Nothing else matters now; we must stop the war on the people of Gaza. I will send the words that come to me, that make us see and hear the flow of death.
“I’m sorry for what my people did to your people”
This is how Batsheva introduced herself to me in 1997. We were in a ladies toilet and I said something while waiting. She straight away looked at me and asked “where are you from?” I said “Palestine, and you?” “Israel” she said. We just looked at each other a bit too long for me to start getting nervous. Occupation and soldiers came to mind, fear of being humiliated right in the toilet in front of the Aussies (abbreviation for Australians) set in. She kept looking without saying anything. It could have been a minute of silence. I felt the tension and I was not sure what to do, what to say. She is probably going to say “It’s not Palestine bitch, it’s Israel”.
But she came closer and was inches away from my face and said those unforgettable words “I’m sorry for what my people did to your people”. I don’t know who hugged first. We were there in a toilet full of Aussie women. There was a lot of crying, it was more than crying, it was cathartic. I have never cried in my life like this before. It was not only my pain that I was feeling. It was my grandparents’ pain and feelings of loss and dispossession. It was Palestine’s pain that I was feeling and it was very painful.
I felt my grandparents’ pain of losing their homes in Palestine. I remembered their stories of being forced to leave from Jaffa and Ramleh in 1948. My father was six years old then and was forced to walk with his siblings and my grandparents from Ramleh to Ramallah for three days with thousands of Palestinian refugees driven out of their homes to make way for Jewish refugees from Europe to create the State of Israel. My mum was not born yet but my maternal grandparents found a truck and drove to Jordan where they stayed there for two years before leaving to live in Ramallah where my mum was born. I felt the pain of the 1967 occupation of being born under its control, I felt the oppression, the humiliation. Memories of checkpoints, smells of burning tyres, beatings by the army taking away my cousin (for riding his bike as the curfew started, an unfortunate episode of being in the wrong place at the wrong time) all came flooding in. Memories have power to take you back in time and space, reliving unpleasant situations. I was still in the toilet in Sydney hugging an Israeli woman while all this was playing in my mind, while I was feeling Palestine’s and its people pain of dispossession.
That’s the Palestinian story frozen in time and place since 1948. The same story shared by millions of Palestinians across the middle east, in the diaspora and in particularly Gaza where 80% of its 1.6 million people are refugees from other nearby towns and villages that are now under the control of the State of Israel. They have not lost hope that one day they go back to their villages. They are frozen in time and place living a transitional life squeezed on 365 square kilometres of land (yes they are not real Gazans!) holding on to their house keys and memories, holding on to images of their homes and olive trees, telling their grandchildren stories of a bygone era. They believe their leaders who are promising them what they cannot deliver. They sell them empty dreams – Hamas sells the Return to Palestine dream and Fatah sells the two State Solution dream and neither have delivered anything meaningful worthy of the Palestinian people’s perseverance (Sumud) the past six decades.