On the 26th May 1967, using money borrowed from my stepmother after swearing her to secrecy because I lived in unjustified terror of a very kind Dad, I boarded a flight to Jerusalem. Being then administered by Jordan, I was able to enter the city using my Lebanese identity card.
I explained to my stepmother that I had two reasons for wishing to visit Jerusalem: Firstly, I wanted to see my First True Love who was studying at Beir Zeit University and to bring her back to safety in Beirut. Secondly, with the overwhelming sabre rattling on both sides, I was convinced that there was going to be a war with Israel. I was also absolutely certain that we were going to lose that war because we were disunited, chaotic, backward, leaderless and stupidly tribal. Israel was united, purposeful, technologically years ahead of us and, of course, it had the unconditional support of the most powerful ally in the world; the United States. We had the dubious support of a morally and economically bankrupt Soviet Union who had betrayed Marx’s ideology and who would happily trade off the whole Arab World for its backyard in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and others.
I walked the streets of Old Jerusalem trying to piece together the forthcoming catastrophe. I felt deeply distressed to have this defeatist attitude. I felt as if I were betraying my national homeland – Palestine. However, I was really being a pragmatist facing realities that I could clearly see around me.
Every moment of my two days walking the streets of Jerusalem is deeply etched in my memory. I can still see faces that then only passed me by. I can still see wide eyes staring into the coming abyss seemingly unaware of its destructive force. I can even see that Palestinian woman in her colourful national costume laughingly urging me to taste her neatly arranged red Palestinian tomatoes. “My boys watered them with their pouring sweat day in day out…” I remember laughing as my heart was fit to burst.
I wanted to shout out warnings of what was coming. Cassandra like I knew that I was right and that no one would believe me – some mythical god’s punishment that has haunted me all my life.
After the Six Day War, I left Beirut vowing to live in my British exile. For years I refused to speak Arabic. I mistakenly omitted to teach it to my children. I wrongly gave up on my heritage – even my family. It was as if all the wrongs done to Palestine were personal to me and I invoked a plague of all their houses: Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese and all things Arab. The quintessential and misguided self-hating Arab was born in 1967… I recently met a regular long time contributor to the New Yorker.
He spoke eloquently about the woe of the Arab and Muslim world being our deep seated shortcoming. He did not make a single mention of Israel and the USA utterly manipulating our national narrative to their advantage. When I asked him why he was ignoring the obvious fact that almost every single event in Palestine since the Zionist Basel Conference in 1897 was utterly predictable, he dismissed me with the usual imperial patronising condescension saying “We are not all fortunate enough to have such prophetic insights…”. I sought to engage him in the emerging discussion, but he said that others in the room were understandably entitled to have a chance to speak too and he declined to engage. Others did speak; politely riding his Zionist train of the Muslims as suicidal maniacs and the Arabs as a backward people in need of Western values to civilise them. At the end of the evening, I politely thanked him and left with a rising sensation of nausea that always accompanied me when I discussed Israel and Palestine with Zionists, Christian Evangelists, Jewish and Muslim extremists. I always felt like a Japanese citizen in Hiroshima discussing the virtues of a nuclear free world with his close American friend over breakfast at 08.15 on the morning of the sixth of August 1945; as they looked up at the glistening speck high in the sky – that was the hovering Enola Gay. It felt like having a nice discussion with Adolf Hitler on the virtues of magnanimity and the advantages of racial diversity in a globalised capitalist system – as we sipped healthy herbal tea on the balcony of his Berghof retreat in the Obersalzberg in the beautiful Bavarian Alps.
After two days, I left Jerusalem and headed towards Beir Zeit to take my First Love back home to Beirut. And this was another long story of what should have been a short journey taking the whole day – spent at a checkpoint, of Jordanian ‘security services’ being less than kind and of me finding myself driven to the airport and told to clear off.
I sat on the plane staring out of the window. As the plane rose I caught a brief glimpse of Al-Aqsa which I saw with remarkable gleaming golden clarity for a few seconds. It exploded into tinselled bright stars as my tears of frustration trickled down bruised cheeks.
A week later Israel launched its so-called “pre-emptive strike”. In six days three Arab armies were decimated. And the rest of Palestine was occupied.
A few days later, I stood on the beach in Beirut holding my First Love’s hand. The atmosphere was reverberating with the usual empty words of bravado about liberating Jerusalem. About Palestinian resistance resembling the French Resistance during the German occupation. About the the Crusaders occupation in Palestinian Jerusalem only lasting seventy years.
I laughed bitterly and said that Jerusalem was gone forever. That Palestine was completely lost to us. My First Love gently reprimanded my defeatist discourse and told me that time was on our side. That our national dream will be realised. That our great leader Nasser will unite our great nation… I stared into the sunset and wished that I were born anything but Arab.
Now I am about to turn seventy. Israel is about to turn seventy. And there is no Salahuddin anywhere in sight. There is only Netanyahu sitting in the back of his Prime Ministerial car hardly able to contain his glee as he prepares to spout inanities about Jerusalem being the eternal capital of Israel for three thousand years. About Israel being a “world power”…
Arab leaders are still spouting out the old inanities about red lines being crossed, about Jerusalem being Holy to everyone carrying an aggressive flag of greed masquerading as religious God ordained duty, about our great history coming alive again, about Jerusalem being the eternal Capital of Palestine…
I sat listening to President Trump’s speech feeling utterly numb. Nothing in it actually surprised me. Yet another ‘fact on the ground’ recognised as a reality.
As if several million Palestinians were not also ‘facts on the ground’.
As if I had lived seventy years as a ghost of what might heave been since Palestine was a myth and I some kind of pretty and comical unicorn.
Every single event in the last one hundred and twenty years has been predictable. Just as every coming event is also equally predictable.
As I stared at my breakfast this morning, my Last Love kept reassuring me that the future was ours. That the injustice done to Palestinians will be righted. That Israel will overreach itself as evidenced by Netanyahu’s incessant megalomaniacal pronouncements.
And I looked into the future etched on my uneaten toast and saw, as we all do but can not face up to, the truth. And that truth is one of continued missed opportunities, of division, of greed, of dishonesty and lies, of overwhelming power crushing us, of chaos, of a deplorable lack of leadership and, worst of all, of the little Arab and Palestinian person sleep walking towards an even deeper abyss.
It is this fact that hurts so deeply: a Palestinian mother wakes up this morning somewhere in Palestine, stares at her child lovingly and wishes him or her safe. And I see behind her maternal wish the reality of their murderous end being prepared by an overwhelming imperial world power.
And so the inevitable continues for all eternity. The human eternity of course. That eternity which I can see and touch and not beyond. And my eternity is speeding towards its finishing line.
Ben Gurion said that the old would die and the young would forget. The old died a long time ago. I was then the young. I have not forgotten. And I am now the new old who will soon die. And the new young will not forget either. Beware the wide eyed youths’ fascination and their milk teeth – they will become the new old and they will bite that imperial hand. And lose again. And again.
Until peace reigns and all our and their weapons are melted down to make shovels, scythes, secateurs and other implements to help us build a joint future bound together against the real enemy: inhumanity, greed and selfishness. We can do it. We should have done it seventy years ago. A hundred years ago. We are the many and they the few.
We are the street men and women. We are the hoers and the tillers of our earth. And our children are the future that will bring peace long after the cynics leading us have departed. For tomorrow belongs to those who love peace and not to warmongers who benefit from the misery that they impose on us.
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This post was written by Faysal Mikdadi