Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Searching for Jerusalem

This is a creative short story (fictional) I wrote several years ago for high school English. I rediscovered it while cleaning out some of my documents! I thought I'd share the writings of younger me. I like to think my writing has somewhat improved...

“If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears,” my grandmother said, whispering the poignant words of a Palestinian poet as we stood beside the olive tree in our backyard. The verse silently resonated in the air. It remained lingering that night, like musical notes dancing around me.

It was dusk. The sapphire sky was stained with a brilliant orange and pink – the sun’s farewell kisses. The smell of summer hung in the evening air and the backyard stood still. A few stars crept out, like lanterns, scattered and distant.

My Teta – my grandmother – lived with us in Australia.

She was granted permanent residency.

The day Teta landed here was harrowing. She cried despairingly, lamenting her loss of Palestine and the land, home and life she had always known.

She shed one tear for



Of soil that once crumbled beneath her feet in Palestine.

Teta’s loss was first officially declared in 1948. Documented, validated and filed away forever. It was proclaimed once again upon her arrival to Australia, like a bold red stamp across her heart, the ink fusing into her blood and tightening her chest until she could not breathe properly any more.

She would not be able to return home.
She would die here.

After spending days in the spare bedroom staring solemnly out the window into a foreign land, Teta finally joined us. I am happy to be here with my family, she said, with a small hint of reluctance. Still, we responded with a collective sigh of relief that shook date palms in Nazareth.

My father went out and bought an old olive tree from the Saturday bazaar.
To remind her of home, he said.
We helped dig, plant and tend the olive tree – her olive tree – in our backyard.

One day.

Two days.

Three months.

Six months.


The olive tree branched out and bore its fruit, and Teta started looking hopeful. Her gaunt face seemed fuller. She spent hours sitting beside the tree, and eventually, after some growth, beneath it. The tree’s scent wafted with the lost secrets of the Old City.

Laughter from inside the house suddenly broke the calm of the backyard. My parents had guests over. They were sipping black coffee, peeling oranges and smoking apple-flavoured tobacco like chimneys.

Ya Allah. Oh god,” Teta exclaimed, “they haven’t left yet? Please habibti, darling, make me a pot of tea.”


Outside, Teta and I sat on milk crates under the olive tree. She held her mug tightly.

She sighed. “You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand why people come here to see a bridge. A bridge! If they are wide-eyed over some old metal…they will faint with awe in Palestine. But here I am…near a famous bridge...away from your grandfather. I was lucky to have found him…you should have seen how much he loved the land he tended. Do you know how fertile the land is back home? It’s not like here. Not like here at all. He looked so rugged working the field! I loved harvesting our olive grove with him. What…? You think finding a person attractive is a modern day thing? Don’t laugh at me! Everyone likes a nice figure. Your grandfather had so many stories too…he would tell us old folktales…his face always animated…his hands, almost dancing…”

She paused, reliving the long-gone days in her mind, searching her memories.

“Did I ever tell you about our wedding night?”

I shook my head, picturing the red and black wedding gown she had told me about many times before. I didn’t mind listening again.

“I wore a long red and black dress woven with the most beautiful threads and sequins. They are much better than the silly white tents women wear. I can hear the loud pounding of the drums now, the strumming of the lute…I can see our family and friends clapping and singing around us, giving us their blessings. I remember the trees being decorated with lanterns, like stars on earth celebrating with us. The people in our town beamed down at us from their balconies as we walked down the narrow cobble stoned streets, behind the jumping drummers. Your grandfather held my hand and kept smiling over at me while we traced the path of Palestine. I was so lucky, habibti. He was handsome, you know? He could have been in films.”

She smiled to herself, but the silence quickly turned solemn.

“They knocked down our home…and they took your grandfather down with it…as if he was a stone brick himself. Not human. How could anyone do that? I don’t understand. I never once thought that they would come for our family like that. You hear the news…the stories…of the occupiers kicking people out of their homes…but you don’t expect it to happen to you. Your grandfather...he stood in front of the house, arms stretched out as long as the cold stream that ran through our town, while I clung onto the deeds of the land…I tried to show them that this home was here before they were born…and I cried out to him to move out of the way…to let them take the house down, to take what was left of our olive and fig trees…but he was stubborn like that…defiant…”

Her throat tightened.

I reached out to hold my grandmother’s hand. She clutched mine back and we listened to the crickets.


Teta’s tea suddenly splashed. I'm not sure how long we had been sitting there, reflecting.

After some initial surprise – what was that? – she peered into her mug and burst into laughter. “What an intrusive little thing!” she said, removing an olive that had fallen from the tree. “Here I am sulking and it jumps at me…and there is no breeze either…”

I joked about her being an Isaac Newton reincarnate – returned as poetic, Palestinian and female.

She chuckled some more and studied the olive on her palm. And for the first time, I think, I witnessed a kind of contentment in her eyes.

I looked up and inspected the canopy of leaves. “Maybe it’s a sign.”

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Rachel Corrie's intentional killing ruled as 'accident' by Israeli court

Standard, unsurprising, but still devastating.

Rachel Corrie, an American activist for the International Solidarity Movement, was crushed by an Israeli Occupation Force bulldozer in 2003 while trying to stop the demolition of a home in Gaza. Corrie was standing - very visibly - in front of the IOF bulldozer on a mound of dirt in a bright orange vest. The driver proceeded to drive over Corrie, killing her, and reversing over her body. This was no accident. This is one of Israel's endless and habitual list of crimes against Palestinians and activists.

The judge, Oded Gershon, claimed Corrie was "protecting terrorists". If shielding a home from illegal demolition is terrorism, what would you call illegally demolishing a family's home? The state of Israel - a rogue state in every sense of the word - has rid itself of any accountability for Corrie's death. Israel can do no wrong, remember? Its aggression stems from taking "security measures" against Palestinians. Israel is merely only protecting itself against people who are protecting themselves against Israel's aggression. This would make a brilliant tragicomedy.

Today, justice was not served for Rachel Corrie, her family or for Palestinians. If it doesn't come tomorrow, it will be pursued the day after. If not the day after, then the day after that. For months to come, for years to come, for decades to come. Whatever it takes. The struggle continues. Vale Rachel Corrie.

DAM, a Palestinian hip hop group, got it right about Israel in their song Meen Erhabe (Who's the Terrorist?): "You're the witness, the lawyer and the judge".

Inevitably, and soon hopefully, Israel will face its own trial. And the Zionists will be held accountable for every single injustice they have committed - from holding up Palestinians at checkpoints to seizing their land, demolishing their homes and attacking their places of refuge with white phosphorous.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Local issues vs non-local issues

I have been pondering a thought-provoking comment that was recently posted on Facebook. The gist of it: many people seem to find it easier to address and protest injustices that take place overseas, and are more ready to act on non-local issues rather than issues taking place at home.

As a Palestinian-Australian who is concerned with the 64-year plight of Palestinians (if you couldn't tell by now), I believe that working on local and non-local issues should not be mutually exclusive. We live in a global society, so there is some kind of expectation that people will be engaged in and aware about the world around them and beyond them.

I find that people who are genuinely concerned (I use ‘genuinely’ for a reason – stay tuned) with rights issues beyond their borders (and I can only speak from an Australian/western perspective) are very much involved in, or at least sympathetic, aware about and tuned in with local issues, whether they are indigenous issues, refugee and asylum seeker issues, women, housing and poverty, gay rights and racism. I believe it is fair to say that an Australian who feels strongly about the exploitation of immigrant workers in the Emirates will not be the kind of person who is apathetic about the mistreatment of asylum seekers in Australian detention centres.

It is definitely not easier to campaign injustices that occur in other countries (and I’m being vague here since ‘injustice’ in this context is a terribly broad word) unless you are simply showing support by using oversimplified slogans or by sharing a status, Kony 2012-style. That requires no effort.

Solid campaigning and humanitarian work usually requires a good amount of money, effort, dedication, effort and support.

But it’s not so much about addressing issues ‘here’ or ‘there’ – it’s the reasons behind why people are so passionate about what they are passionate about.

I am unsettled greatly by people who support certain social justice causes for very politicised reasons. People continue to cherry pick what they care about if it suits their politics, their ethnic background, their faith or their religious sect. Their solidarity is not motivated by sincere universal humanitarianism or anti-racism. In the Arab and Muslim community here, for example, some people might only want to see a free Palestine because they are concerned for their ‘Muslim brothers and sisters’. Or they reject Zionist racism against Palestinians, yet have anti-Semitic beliefs or hold racist views against other groups of people. A person might staunchly support Assad’s aggression in Syria because they are Shia, or Al Khalifa’s brutality in Bahrain because they are Sunni. There are people who hardly acknowledge colonialist brutality against Aboriginal Australians – the first people of this land – but are quick to denounce colonisation elsewhere. There are people who believe in full civil rights for all…unless you’re gay.

At first I thought I was giving this sort of attitude too much significance, but this kind of cognitive dissonance is becoming more and more apparent to me.