About three years ago, we decided to move from our home of 19 years, and build a new house just a few miles from our old location, still in the same township. Our new home was located in a better subdivision with a larger lot and many open common areas all around. It was also much nicer than our previous residence: the rooms were bigger; there were more bathrooms; the children would each have their own bedrooms. With all of this, I thought that we would be eager to move to our new home.
When the time came to actually pack up everything that had accumulated over the previous 19 years, reality struck us: we were leaving our home. Suddenly, the kids began moping: they seemed nostalgic for the all the little things that, until now, they’d complained about. I admit I was also not very eager to move. The house, with all of its drawbacks, was still our home: the place where all of my children had lived and grown since their birth. Here is where they had taken their first steps, tumbled, laughed, and cried: here was home. Suddenly, we began to recall the little, long forgotten, things that had happened during our lifetime in that house we called ‘home’.
When the day came to actually leave the house for the last time, my wife had tears in her eyes: even though no one was forcing us out – we were selling in order to ‘move up’ to a better location – doing so was a sad occasion. It took me nearly a month to train myself not to drive the route that I had grown accustomed to in those 19 years: many times I found myself turning into the old subdivision I had already moved away from. The children insisted we drive by the old house, ‘their house,’ where they had lived, grown and played. Every little detail that had formed our family history there was brought up and discussed again by us. My youngest, Omar, still hasn’t really gotten over the move: he still yearns for the cozy home that we had left behind.
All of this, I must remind you, was done by our choice: no one forced or coerced us; we did not leave because of some unforeseen tragedy. Nevertheless, it was, it still is, sad to make the move, even though it was to a ‘better’ home a ‘better’ life and neighborhood. Being uprooted from a comfortable place, even for the best of reasons, is not an enjoyable experience. Like a tree in its garden, uprooting and replanting, even when to a better, richer soil, shocks and traumatizes the system.
Now imagine, please, the plight and life of the people of Palestine. For 55 years now they have been uprooted, dispossessed and dispersed from their homes and land: deprived of the safety, sanctity and security one usually associates with the word ‘Home’. 55 years after the fact, they are still unwanted ‘strangers’ and ‘refugees’ in Palestine and abroad. Indeed, Israel has practiced demolition of Palestinian homes, a brutal and inhumane punishment, without mercy since 1948: an act of fundamental cruelty. To demolish a person’s home is not merely punishment: it is an effort to break the spirit; to tell people and their children, in the harshest possible terms, that their homes are neither their security nor sanctuary, that they are unwanted here. ‘Home’ is denied to the people of Palestine in its most basic sense.
I cannot imagine the helplessness and overwhelming anger that must overcome those people who are given only a few minutes to gather ‘everything’ before watching their home bulldozed to rubble by an unfeeling soldier. How can they who carryout such deeds sleep at night? Are they not haunted by the faces of the children and their parents who watched in agony and horror as their life dissolves into a cloud of dust and a pile of rubble?
Israelis destroy not mere stone and concrete that keeps out the elements; they destroy lifelong accomplishments, hopes, fears – the future together with the past: irreplaceable memories of one’s life, birth, death, laughter, and tears. However extravagant or humble, ‘home’ has deep and powerful meaning to Palestinians. It is deeply imbedded in our culture and way of life. The worst curse one can wish on another is to ask for the destruction of a home (Allh ya Ikhrib beitak). To become homeless, sometimes for a second or a third time, creates only deep anger and rage. To witness one’s home reduced to rubble and burying inside all one’s earthly possessions so that new tenements can be built on your stolen ancestral land to accommodate strangers who have no right to be there – can only break anger and rage.
My own family and I have finally grown into our new home of choice; we are becoming comfortable and replacing with fond new memories those we slowly forget from our old home. But, unfortunately the same cannot be said for those Palestinians who live in tents under the winter rain and the summer sun, who must endure the misery that accompanies the demolition of their homes, their very lives, turning them for ever more and once again into homeless refugees: an unforgettable tragedy. Something to ponder, for those who continue to mourn the violent destruction and loss of their own Temple thousands of years after the fact!