Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Just Want To Go Home!

It was an overwhelming week, “The Goldstone” week, when my people, my family, my Jerusalem, my home, and my heart were under attack. This week reminded me once again how present and continuous is the 1948 Nakba.
It is Friday night October 9th. I just arrived from a journey filled with excitement, pain, hardships, happiness, loss, gains, fear, anxiety, power, humiliation and spirit injury….…spirit injury…..filled with the continuous Israeli terrorism.
This week, and for the first time in my life, I met my brother and sister. Yes….yes, for the first time. In March 1948, the Zionist movement compelled my mom and her husband to run away from Haifa. Mom could no longer safeguard and protect her three children (3 months, 4 years and 6 years) from the Zionist atrocities in Palestine. She took her children, and left Haifa, and my brothers and sister were never able to see Haifa again in 61 years. Meeting them last Monday was too overwhelming emotionally. My tears were the only power I carried. My brother and sister were stronger, they kissed and smelled me non stop, they were searching for mom in me, for her smell, and love they never felt. My ordeal was too confusing to be expressed in words, too strong to be reflected on paper, and too scary to be shared.
I was on my way back home to Jerusalem, but, reaching home is not an easy task. Reaching home, my home in the old city, required dealing with a new set of challenges,. It is these challenges that I want to share with you today.
Both Islah, my friend, and I started our journey at 7:00 am, in Amman- Jordan, heading towards the 1967 occupied territories. We arrived at King Husein Bridge (another station where Palestinians are humiliated on a daily basis, each time they want to travel to Jordan or through Jordan to another country) and the "Via Dolorosa" as Islah defined it- started. We needed to line up in rows, wait to get a piece of paper for our luggage, then line up again, pay the taxes for border crossing ; keep moving on with the hundreds of people pushing and shoving, walking fast, trying to move faster…waiting in line again; pay the visa fee and keep on waiting. I was told that I should leave Islah, for I have a different passport that made me the privileged other. It is the US passport that works miracles. I was able to move faster, leave all the Palestinian locals behind me, including Islah, get on the bus that takes you to the other side of the bridge. It was a long frightening journey, but both Islah and I managed to meet on the Israeli side at 11:35 (under normal conditions, it takes 10 maybe 15 minutes to pass from the Jordanian to the Israeli side). We were happy we made it, kissed each other; Islah took the bus to Ramallah and I took the transit to Jerusalem.

I REACHED JERUSALEM to learn that the driver couldn’t drop us off at Bab el Amoud station because the Israeli police had blocked the area. I called Gaby to learn that since it is Friday noon, the police closed all the area from and to the old city, while preventing Muslims from reaching the Al Aqsa Mosque. He suggested picking me up from a nearby place, from the entrance of Isawiyyeh- a village in Jerusalem, and drive me with my bags home.

Reaching home was not easy: we reached Jaffa Gate. The Israeli police and soldiers were filling the area, and cars were all packed, trying to find a way to get inside the old city. The police told us that we can't drive through Jaffa Gate- as this is the only road that takes us home- and must go around through Zion Gate instead, and against the traffic. We circled around, struggled to find our way in the middle of chaos, and managed at last to reach Zion Gate. Driving into Zion Gate is tricky, for it is very narrow, and entails going back and forth two three times to get through. While Gaby was trying to get inside the narrow gate, a Jewish man that was walking hit the car with something that made a loud noise, and started screaming at Gaby. Gaby yelled back in English while asking the man: “Why are you hitting my car.” A policeman who was standing on the other side of the gate, on the narrow stairs, came down to tell Gaby and the other man to stop yelling. The Jewish man explained that he wanted to walk through the gate but Gaby was blocking him as he was going in the opposite direction. Gaby explained in English that he too wanted to get through the gate, that the police had ordered that all cars go in the direction he had taken, and that the man had hit his car with a bang. Speaking in English revealed Gaby’s Palestinian identity. Whereupon, the policeman then raised his voice louder, asked Gaby to back up the car, and stand on the side. I then got out of the car and told the policeman that if he is upset that Gaby and the other man are yelling at each other, why is he yelling at my husband. He kept on yelling at Gaby to back up his car, although by that time we were already almost inside the old city. When I realized that the policeman knew and spoke Arabic, I started talking to him in Arabic, and tried to convince him to leave us alone. I failed. He ordered Gaby to stand on the side, and not move. His intention was to humiliate Gaby in front of the other man. The Jewish man finally left the place all the while deriding us, no doubt feeling good that the police had stopped us. We stood there, on the corner of the street, apart from others, awaiting the police’s orders.

Again, I went up to the policeman to explain to him that we had just come from a long journey, and that Gaby was tired and frustrated from maneuvering the streets, and that, as a result, he had raised his voice. I tried to convince him to allow us to reach home. He not only refused but also ordered us to stay where we were and wait for his orders. He further sat on the stairs inside the gate, looked at us with an air omnipotence about him, and started eating his food. I kept on trying to speak to him, to make him realize the senselessness of his action. He gave me back Gaby's ID (he took it from Gaby before, to write down the ID number and name) and ordered me to shut up. I kept on arguing with him…and my neighbors who happened to pass by us at that time were looking at me, wondering whether I will be able solve the problem. I kept on talking to the police, and the other two police man and woman that stood on the side ( they were also eating, and did not care about us), and watched me arguing and speaking. I reminded them that the role of the police is to protect and secure, and that he was doing the opposite. I asked the policeman that stopped us, again to leave us alone, explained that the situation in Jerusalem is too stressful for everyone, requested him to refrain from "punishing us" for screaming at that guy. But, he did not see us or hear us as people with a voice, people with rights, or in need of protection; he wanted to step on us, assert his power over us. I refused to surrender and called 100- that is, the equivalent of 911- and asked to talk to the police station to ask for emergency help. They heard me, promised to help and called him, but he still refused to allow us in, while allowing other cars to drive through Zion Gate.
We were both standing on the corner, so upset, so mad, so tiered, so disturbed and sad. Gaby was living the attack against him with such silence. I gave him water, and asked him to relax, while taking pictures of the policeman, trying to get his name and information. I told him that "my name is Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian….remember it….keep it in your mind….I promise to teach you a lesson about your racism and your racist policing"

After 40 minutes, we were ordered to go back to Jaffa Gate. Back to where we started the journey, in our attempt to reach home, when Gaby discovered that his credit card was not in his ID wallet. I then decided to stop by the Kishleh police station situated in the old city in Jaffa Gate, to 1. File a complaint against the police. 2. Inform them about the disappearance of Gaby’s Visa card.

We reached our neighborhood at 3:40 pm, but since only Jews are allowed to park in front of our building, it took us a while to find parking for our car.
I called Islah to tell her that I had arrived home safe, she said: “Yallah Himdelleh 3al salameh” …and continued: “you mean you just arrived home???

When would my HOME be a home in my Homeland, if I am deprived of seeking justice, because I am Palestinian? When can I enjoy my family's love, if my beloved ones are abused and punished every day, and if I am deprived of meeting my brother and sister because I am Palestinian? When can I live with safety, if I can’t travel without fearing the ideological system that constantly harasses and abuses me……because I am a Palestinian. I can’t make the Israeli police see, hear or acknowledge our existence….because we are Palestinians. How could one make those in power see, hear, or acknowledge our existence……. As Palestinians.
Could we ever have a safe journey back home……with a place to call home?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

embodied experience of occupation

Dear Friends,

My last nights was added to the many nights that made me live once again the attack on my body, family, home, privacy, including the attack on my own bed and bedroom.
It was late at night and since it is Ramadan, Gaby goes to work in his clinic in Wadi El Jozz at 8:30 pm and comes back home at midnight, while I was home, working on finalizing the last touches of a paper that will soon be published in Jadal- an electronic journal of Mada al-Carmel. Gaby called around midnight to say that he was on his way home, but was stuck in traffic. It took him over an hour to find a parking spot for his car, mainly since for the last 9 months, the non-Jewish residents of the Armenian quarter were prevented (I mean kicked out) of the parking lot that is exactly opposite to our building. He called, cursing, while asking me to look from the window – maybe I could detect an empty spot for him to park. At around 1:30 am, he finally succeeded in locating a place, parked the car and walked home. We sat in the kitchen, drinking tea and talking about our daily survival. I went back to my bed, and as usual put my laptop on my lap and continued my work, while Gaby tried to sleep beside me. He was very tiered, and I turned down the light, so as not to bother him. But, it is the Jewish holiday season, and Jews from all over Israel were visiting the Wall, so sleeping was hard, for they were noisy, singing Yerushalayem shelh Zahav ( Jerusalem of Gold); and many other songs, while using musical instruments. They not only were singing and speaking in a very loud voice; they were also ringing our doorbells. It was a very noisy night, were my home, my bedroom, and my serenity was invaded by songs that praise Israel, Jews and Jerusalem. At around 3:00 in the morning, my neighborhood was calmer, Gaby fell asleep, and I decided to reply to the last emails, shut down my computer and go to sleep.
At around 3:40 am, when I turned off the light and went to sleep, I heard very loud noises, but was too tiered to get up. But, again the singing and the noise was too loud, and worried that Gaby might wake up, I jumped from the bed to close the window to prevent him from hearing the clamor. I was so shocked to see, a large group of people, a group of maybe 40 of 50, singing for almost 10-15 minutes in such a loud voice “Mavet La Aravim” Death for the Arabs, while banging their drums. They were singing, in such a loud voice, with such boldness that made me once again tell myself….no Nadera….it is not fear…it is boldness, rudeness, inhumanity, it is their voice that said, “I have the right to live, and you Nadera and your people…you should die.”
Gaby woke up, very disturbed, then said: “why are you surprised? I told him, that these are young soldiers that are visiting the old city, they must have their leaders and captains with them, how could they sing such a slogan, as a group, openly, in such a loud voice, at 3:40 am – how? I know that people might say it, but this way?
Here in the old city, scrawled on the city walls in graffiti you might read “Death to the Arabs”; “Death to Armenians” and more, but singing it so loudly not only attacked my family, home, bed, sleep, and serenity, it also violates all moral codes, measures and mores Israel could claim.

Within this highly oppressive militaristic regime, the home is one of the few places where women can find solace from the exigencies of a domineering government. As the only place for refuge, the home is a place for personal growth and community-building. As such, the home is an oppositional site within a military-state patriarchy and a place where Palestinian women can be safe from the “dual spheres of racism and sexism.”
Our home is one of the greatest powers that produce thoughts, memories; it is our past that was violated, our present and future. In the life of women, the house thrusts aside contingencies, and maintains us during and through hardships and uncertainties. It is an individual’s first world, and ours was attacked and violated.
So, how can I, a Palestinian woman living in the Old City feel safe in my home space? Home time? Homeland? In my own home bed?



Dearest Friends,

I might start writing letters from the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, for every day, there is a new story of fear, agency, and of questioning the physics of power, and today's story requires a serious look at the way our silence, our fears, our worries are affecting the future generation. In my academic/activism work, and mainly in the past 5-6 years I write and work on the political economy of fear, on education, on trauma, and the industry of fear, as I define it. The economies of power, and the trauma of the day to day experience of my people, children, elderly, friends ... makes me wonder, how can we turn a blind eye to such ordeals, how would all this affect our life, and our future?.

Yesterday for example, as we were having our family dinner, my mother in law, a woman who is over 90 years of age, and is one of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, was looking from my window to see Jewish and Armenian kids fighting. She started calling: "nadera, nadera come see what is going on." I looked from the window, and saw a group of young Jewish boys ( maybe 8 or 9 ) standing on one side of the street, while Armenian girls and boys ( maybe 9 or 10) standing close to the wall of my building, on the side walk . I talked to the young Jewish kids in Hebrew from my window and asked them what happened, one of them replied fast: "we want to hit the small arabs" - Rotzeem le harbeetz la aravim ha ktaneem. I decided to leave my family, and go down talk to both groups.
I went down, and started talking to the Armenian kids, they were telling me that Jewish kids were spitting at them, and cursing them. I asked them to calm down, and told them that I will go to the other side and talk to the Jewish kids. I started asking the other group ( see attached picture taken by Salpy from my window while I was talking to the Jewish kids) why they are fighting. I told them that this is an Armenian building, and neighbours should live in peace with each other. I further explained that we are all neighbours, and showed them were I live, and told them that it would be really sad to see one of them hurt. The youngest child, a short, very handsome and sharp kid replied: " Don't worry, we won't be hurt, we always hurt them". I then explained that in such quarrels anyone could be hurt, and plus we are all neighbours, so why don't we find a better way of solving the problem. Then one other kid told me that the other group is spitting on them, while they are playing in the street. I told him that this is not right, and that I will right away go talk to the other group, and their parents ( all parents were already in the street watching me talking to the kids in Hebrew [ a very small number of my neighbours could converse in Hebrew]) I then asked whether we could try to keep the peace in our area, when another one replied: "see we have our playing area, and football court, it is right there ( pointing to the area behind us); we just do not want the Arabs ( meaning the Armenian children) to come play in our play ground, and if they come we will hit them." Then I again tried to explain, that we should share the area, mainly because this is very small space, and it is the old city, but I did not make sense to the kids, so I went back to my argument that we are neighbours and we should live in peace. I told them that I will speak to the other group, and want to ask both sides not to fight and keep the neighbourhood peaceful. When one of them said: Ok, with us Jews, you could speak, but with the Arab kids, use your hands". I then explained that this is not Jewish behavior, and that Jews lives all over the world and they do not fight with others, and gave them the example of Jewish American. Such an explanation convinced some kids, and made the eldest call them all to leave the area. They left while one told me: "We have a big football yard, we will go play there, and they can't come even close".
I crossed the street and went back to request peace from the Armenian kids, when one of them said: "I do not want peace with them, they keep on hitting us, look at the sticks in their hands" I then explained again that we are neighbours, and we must feel safe with each other, and fighting won't do us good, when another girl said: "so why did they steal our parking ( Armenians were kicked out of the parking lot 8 months ago, now it allows only Jews to park their cars, while we are deprived from doing so- although it is right opposite to our building as you could see from the picture attached)....why can they park their cars and you and my father need to suffer......I don't care, I want to spit at them every time they come close to our building...they have their spaces, this is my area, and I won't let them step in".
It took me a long time, and with the help of the parents, we managed to explained to the kids that it is always better not to fight, when the same girl said: "but I want to fight with them"; so I told her, if you want to fight use your brain, be good to your friends, study well, be an educated woman, take care of your family, this is a better way of fighting back...then when you grow up, you could tell the world your story. Her she asked me: " and then my father will be able to park his car in our parking?? the parking is not for Jews is our parking, we live here."

Coming back home, my sister in law said that all parents were listening to me, and that it was good to speak to the kids, when my mother in law interrupted her by saying: " what are you talking about, they will come back and hit the kids, in today's world El Haq Ma'a3 el Awwi- Justice is with the powerful" , it is might not right.

And now, while I am looking from my window, I could see two members of yesterdays Jewish group back, waiting with their sticks in their hands on the other side of the street.



Yesterday night, as the many nights that are passing.... in Jerusalem.... was so heavy to forget।

I was sitting with the family, when we heard sirens, very loud noise, military cars, police cars, and military men speaking in the speakers in a loud voice passing in such a speed in the very narrow streets inside the old city। They all passed in front of my building, in the old city, Armenian Quarter (this is the only street that cars could drive on and could reach the Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall)। Fahed, Salpy's boyfriend (both 19 years old) said that something happened, many cars are passing he said: " Aunty, something serious happened". I checked the news to find out that a Jewish settler started shooting Palestinians (two were injured) because he- as stated in the Hebrew news- felt afraid and anxious walking while many Palestinians ( those that were on their way to pray in the Mosque) around him. People from Silwan (a neighborhood 5 minutes from my house and I could see it from my window) heard the shooting, became also anxious and scared and started throwing stones back at the military and police officers that surrounded the area, and that were arresting Palestinians from Silwan.
To hear Palestinians reactions to the attack, made me realize, once again, how dangerous the situation is। But, to see how the police and military treated Palestinians - although not new nor surprising- was very heavy on all of us. They kept people for hours standing on the side, checking each of them, harassing women and children. It was the military and police forces protecting "them" from "us". To find out once again, how our spaces and places are used to confine us, and how they are turned into a prison, was not an easy thing to absorb.

When looking from my window two hours later, one could see how the scene in my street was affected by the continuous power game played in my spaces for so many years. Just by standing on the window, one could hear the very noisy Jews, including Jewish mothers pushing their children's strollers, speaking in Hebrew in a loud voice, walking in the middle of the street while the soldiers and police officers with their riffles and guns are "protecting them" making sure they are safe; ON the other side, and on the side walk, Palestinian families, with young children carried on the shoulders of their fathers and mothers, walk, very close to the wall of my building, with such silence , the kind of silence that speaks much more than words. With their speedy manner of walking, and the noise of their shoes and women's heals, telling a story of humiliation, a story of fear, of power, and of determination to keep on walking.

All of a sudden I heard a young girl (maybe 6 or 7 years old) looking at the man by her and asking him - she saw me looking at her from my window, and raised her voice-..she asked " why did they shoot at us father? :" Leish takho 3aleina Yabba" ; I replied from my window, with a loud voice to maybe protest the imposed silencing, and allow the young girl to hear me, and maybe let the Jewish group that was walking to notice that we are here, and we speak Arabic - maybe to claim my voice. I said:, " Ma ahllaki Ya binet, w- ma asdq suallek- how wonderful your are young girl, and what a fair and just question"- then her father while looking up at me replied: " Yahoud Yabba Yahoud- Jews father, Jews" and the woman walking with them ( I guess the mother) said with low voice : " Hasbiyya alla Wa Ne3meh Al Wakeel". In seconds, the talks in Hebrew re-filled the street, and the silence of the other side filled the side walk...and I kept on looking from my window, wondering what should we do to change this situation? what?

I kept standing, looking from my window, and what I saw was very sharp.The side walk was filled with Palestinian men and women, men with their praying carpets (small carpet) on their shoulders, or with their young kids on their shoulders; while women holding their kids, holding the hands of their children, or carrying a plastic bag filled with stuff (it seems grocery to cook for the next day). When on the other side, in the middle of the street, Jewish prayers, men and women walking, with such confidence, such power, loud voices of both the young and the old ... and then they claim they "fear" Palestinians.

I am not sure where are we heading, but my Jerusalem became such a dangerous zone, such a suffocating zone, a place where necropolitics could be seen day and night, the kind of necropolitics that tell us who should live and who has no right to life.
The little girl's question, why they shot us, reminded me of my questions to my own dad as a young girl, and the questions of my daughters to me.