I will count to twenty, and then we must all jump at the same time. Are you ready?” The girls were visibly trembling, but nodded yes. Little Mo appeared stoic, but quaked within. Khaled counted slowly as they all stood at the edge of the open car holding hands. Khaled screamed “twenty,” and he, Little Mo, and Latifah jumped, but not Khaldiyeh! With astounding power Khaled ran after the train, climbed back aboard, grabbed his sister, picked her up, and jumped off once more. The siblings were scraped and bruised, but grateful to get off that wretched train. They all laughed for the second time since they had left Majd Al Krum.

The young family walked the remaining mile to Beirut, where they spent the night wide awake in a bus depot, waiting for their ride to Damascus. They were filled with idealistic, youthful hopes, until their connection arrived, carrying thousands of dazed and confused Palestinians.

After disembarking from the long, silent ride, Khaled led his family into a dingy gray Damascus neighborhood. He was able to afford a few nights in a sparsely furnished attic room. On the third day, he ventured alone into the center of the cradle of civilization. Around the corner from their depressing room, Khaled entered the world’s most ancient shopping bazaar, sprawled along winding narrow blocks.

The Damascus streets were filled with incredible sights and smells, overwhelming Khaled’s senses. His gait slowed to a shuffle as he inhaled and savored the pungent spices of meats and the sweet perfume of fresh fruits. He was amazed at the variety of the many-colored fine brocades and silks. He heard dialects and languages he had never heard before. People from the entire planet milled about, and he marveled at their varied fashions. He stopped at a booth displaying rugs and despaired at the thought of his family sleeping another night on a bare floor.

Khaled shivered once more, as he recollected the Syrian merchant with the crooked smile, who asked, “Which carpet is it that you desire?”

Khaled pointed to the thinnest scrap and asked “How much?”

The swarthy merchant replied, “Only 125 Syrian liras. It is a bargain, and it is a fine eye you have for excellent quality. I see you are a smart young man, who will not pass up my gracious offer.”

Khaled was shocked into silence. The amount was five times more than he possessed. He turned to leave, as the rug merchant shouted, “How much can you spend? You cannot just walk away from me. What can you afford? You cannot treat me this way! You must answer me. How much can you spend?”
Khaled never had experienced such a verbal assault from any of the merchants in his hometown, and blurted out, “I have twenty-five Syrian liras.”

The rug merchant’s face clouded over with concern, and he asked, “Ah, young man, are you a refugee?”

Khaled sighed and nodded sadly.

The merchant smiled broadly as he extended his palm to receive all that Khaled had and effusively expressed, “I am so very sorry for all of you refugees. My dear boy, I will lose a lot by accepting your offer. But I feel so sorry for you. I will suffer the loss to make a poor refugee happy.”

Khaled chuckled at how uplifted he had been to think he had made such a great deal. He again visualized himself as he had jubilantly ran and danced his way home, proudly carrying the scrap of wool high above his head. The young family danced with joy on top of their new rug, and laughed and sang with gratitude that they would not be sleeping on a bare floor that evening. A booming knock on their door startled them into a hushed silence. Khaled opened the door and in popped their landlady.

“Just what is all the commotion about? I thought you were coming through the ceiling; you all made so much noise,” she said.

Khaled proudly pointed to the rug and told of the excellent bargain he had made. The landlady stood upon the thin rug and sniffed twice. She spoke through a smirk. “Oh, I have the same rug and paid only nineteen Syrian liras for it.”

Khaled muttered audibly, “I certainly learned the art of bargaining that day!”

   
 
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"HOPE has two children.The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
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The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
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Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

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