Even Churchill had, amidst the overgrown hedgerow of complex racism, a deep-rooted sense of decency and humanity when he acknowledged the injustice to Palestinians (whom, like Ben Gurion, he called “Arabs” to salve his conscience): “The position of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs [Palestinians] driven from their homes and existing precariously in the no-man’s-land created round Israel’s frontiers is cruel and dangerous” (Churchill, Winston, The Second World War, Epilogue, 1957). It is interesting that Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt are designated as “no-man’s-land”. Lands without a people for a people without a land, as our Zionist friends would have it. I recently bought a Teach Yourself Hebrew book. I urge all Israel’s neighbours to do the same. Although, I suppose that tears and moans sound the same in any language, don’t they? Emeth.
I walk towards the cottage, determined to go inside.
I must go inside. Security lies there. Warmth is in there. Love resides in its small rooms. Happiness lights up the little cubicles containing so much hope and colour. I must go inside. Every dream starts with me standing at the entrance to the drive, looking at the cottage with a heart full of warmth – yet still with the foreknowledge that I will not be entering the cottage. And every waking moment during the subsequent days, I promise myself that next time I am in my recurring dream, I shall walk down the drive. I shall put my hand out. I shall take the door handle I will push it down. I will push the door inwards. I can see the minute vestibule, the stairs steeply rising to the two little bedrooms upstairs. To my left is the minute kitchen leading into a small front room and, parallel to it, into my cherished study.
In my next dream, I shall go in. I will see my daughter sitting at her little desk writing her “nodel” which is going to be another “dory” of Chicken Licken. I see my son lying in his beautiful mother’s arms fast asleep – he seemed to have slept most of his young life. I wonder if he, too, dreams a lot. Their mother looks up at me with her gargantuan sized eyes and I am transported to a safe, warm and green world – like the Palestine of my dreams. And I still cannot say her name – even after all these years. Did Jews have difficulty saying the old names of their homeland in ancient Palestine whilst in their Diaspora? Did they pretend that they were not Jews? Did they make believe that they could not speak Hebrew or Yiddish? Did they act out their role as renaissance men and women so that they could fit in?
Even civilised people evince phenomenal cruelty when it comes to backing Israel. I am not talking about Prime Minister Churchill or Prime Minister Cameron reminding all and sundry that they had always been Zionists. That is as ridiculous as me saying that as a Palestinian, I had always been a Zoroastrian or some other entity utterly alien to my national background. I could not believe reading the prestigious British historian Sir Martin Gilbert telling us that in 1967 Israel kindly accepted to share its lands with the Palestinians (Gilbert, Israel: A History, 2008, page xxi). That supremely civilised Oxford University literary giant Professor John Carey on a visit to Israel, occupied Palestinian Territories and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, despite his professed Christian beliefs, says that he excuses Israel’s land grab: “Why shouldn’t they [the Israelis] cling to what they had? For my generation the Holocaust excused anything and everything that Israel did to defend itself”. (The Unexpected Professor – An Oxford Life in Books, 2014). Are these people serious? Or are they just deliciously ironic?
Only in Mallards Cottage could I be openly a Palestinian. In my little study, I built endless worlds based on ceaseless readings of great fiction and much poetry. The shifting sands under my Palestinian feet needed something to allow me to hold on to – another reality – a reality of substance. And that reality was born of day dreams and – more opportunely, night dreams that recurred and recurred.
I stand at the end of the drive – so near the cottage. My hand is still outstretched towards the door handle.
And I begin to wake up. I fight hard for the urge to remain asleep. I must go inside the cottage. In there are solutions to all manner of uncertainties. In there is happiness unadulterated. In the cottage are those I love and those who love me. In there is permanence and rootedness that no Zionist colonialist construct could touch.
Open the door, I hear a voice urging. Enter and be safe.
Enter and be loved.
Enter and find eternal life.
Palestine is before you.
And I wake up in a cold sweat.
During the following day, I desperately try to work out why I woke up so frightened. Palestine? The promise of Palestine? The fear of the unknown? But there is nothing unknown about what is inside Mallards Cottage. There is nothing in there but love and happiness – everything was perfect; well, apart from the divorce which, I admit, was a bit of a glitch but that was one loss amidst so many others. Losing Palestine trains one to lose so much else. So, after the divorce, I quickly remarried, lived with more uncertainties caused by the immortal beloved’s alcoholism, divorced again and sought psychiatric help from a wonderful Freudian to whom I fully transferred all the love in the world. Even in my dream, I can hear my Christian Zionist friend telling me that psychiatry was the devil’s work because it basically excused every ungodly behaviour that our self-indulgent globalised persona chooses to adopt.
Ralph Miliband advocated “condemning the Israelis for their foreign policy in the name of Socialist principles, but without putting the existence of the State [of Israel] in question”.
Whereas this appears to make sense, it is the very discourse that allowed the setting up of an alien state on the land of indigenous inhabitants and at the cost of their lives, liberty, homes, lands and freedoms. Similarly, my favourite philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, allegedly “wrestled with how the anti-colonialist should properly view Israel and Zionism but still advocated solidarity with the Jewish State”. This is one of the most difficult enigmas to understand. Miliband and Sartre were two of thousands of allegedly intellectually powerful leftist commentators who felt like this. But this attitude is not only part of left wing politics. It applies to others on the right as I have seen all through my life.
There is the handle. Tonight, I shall walk in and find the real me. And live the real life which I somehow missed at some crossroads where I turned that way instead of this and so was led elsewhere than to where I now wish to be.
I dream that I walk through the field adjacent to Mallards Cottage. I can feel the cold bracing air against my face. A cup of hot tea will be waiting in the front room. And we shall sit on those cheap beige corduroy covered polystyrene chairs. Once sitting in them, it was difficult to get up without having to make a great effort and grunt a great deal. But they were so special, those chairs, with the minute black cigarette holes from the Gauloises or Gitane cigarettes. I used to read my new creations to an audience of one. She smiled and encouraged my aspirations. That audience of one doubled its number with the birth of our daughter. A few years later our number augmented by a further fifty per cent with the birth of a son.
I made up stories.
And in that seminal dream – that dream where I took control – I realised that Palestine was also a dream. There will be no return. There will be no Palestine. We will continue expanding our Diaspora. We will become the new wandering Jews. We will continue to accept our suffering. We will learn to hate ourselves for our misfortunes. And, one day, someone will write a book and we will seek a national homeland and persecute some other currently unsuspecting ‘native’ tilling the land in peace. That was precisely what a Rabbi suggested to me as he tried to explain the flux of history – a quintessential Marxist dialectic that leads to the predictably unpredictable. Things change. And change becomes settled. And all history becomes irrelevant. Palestinians in Israel or the Occupied Territories will become second class citizens like the liberated slaves in America and, even, when one of them becomes a Leader of the nation, he or she will have to out-Jew the Israeli Jews in order to succeed. Like Thatcher did as a first woman Prime Minister, Obama as a first black President’etc’ examples abound all through history.
And Palestine is no more.
It is, though, still in Mallards Cottage and always will be.
Another way of saying that Palestine is in our hearts, minds and memories.
And, in this determined dream, I do grab the handle and push it down. I do walk into the cottage.
I know that I am dreaming. I know that I am sleeping. I know that I am manipulating the recurring dream. Like all my recurring dreams, I need to be in control. And I know that I could wake up any minute and so the whole entry into the cottage takes on an urgent and irreversible quality. I am embarrassed to feel a little like a teenager fantasising as he or she masturbates and conjures up the narrative needed to urge the much desired crisis.
I walk into the cottage.
I walk into the front room and head for my favourite beige seat and sink into it. I crave for a French cigarette. I look at the fireplace and want it lit although the room is warm.
In the room sat an old man. He sat in my chair. In that chair sat I. I am old. And I think of Eliot’s delicious line: “I grow old’ I grow old’ I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled”. I have never understood why I love those lines so much.
I am old. Before me sit our two children – a confident and strong middle aged duo smiling gently at little old me. One of them points to their mother and I look to the side and there she sits. An old woman. I recognise her because those eyes have not diminished in size and their capacity to light up the world has not been fully eclipsed with age.
And our two children speak in one Disneyesque voice. They say in perfect unison like a parody of Oscar Wilde’s Algernon and Earnest: “Returns never work Dad. You cannot go back Dad. You should have stayed on the drive and lived with your beautiful memories. Time has surged ahead and took all before it. This Cottage is no longer. Memories are all that you now have Dad.”
And I looked down at my hands. One was trembling slightly. I wanted to explain what Mallards Cottage meant. What Palestine meant. And how memories, stories, poems and make belief always work to salve our hurts.
I look up and open my mouth to speak. There is no one there. The room is furnished in a minimalist modern style. I jump up and look through the open entry into my study. There are no books in there. The desk is gone. I look out of the window and see the Star of David fluttering as it did the first time I saw it above the Wailing Wall. I remember thinking that the behaviour of worshippers looked a little like theatre with their props and their self-conscious movements.
I walked out of the cottage and onto the drive.
I walked to the entry into the drive and turned around to look at the cottage.
I so wanted to go back to the recurring dream without the entry into the cottage. Just the memories, the feelings, the smells, the warmth, the safety, the security, the sensations and the endless possibilities of peace, love and the sunny uplands.
I turned around and looked left and then right into South Green Lane.
I stepped onto the Lane and shuffled quietly and finally out of my recurring dream.
Out of the dream into the real world where, as I said some time ago, I live by the eternal dictum that will never vary an iota from the self-evident truth that “I cannot and will not bear a gun. I cannot and will not hurt a fellow human being whatever s/he is or chooses to believe. I deplore all violence and all acts of injustice. So I draw out of its scabbard, not my sword, but my pen and I create little worlds of anger, hurt, upset, betrayal, love, friendship, peace and – most of all – forgiveness for pasts beyond our control any longer and coexistence for futures in our hands if only we would.” (Painted into a Corner, 2014).
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This post was written by Faysal Mikdadi