Nakba: Palestine in Our Blood and Memory
Living in Palestine is a privilege. I did not choose to live here, but I was born here, as my mother and father before me, and their mothers and fathers before them, and the land and its history are in our blood and memory. When visitors ask my father, “How long has your family been living in the country?” he always replies, “My grandfathers played chess with the shepherds who received the good news about the birth of Jesus Christ.”
Here I am, part of an ancient people with a long history in a land I am grateful to live on, yet I feel stuck between a hammer and a rock. This has been part of my lived experience in my several decades of life, and today we remember the Nakba, the expulsion of our people, the uprooting of many of our traditions, and the subsequent occupation that became the only life Palestinians have known since 1967.
There are many stories I could tell from my grandparents’ experience with the Nakba of 1948, but instead I will focus on what it means for me today in the daily injustices I endure (and of course, my fellow Palestinians as well).
As a Palestinian from the West Bank, I am not allowed to visit Israel or worship in Israel’s Christian sites unless I have a special permit from the military. Palestinian Christians generally receive such permits during Christmas and Easter. I have written about the inconvenience and humiliation of using our permits to enter Israel, but I decided to visit this past Easter. I wanted to take my Christian students on a visit to the Holy City so they could pray where Jesus carried his cross, where he died, and where he was resurrected. I decided to bring my children with me so they could see and experience this as well.
As we walked around Jerusalem’s Old City looking at the ancient stones and soaking in the history of this place, and our spiritual and physical ancestry, my daughter got lost in the crowd. I was frantic. Jerusalem is always busy, particularly during Easter, and she was running around in an unfamiliar place filled with Jerusalemites, Palestinians, Israelis and tourists. My students and I began shouting her name, trying to look through the crowded alleys behind me and in front of me.
All of a sudden, we were surrounded by soldiers and police. A new fear leapt in my chest. I was afraid for my daughter, but we were also surrounded and I realized that I needed to stop as I was about to be the death of myself or one of my students, as they looked at us as threats and potential terrorists. I called out to the soldiers with all the calm I could muster, “Don’t shoot! My daughter is lost!” Somehow, I got through to them, and they began to walk away and chat with one another.
Overwhelmed by the situation, thoughts rushed through my mind. We are no longer viewed as threats; that’s good. I just told them I lost my daughter, and they walked away. Would they have helped me if I were Israeli? I dismissed these last two thoughts, telling myself, they only fulfilled their orders, so how could I expect any different behavior from them? I justified their dismissive actions toward me. Should I have?
There was no time to linger on such thoughts as we immediately resumed our search. Shortly thereafter, a woman approached us with my daughter. She was a tourist, and she found my daughter running and crying, and she held her and helped her find us.
Yes, my friends, living in Palestine is a privilege that many other Palestinians who were expelled cannot enjoy. Yet, living in Palestine is also a punishment, a constant reminder that the Nakba did not end in 1948. It continues and shows its ugly face in the ongoing occupation that says we do not belong. The day we were kicked out of our villages to never return was just the beginning. The West Bank is divided and continues to be carved apart to make room for more Jewish settlements, while our areas for development are choked. An apartheid wall separates us from some of our holiest sites, preventing movement. This is the ongoing catastrophe, the ongoing Nakba.
As long as we have breath, we will not accept this. The occupation will not push us into despair. We will embrace the goodness of our humanity, showing you how we love to live life and will make the best of our situation. We will continue to cultivate the land. We will welcome tourists to worship and walk among our rolling hills and holy sites. And we will raise our children as we were raised, to know this land is in their blood and memory.