62 years, memories from my village

A few months ago I attended the debut play by the Irish-Palestinian playwright Hannah Khalil. The play entitled “Plan D” was a look at the lives of a small family living in a generic Palestinian village during the spring of 1948. I was moved by the play, and it haunted me for a while afterwards, actually I still think about it every now and then. It was disturbing in the most subtle of ways, and it certainly got into my head. One of the things that bothered me and the people I was with was the fact that the family in question never fought back. They heard whispers of something coming, and knew that their neighbors had disappeared. Playing it safe, they decided to camp out in the hills near their home, and keep a lookout to see what unfolded. The father eventually goes back to check on the house, and upon entering the kitchen he sees  a man seated at the kitchen table grinning at him. The father leaves back to the hills, and takes his family to Jerusalem on foot, when asked what prompted his sudden departure he said “I felt like I never existed”. I asked Hannah afterwards about this, I mean we were brought up to believe that we fought back, and only when we ran out of ammo did we leave, to catch up with the Arabs, form an army and return, assuming a timescale of a month or two at most. Hannah said that that part was based on a true story. I was stunned.

This year I went back to Jordan, my first ‘proper’ visit in 9 years. I spent loads of time with my Aunts and remaining Uncle, and found them to be unusually open and chatty about their experience of the Palestinian Nakbe. I say unusually, because I have found that my relatives tend to speak about the pre-Nakbe period or they focus on politics or life in Irbid. They tend to avoid massive chunks of their experiences, namely their experience of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and their times in the refugee camps of Karami (Jordan). With Hannah’s play still playing on my mind, I pressed my Aunt for more details of our village and what happened there.

My Aunt was eight at the time and she remembers how she used to play with the European soldiers, who gave her sweets, and how one day when she skipped up to them they angrily told her to get lost “rookh!”. Confused, she returned home. Not long after, her sisters and younger brothers, along with their Mum and elders moved to the hills surrounding the village. They left behind the young men.

No shots were fired when my village was invaded, or so my Aunt says. The Iraqi army, from whom the Palestinian ‘fighters’ took orders, entered one night and told the Palestinians not to fire, as people walked into the village. Who these people were, what exactly the Iraqi army said or did and how the Palestinians reacted I may never know. My grandfather and eldest Uncle are dead, and they would have been on the front lines so to speak. My Aunt does remember that her brother in laws father remained in the village, and was never seen or heard from again and she remembers whisperings of what happened in Deir Yassin. Someone said that they saw his dead body in front of his house.

So my Aunt remembers, starting the long walk to Jerusalem. Along the way, her heavily pregnant 16 year old sister goes into labour, in the middle of a valley with planes flying over their heads. No army was formed when they arrived in Jerusalem, and thus began the refugee camp years. She remembered later meeting someone whose village had also been invaded. The villagers were locked up in the village hall. One girl caught the eyes of the soldiers and was dragged off, only to be returned later looking sullen. They came again for her, and the girl was terrified, she kicked and she screamed, her parents clung to her, but the soldiers dragged her off. She was never seen again either.

These stories are rarely told and are rarely heard. Rape is viewed as the failure of the man to protect his womenfolk. This may be why so many people left the villages, the idea was to get the women to safety. This was deemed more important than land.

This vagueness I have regarding the history of my own village pains me really. And is why the oral history project, spearheaded by www.palestineremembered.com is so important to us and future generations.

Here is commemorating the 62nd year of the Nakbe


Jordan – 9 years on (BAJD2010)

It had been 9 years since I last paid a proper  visit to Jordan, but I recently went back for 2 weeks. I was greeted by a freak heatwave in the middle of the bitter Jordanian winter, and instead of the bone chilling cold and sobbas I got warm sunny days. It had been 6 years since I had seen most of my relatives, and during this time two of my uncles had passed away. A loss which struck me again when I arrived, and I kicked myself for not having gone back sooner, in time to see them one last time. But as is life, I dont have a money tree and I guess my priority is to visit my nuclear family at least once a year.

While in Jordan I felt ‘something’ had changed, certainly the little I saw of Amman was busier, more developed, and significantly more capitalised. In northern Jordan in general there was a boom in billboard adverts, with slogans such as “together we can build a better future”, and I remembered thinking what that was about? There were far more leisure outlets as well, such as the King Abdullah gardens and the water park, which were not there 9 years ago. The explosion of malls did not escape my attention either, there is, what, four or five of them now, and I left the day after they opened abdoun mall (the first mall in Jordan), and there are now plans for another in Irbid. I was saddened however at the high perecentage of imported goods, I would have preferred to see more home grown products in the malls. But I guess we can always go to wist-al-balad for that, which I did, and was pleased to see it was the same!

In terms of spirit, I did feel that the few young people who had remained were optimistic, and were developing plans for their futures. My engineer cousin has yet to succumb to the lure of the gulf, and enjoys a decent job with a decent salary and health care, and the option to switch jobs. This luxury of choice of companies to work for was not as available when I was there, I recall a deep pessimism in the land regarding career progression, but now, at least with the few that I spoke to, they felt they could build a life in Jordan. Having said this, I did feel the Jordan is an ageing society, with so many of its youth and middle-agers having travelled abroad, and people did complain about the broadening divide between the super-rich and super-poor.

I was impressed by the new Jordan highway, as well as the northern bus station (so much cleaner, organised and pleasanter than abdali). I was also gobsmacked at immigration, I usually get through passport control in a bad mood, due to the officer being rude, but this time things went really smoothly, and the officer smiled and was really pleasant! It turns out this was not a one off experience, my sister reported the same phenomena when she joined me a few days later. We were both impressed and pleased by this!

The mumtaz taxi service gets a mixed reaction from me, their phone service is professional and friendly, but their drivers still try to bargain and switch the counter off just before they reach their destination, but of course you can always complain.

Above all, I just loved seeing my relatives again! I loved being reminded of all the amazing qualities that Palestinians/Jordanians have, that often are absent in the people who travel west. I was reminded of how genuinley generous they were, how unassertive and how much they hated upsetting people, and how hospitable! It was great to be reminded where my little quirks come from.

child abuse… why?

Dont people realise that there are people in this world desperate for a child? who put themsleves through the painful and undignified process of fertility treatment just for a baby?

Then others are handed children on a plate and do this to them.

The little girl had boiling water poured over her hands, had huge clumps of hair ripped from her head.

She was also kicked so hard in the groin she suffered internal injuries, was locked naked in the toilet each night and forced to eat her own faeces.

the girl is 4, and this was done to her by her parents, she also suffers cerebral palsey.

A fact that I find absolutley shocking, published by the NSPCC is that each week a child will be killed by a parent or carer!!!!!

But why do people do this? why abuse a child? this is not even a case of ‘fit of range’, this was cold, calculated torture of the only person that will love them unconditionally after their own parents…