I wrote about Suad Amiry’s Sharon and my Mother-in-Law last year, but today I decided to post this excerpt to get you excited about the book – if you haven’t read it already. The book is a result of her Ramallah diaries (from 1981 to 2004), where she described her everyday life under occupation.
” ‘You kick us out of Jaffa, then wonder how come we’re born elsewhere!’
These were the first words to gush out of my mouth when I opened it to answer the first in a long list of questions asked by the Israeli security officer at Lod (Tel Aviv) airport.
I was certainly not in the mood. It was 4.30 in the morning on a hot summer day in 1995. The almost five-hour flight from London had fatigued me and all I wanted to do was rush out of the airport to meet Ibrahim, who had sweetly come all the way from Ramallah to pick me up at this very early hour.
My anxiety and irritation increased as the young woman at passport control slipped a pink tag into my Palestinian passport. I, of course, have no problems either with pink, or with being Palestinian. But at that very moment, all I wanted was a white tag. As I had experienced many times before, pink automatically meant at least an extra hour with security officers at the airport. Oh, how I wanted a white tag this time! I was simply not in the mood.
‘How come you were born in Damascus?’ The officer repeated, obviously neither pleased nor satisfied with my impulsive reply. I was not in the mood to tell the security officer that in 1940 my father, who had come to Beirut from Jaffa, was overwhelmed the minute he saw my Damascene mother. She was eighteen, he was thirty-three. He had graduated from the American University of Beirut some twelve years before, while she was still a student at the British Syrian Training College. The minute he stepped inside the grandiose courtyard of her family mansion in Damascus old town, and realized how rich her merchant father was, his dream of marrying this dashingly beautiful, tall woman with greenish-grey eyes started to fade. In the end, this particular dream was fulfilled, but many others were shattered, and my father and mother lived a tormented life together.
In December 1978 my father died of a heart attack in Prague while attending a writers’ conference. The well-known Palestinian writer Emile Habibi was the last person to see my father alive and spend the evening with him. I was not in the mood to inform the Israeli security officer that every time my mother got pregnant, she went back to Damascus to give birth. In 1943, 1944 and 1949, she travelled between Jerusalem and Damascus to give birth to my sisters, Arwa (now a psychologist living in Amman) and Anan (a sociologist now living in America), and, much later, to my brother, Ayman (a diplomat). She also travelled between Amman and Damascus where I was born two years after that. I did not want to admit to this as it would only complicate matters and would certainly increase the security officer’s fears for Israel’s security, thus prolonging the interrogation.
‘Have you ever lived in Damascus?’ he asked.
‘No,’ came my brief answer.
I was not in the mood to tell the officer that until the age of eighteen, when I left Amman to study architecture at the American University of Beirut, my workaholic mother, who owned a publishing and printing firm, looked forward to getting rid of her four children every summer.
The very first week of our summer vacation, she sent us off to her parents’ house in Damascus or to her relatives in Beirut. My brother Ayman and I were more than happy to spend part of the summer vacation with our unmarried aunts, Nahida and Suad (after whom I was called), who totally spoiled us and my two teenage sisters.
‘Do you have relatives in Syria?’
‘No.’ End of conversation.
I was not in the mood to tell the security officer at Tel Aviv airport that my mother was the youngest in a family of eleven, and that was just her nuclear family. I did not want to scare him by saying that I had four aunts and four uncles, and over twenty cousins. They and their families all lived in Damascus.
It would have been difficult for me to explain to him that I have always envied my parents, and even my grandparents, for living at a time when residing in, or travelling between, the beautiful cities of the region was not such a big deal and did not call for security checks. I was always intrigued when my father described his trips between Jaffa and Beirut, which included lunch at a seaside restaurant in Sidon. I was even more intrigued when my mother described to me how in 1926, as a child of four, she had visited her mother’s family, the Abdulhadis, in the village of ‘Arrabeh in Palestine. I have always been enchanted by their route between Damascus and ‘Arrabeh, which took them down the Yarmouk valley through the beautiful plains of Marj Ibin ‘Amer and Sahel Jenin. ‘First we went to our relatives in Nablus, and a few days later we went on horses to the village of ‘Arrabeh,’my mother would say. It was the horse ride which fascinated my mother, whereas it was the impossibility of taking such a trip between ‘Arrabeh and Damascus now which bothered me more.
The security man handed me and my passport over to a security woman sitting in a room behind a desk, then disappeared, leaving me alone with her. She flipped through my passport, and asked assertively,
‘And what were you doing in London?’
‘I went dancing,’ I answered, looking her straight in the eye, with an expressionless, tired face, and a voice even more assertive than hers.
‘Do you think you’re being funny?’ she said, her voice louder and more serious.
‘No. And do YOU have any problem with dancing?’ My voice now much lower and more sarcastic.
‘What was the purpose of your visit to London?’
‘Dancing,’ I insisted.
‘You know that failing to cooperate with us on security matters will result in your arrest?’ ‘Fine’, I replied, quickly resigned to this ridiculous verdict, ‘but I need to go out and inform poor Ibrahim, who has been waiting outside the airport for hours to pick me up.’
‘No, you are not permitted to go; and who is Ibrahim? Is he a relative?’
I was not in the mood and I did not want to tell the two security officers that Ibrahim was not exactly a relative, as none of my relatives, and neither my husband nor any of my friends from Ramallah, are allowed to come pick me up from the airport. I wondered if the officers knew that I, like many other Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, needed many types of permits to move about: a permit to enter Jerusalem, another to go out to Jordan, a third to enter Israel, a fourth to work in Israel, an impossible one to enter Gaza, and a four-hour permit to use the airport, which gives you just enough time to get there with no flat tyres or accidents, lasamahallah (God forbid). Ibrahim is one of two or three taxi drivers in Ramallah who happen to have a car with a yellow licence plate, which allows him to pick up passengers from the airport.
I was not exactly in the mood to tell the officer that one of my dreams is simply for my husband to be able to pick me up from the airport or from Allenby Bridge when I come back from a trip. But that is a privilege no Palestinian has.”