art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Zakaria Mohammad: Is This Home?

The following is an excerpt from Zakaria Mohammads Is this Home?, translated from the Arabic by Michael K. Scott. It is a story of Mohammad’s return to Palestine after decades spent in exile.

tumblr_n0m7k6wfob1rouua1o7_r1_1280/The Bearer Of Burdens, Sliman Mansour/

In the days prior to my return I had decided to assume a cool demeanor and contemplate my country as a tourist might, and not as a rapturous and homesick returnee. I wanted to hold the moment in my hands, examine it, and write up the experience. And I wanted to minimize, to the extent possible, any emotional entaglement on my part, so that I could see things clearly. I’ve gotten tired of emotional entanglement… My entire life has been full of that. Now I am an old man who wants to see things clearly with a neutral eye. Yes, I want to be as cold and dry as a stone, if I can.

Then I got to the bridge that connects one bank of the river to the other. I arrived, and ended up on the other side. I came away from the bridge with my blood boiling. Five hours of interrogations and closed rooms with the Israeli secret police seemed to have injected poison into my veins, and obliterated all of the happy scenarios I had constructed for the moment of my return. For the Israelis, these hours were needed so that each and every returnee would understand the truth they wanted understood: you are coming to place yourself under our heel. This is the supreme truth, and everything else follows from it.

I was unable to act like a tourist who sees things with an indifferent eye. I was unable to act like a returnee overcome with yearning and joy. I was unable to tak ein the views or the scenery clearly. I had no ability to contemplate and enjoy, nor to observe or critique my feelings. It took me a few hours in Jericho before I could regain a bit of my composure.

Then we sett of from Jericho. The plam trees on my right provided pleasing company. I found joy in them, until our guide informed us that the Israelis owned all of the plam groves. We walked on, our little flock shimmering ahead like a mirage, stopping only at the Israeli checkpoints.

There was with us a man who had reached, or nearly reached, his old age. He was returning after forty years of absence. All he had lef in the homeland was a married sister in Talouza. He was afraid that this sister might not recognize him, and not acknowledge that he was her brother. She might refuse to receive him. His thinking was beyond me. How could a sister shut the door on her brother, whom she has not seen in decades? The thought seemed ludicrous to me, but the man was afriad it would happen. He wanted us to wait for him until he knew his sister’s reaction, and that of her husband. We didn’t have time to wait. Every one of us wanted to see his mother and family. So we went our way. We left him knocking on his sister’s door, hesitant and in trepidation.

The family home consisted of two concrete rooms whose doors close only at bedtime. There, on my arrival, my sister cried, while my father seemed to be only semiconscious, thinking of the days long gone by, and of the death that hovers around him. As for my mother, she smiled. But her smile seemed to be carrying some illness – some effort to forget – that I could not yet understand. The reunion was no bolt of lightning. I was weightless.

The first days passed in the rush of greetings and hugs. But gradually the war between memory and reality broke out, in my mind.

In exile we lived in memory, and on it. Memory would devour us. It gave us vitality, and it adorned the goal, the purpose of our exile. It would grow and expand, merging with truth and delusion. It had its own routine. It would conjure up a scene from the past for me, whenever and however it wished. We would play together. Memory and I were twins.

So here’s my memory going round and round, like an ant that can’t find its hole after some miscreant hand had messed up the path, the sand and the scent. This is my memory: a lost ant in churned-up sand. Since she can’t stay in this condition – running around in circles – forever, she began on her own to dig a new hole in the ground. And the new hole in the ground? It was my exile. She is working with everything she has to construct and anthill to replace the one that was smashed. She finds her subject, and her self, in exile. Is this home then? Is it ‘home’ for memory to be forced to transform exile into being her ‘thing’, instead of home?”

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art of resistance, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine

Remembering May Ziadeh: Ahead of (her) Time.

May Ziadeh (Marie Elias Ziadeh, born in Nazareth, Palestine in 1886, died in Cairo in 1941) was one of the key figures of the Nahda in the early 20th-century Arab literary scene, and is known for being one of the early Palestinian feminists. Ziadeh was born in Palestine to a Lebanese father and a Palestinian mother, and moved to Egypt where she wrote for Arab newspapers and periodicals.

may ziade iwan behanceMay Ziadeh /image © Iwan/

Her poetry and essays were pioneering, she wrote numerous articles and editorials and was noticed for her translation efforts and intiatives concerning English, German, and French novels of the peirod. Shortly after the Russian Revolution, she raised the issue of socialism and other political ideologies of the day in a series of articles.

In 1921, she convened a conference under the heading “The goal of life”, where she called upon Arab women to aspire toward freedom, and to be open to the Occident without forgetting their Oriental identity. Ziadeh also wrote sensitive biographical studies of three pioneer women writers and poets, Warda al-Yaziji, A’isha Taymur, and Bahithat al-Badiya.

She was perhaps best-known for hosting a Tuesday salon, which remained active for approximately 20 years (1911-1931), during which time May’s house, where it was held, was the pole to which the greatest writers and intellectuals of the age were drawn.

Antje Ziegler writes in her essay May Ziadeh Rediscovered:

„ If May’s, in comparison to other women of her time, nearly unprecedented literary, journalistic and rhetorical efforts to find public recognition, can be seen as a steady search for social integration, the founding of her salon appears to be the logical culmination of these efforts.  Open to men and women of varied religious, national and social background, this salon contrasts with the other famous Egyptian salon of the period, the politically influenced salon of Princess Nazli Abu Fadil, exclusively visited by men.

May Ziadeh was a prominent, but moderate representative of this ‘age of enlightenment’, who did not equate modernity with the denial of cultural heritage in blind imitation of the West.  Strongly dependent on integration herself, she advocated the reconciliation of conflicting views all her life.“

lebanon 2010 July 377Ziadeh /photo via northshorewoman/

Very well known but still mysterious in its nature is her correspondence with Khalil Gibran (who lived in New York), which extended over two decades, though the two never met. Ziadeh became one of the most prolific writers of the new genre of ‘shi’r manthur’, prose poetry or poetic prose.  Her reputation as a critic also grew first of all in connection with Khalil Gibran, whose works she helped make famous in the Arab world with her articles.

Ziadeh never married. At the end of 1920s, she suffered a series of personal losses, beginning with the death of her parents, her friends, and Khalil Gibran. She fell into a deep depression and returned to Lebanon where her relatives placed her in a psychiatric hospital to gain control over her estate. She eventually recovered and returned to Cairo where she died. She left more than 15 books of poetry, literature and translations. I believe none of her works are available in English, unfortunately.

img_34391/image via Bambi’s Soapbox/

Gibran’s letters to Ziadeh were published in a book Love Letters (Ziadeh’s family did not want her letters published, so we do not get to read her responses to Gibran). It feels appropriate to finish this post with one of Gibran’s letters to Ziadeh (written in May of 1921). He writes:

“Where is my letter, May? Why have you not sent it to me? I am eager to receive it, and I want all of it, every little bit of it. Do you know how much I desire to receive that letter after having read a brief snatch of it—a divine fragment which arrived to announce the dawning of a new day?”

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