My Grandmother In Gaza: Bury Me Under the Mulberry Tree, Not In the Cemetery
I speak to friends and family in Gaza every day. The stories they tell tear at my soul. I ask myself if President Barack Obama, at the pinnacle of power, hears the same harrowing accounts in his morning briefs from the NSA, CIA and other agencies. Reason says no. No report can tell of the terror Palestinians are enduring – particularly now with the ground war apparently getting underway – and the heartbreak they have lived for more than 66 years. These agencies assess raw numbers and immediate risk, but are not capable of grasping the horrors in Gaza caused by American weaponry and aid to Israel.
Do president Obama’s morning briefs mention my friend Abeer, who told me her three children — ages four to seven — are now using diapers from the fear caused by hourly Israeli bombardment?
Do the president’s morning reports tell of my ill, octogenarian grandmother who, in the event of her death, asked my uncle to dig a hole and bury her under the mulberry tree in her home in Khan Younis refugee camp and not to bury her in the family cemetery? This is not dementia. Sixty-six years of dispossession and upheaval have not robbed her of her wits. She is all too aware that the cemetery is often hit by American F-16s. In that cemetery, there is no dignity even in death.
Do the president’s morning reports tell of the humanity that still exists in a Gaza wracked by bombs and siege? Where medicine is running low, one neighbor still shares blood pressure medication with another neighbor. Expelled from our homes 66 years ago, we still look out for each other and know that one day we will return home against all odds and all armaments that those who usurped our land throw at us day and night. That principle of protecting our neighbors through thick and thin, and the resolution not to be dispossessed again, undoubtedly played a part in the massacre at the Kwari’ family home when neighbors did not flee the targeted home but massed to it in defiance of the Israeli missile that soon leveled the home in total disregard for human life.
The property deeds that many Palestinian refugee families still possess is evidence our existence was once very different than the one that ekes out a living today in a spit of land 25 miles long by six miles wide. Journalists reporting from Ashkelon may disparage “terrorist” rockets and ignore our aspirations, but what terms do they use for those who expelled Palestinians from Al-Majdal? With expulsion, Ashkelon thrived on the ruins of that Palestinian community and the story is the same in hundreds of places across modern-day Israel.
I shout at anchors and correspondents, are we not humans? Are we not allowed equal rights? Are we not permitted to return to our homes and lands? When will you tell our history and not begin it last month?
Will conservative American politicians deny us the property rights and resistance rights they treasure? Will liberal American politicians deny us equal rights and subject us to Israeli segregation and apartheid-like Bantustans?
Yes, they will. They have done so for decades. And there is no salvation in looking to them. But the principles that galvanized the great social movements of the 20th century are open to the people of any land. We will seek equality and the right of return to our homeland and Israelis will find there is sufficient space for all of us.
A wrenching battle, however, lies ahead to achieve the equality and rights so many Palestinians envision. The lynch mobs that marauded through Jerusalem in recent days, pitched into frenzy by the rhetoric of vengeance emanating from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his partners, burned away the life of young Muhammad Abu Khdeir, and Israeli police nearly beat the life out of his younger Palestinian-American cousin, Tareq Abu Khdeir. Their enraged bigotry speaks of an Israel descending into the swamp of hate akin to the Jim Crow laws in American South.
The story of the current violence did not start on June 12 with the brutal killing of three Israeli teens as the cable news programs often suggest. Nor did it start with the killing of two Palestinian teens on May 15 in what Human Rights Watch now calls an “apparent war crime.” No, the conflict started years ago when world leaders decided that Palestinian pain at the loss of their children didn’t count for much. Those unnoticed deaths have created an indignation and righteous fury that no Israeli missile will ever stop and no presidential report will ever explain.
This conflict is not complicated, as defenders of Israeli expansion would have one believe. In fact, it is very simple. Restoring some semblance of stability in this part of the world requires the fulfillment of Palestinian rights. Despite its military might, Israel cannot bomb away the Palestinian desire to live in freedom and dignity and with the rights sought by people the world over.
My grandmother may some day be buried in Khan Younis refugee camp under a mulberry tree. But her descendants will be buried in Beit Daras, the village of her childhood, having lived a full life, with equal rights, in a country Palestinians and Jews can only begin to imagine through the smoky horrors currently being visited on Gaza.