Last Sunday morning, my eyes followed my little girl while she played indoor soccer but my mind replayed my father’s words in a conversation we had just one hour earlier. “Stop trying to take care of everyone. Just take care of my granddaughter. I’m too old,” he said. Then he added the age-old Arab saying: “leave it in the hands of Allah.”
My 60-year-old father lives in East Jerusalem where some recently demolished homes in his village were too close for comfort and now I’m worried that his rented little apartment might be next. Jerusalem’s mayor, Ehud Olmert, promised to demolish Arab homes “every week” under the pretext that they were built without permits.
I read a Haaretz report about Abu Ahmed who was roused by banging on his door in a refugee camp in Gaza. The groggy father of five opened the door at 2 A.M. to youngsters yelling “Get out of the house right now. The Jews are coming to demolish it. There are bulldozers outside.” On the bleachers, I sat imagining that was my father.
Amidst a despairing anger and sense of helplessness I leaped to my feet and gave a schizophrenic yell. My daughter scored a goal.
The week before my father was spitting up blood but couldn’t get a cab to get through the roadblock to see a doctor. The walk would have been too long, too cold and too dangerous. So, I sat on the phone with him for almost an hour until it stopped and he fell asleep.
But my father’s ordeal pales in comparison to what Um Samer lives. Her unarmed 14-year-old son was chased up a hill by Israeli police, captured, and shot at close range in the rectum while bent over with his pants down. That was the conclusion of an autopsy and investigation by human rights organizations into the death of Samer Suleiman Abu Mayaleh. But that story, like the stories of 248 Palestinian children who were shot and killed, or the 8,000 children who were shot and maimed, did not make US news.
In Nablus, Physicians for Human Rights reported the use of civilians as human shields. Israeli soldiers took over a Palestinian building and put women, men, children and sick patients in the windows and in front of the building while they fired on Palestinian gunmen.
Now Ariel Sharon speaks of “buffer zones.” It’s a benign term beset with crass inhumanity. It is a new addition to the lexicon that turns settlements into “neighborhoods,” assassinations into “targeted killings,” apartheid into “concessions,” human beings into a body count, civilian infrastructure into legitimate military “targets,” and human rights reports into nothingness.
“Buffer zones” means more thousands of souls cleansed from large swaths of land and dumped like garbage into camps, ghettos and Bantustans. It means more electrified fence and human cages. It means more blood, both Jewish and Gentile–but mostly gentile. It means an augmentation of the pain, the suffering and the shame that is the legacy of religious or racial exclusivity.
The injustice of it all, the horror and the human toll stay with me, even at my daughter’s soccer game. I cannot ignore the untold stories behind the body count. I cannot escape the cruelty of scrambled demographics by the religion, race and class-obsessed ideology of the Jewish State. I don’t know what to do with what I know. I speak to crowds, I write letters to leaders and media outlets and I organize dialogue. What is left after I do my small part is enormous. I don’t know where to put the obscenity of my tax dollars paying to make people homeless, maybe even my own father.
But where can it be laid? In the impotent hands of the United Nations? Or on the pages of forgotten international laws? In the corrupt hands of Congress, too beholden to special interests and powerful constituents? Or in the folds of Arab gluttons and dictators? In righteousness of ignored human rights organizations? Or in the suppressed passive resistance movement? In the madness of suicide bombers? or in the courage of stone-throwers?
My dad is not old, but thinks he is. He has been beaten by time and by settlers. He has been exiled and humiliated. He has been robbed and called a terrorist. He watched his mother die a refugee in a bug-infested shack while a Jewish family lived comfortably in her home. Soon, he may find his meager belongings buried beneath the rubble of his home.
Yet, through his tears he tells me to “put it in the hands of Allah.”
I don’t know how to do that. The screams of mothers and silence of traumatized children, the upturned olive trees and the torched crops, the blasted homes and the pierced flesh, the daily humiliation of God’s children and, now, “buffer zones.” It’s all with me, stirring there in my heart.
It is as though centuries of history has been excised from the continuum of time with the stroke of a pen that wrote “Israel” in place of “Palestine” and we are all that remains. Holding onto the stories, even the horrors, is like a small redemption of my history and heritage. I don’t know how to let that go, even as my daughter’s little legs sprint toward me for a high five after she scores a soccer goal.
Ms. Abulhawa is a freelance writer and founder of Playgrounds For Palestine, Inc. www.playgroundsforpalestine.org