art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

The subtle echoes of Nakba and Taha Muhammad Ali.

The fifteenth of May came, and it passed – it passed like the air passes through our body – an everyday thing, quiet and subtle, although it’s so important and so essential.

It was the day of Nakba, the day when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled from their homes, when they watched the skies falling on their heads, when they died or continued to live – with sadness and longing, always looking back, back to that all-defining 1948.

nakba-620x350Nakba, image © Hanini

It was exactly on that day this year, that I found myself reading Adina Hoffman‘s My happiness bears no relation to happiness, a biography of the great Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali. It was a regular day, I was sitting in a remote café close to Zagreb’s main square, far from Palestine, far from anything that could make my mind drift there. I had a break from work and opened the book. I wanted to read it for such a long time, I couldn’t wait. So I read, and I read.

I was in Palestine, in Saffuriyya, with Taha, selling eggs and feeding his family at the age of 11, with Taha and his father, listening to the stories of other village people in their madafeh, with his mother, Um Taha, preparing fresh bread with herbs. I was with Taha when he broke a little hole in the wall of his house and opened his little shop where he sold candies, soda, and all the little treats not easy to get in the village.

It was the month of Ramadan, and Taha decided to spend all his money to get a lot of good things, he even decided to buy a flock of goats, although his father warned him to save some money, because they’ve already heard the bad news about other villages and changes happening – they’ve also seen some refugees… Still, there was hope, hope nothing bad would happen. Why would it happen? Taha bought a lot of things, spent his money, and – on the evening of the 15th of May, set out with his goats to wander the hills for a while.

Now, for the part that followed, I will quote the book directly ;

Following the dirth path that ran beside the bayader, he walked for about five minutes, and it was then that he heard an odd, low, whirring sound, something circling in the air above. As it lifted to a whistle, then mounted to a roar, he saw a brilliant flash, felt a crash and tremor, and another – then everything was smashing glass and rising smoke, shouts in the distance, wailing nearby, people running, children crying, the sixteen goats yelping in terror as they scattered.“

Saffuriyya was bombed number of times in the course of that night – unarmed civilians were bombed number of times in the course of that night.

I couldn’t continue reading. It was too much. A great book can tare you apart, but when it’s a great book and you also know it’s not fiction – it can tare you apart and brake you down to your bones. It was a little later that it hit me – that I read that part on the same date – the fifteenth of May.

Taha lost his village sixty six yeary ago, he lost his little shop, he lost the life he knew as life. But he didn’t give up on it, he didn’t forget that image, those memories, those emotions. As most of the Palestinians do – he continued to live his Palestine. And it’s a painful thing, because emotions are not clothes you can get rid of when the season changes. You may forget the details, the names, the exact hours – but you never forget how you felt, how someone or something made you feel. “In my poetry,” Taha Muhammad Ali said, “there is no Palestine, no Israel. But, in my poetry, suffering, sadness, longing, fear, together, make the results: Palestine and Israel.“

The Nakba people felt fear, pain, anger, sadness… And it is still here, sixty six years ago.  Because not much has really changed. There’s still so much uncertainty, so much pain, fear, and anger that is being concieved and reborn under the status quo.

It is as if all the hills are echoing – justice, justice finally! But when will the Israeli government hear it? When will it acknowledge the echoes of the past that are spilling all over the present? When will it finally see Taha and his flock of goats, shivering in the darkness?

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Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Haifa University drowns out Nakba commemoration with dance music.

Author: Sawsan Khalife / Electronic Intifada

“The blue and white flag is your flag — you are in the Jewish state — even if that makes your stomach turn. ‘Hatikva’ is your national anthem even if it makes your heart explode. And if you don’t like that, go drink the sea in Gaza.”

Those words were uttered by a right-wing member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in 2010, following Palestinian lawmaker Haneen Zoabi’s participation in the flotilla to Gaza aboard the Mavi Marmara.

Ever since I heard these words, I knew them to be the most accurate way to describe what it is like for Palestinians who live in Israel and endure all its institutions, including its universities.

On my way to class at Haifa University yesterday, I noticed a large gathering of students and a significant number of security guards on campus.

Following the dean’s rejection of the attempts by Palestinian student parties on campus to hold a rally in memory for the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the students decided to simply gather, without holding flags or banners. Technically they were not violating the dean’s ban.

Surreal

But I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was a very surreal situation. There was very loud trance music being played by a DJ for a crowd of security personnel and Palestinian students.

So I asked one of the students what was happening: “The university approved a DJ party in place of our rejected Nakba memorial,” he said, red faced.

At the same moment, a student union representative spoke from the stage, next to the DJ: “We invite you all to the university’s student day — Muslims, Christians, Druze and Jews. We are a pluralist country, it doesn’t matter who you are, you are all invited to join us.” The representative spoke with a big smile, then started to dance.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon. The area was almost empty of students because of the relatively late hour, except for a few Jewish students dancing with a huge Israeli flag.

Notably, the student union holds events with music on Wednesdays, and only at noon. It was a Monday, and there was no special occasion.

Almost the only students there were the Palestinian students commemorating the Nakba.

After the dance party announcement, an elder Palestinian man urged the students to stay calm: “Don’t listen to him. Please sit and don’t stand. We don’t want to give anyone reason to attack us. Sit in a circle. Everyone please.”

Another young student stood in the middle of the circle and said: “Don’t let his words preaching about pluralism get to you. Let them play their music. We will mourn our Nakba.”

Not only do we have no right to mark the most painful day in our history in the way of our choosing, but we have to endure loud dance lyrics — “And your heartbeat, it lets me know you feel the same … I’ll be thinking about you you you … .”

Intimidation

All the while, a police officer was videotaping the Palestinian students, with a smile on his face. He appeared amused by the music and the angry, yet silent, Palestinian students.

Taping student activists in this way is a well-known intimidation tactic, a way of saying “we know who you are” and deterring many from participating in campus activism.

After the music played for a whole hour and the Israeli students got their kick or maybe got tired of dancing, the Palestinian students who endured and stayed there, were then pushed and forced by police to disperse.

So yes, my stomach did turn. I almost threw up, to be frank. But my heart didn’t explode, though it may have beat faster. But it was a good beat, a beat that teaches. It taught me that Israel’s most intellectual places, the universities, are the most repressive, because they are supposed to know better.

A university is supposed to protect rights and freedom of expression. I believe a less “intellectual” venue might not have acted the way Haifa University did. I don’t believe random people in the street would even act this way. They probably would just pass by and let us grieve our catastrophe.

Such a policy of vulgar repression is not only morally but strategically flawed. The university’s actions will only make the Palestinian students better and more committed intellectuals, and the Jewish ones better dancers.

While Palestinian students respectfully observed the two minutes of silence during the siren marking Holocaust Remembrance Day two weeks ago, for one hour Israeli students danced during the commemoration of our catastrophe.

Sawsan Khalife’ is a political activist and journalist from Shefa Amr in the Galilee region of Palestine.

 

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