Faisal

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Your passing is the sudden hush that follows a spring shower-the sudden deprivation of a parched earth that had barely begun to drink in the promise of rain.

When the Khamasin descends, it blows hot and dry, with the yellow dust of desert sands.

We are in the arid zone, a brittle phase that blurs the vision, with eyes smarting, teeth gritting, and tongues swollen with a thirst that squeezes all meaning out of words.

It will pass. Your memory will not.

My memories of you are so rich and varied that I shall not attempt to sort them out.

In London, once, you eluded all security and intelligence agents to take out a homesick fourteen-year old Amal out to a quiet anonymous dinner.

You made her laugh that evening, playing the jester to my lonely princess, and I, a grateful mother, sat quietly in tearful gratitude.

“Ammo Faisal has such a wonderful sense of humor!” she exclaimed.

“What do you remember most?” I asked her when she later called to console and be consoled at his passing.

“How he used to play ‘Game Boy’ with Zeina,” she replied quietly. His kindness to her sister, entering her childhood world with a shared innocence and spontaneity, became a frozen image of the past.

And Zeina, too, remembers. She would not single out one memory. “It’s his overwhelming goodness,” she sobbed. “Why did he have to die? Is there a message there somewhere?”

Both overseas, they could not see nor share the human flood that broke through all army checkpoints, waving both the flags of Palestine and mourning, on this, your last pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

This is not how I envisaged your return, I silently whispered to you as I, too, surged with the crowd to Jerusalem.

Bruised by the crowd crush of your mourners in Ramallah, I touched a sealed casket borne by men in uniform. I felt a different pain, but did not find you there.

I saw your funeral through your closed eyes. “He would have said ‘that’s good’,” I later told Emile. “A proud funeral for a humble man,” he replied.

Emile remembers how you loved dried fruits and nuts when you came to visit or to hold secret meetings in our house. “We should have all meetings in your home,” you said. “Those date and walnut cakes are great.” Security requirements made us change our secret locations in unpredictable moves. The most sudden and least secure was your death, your final move.

Thousands upon thousands surged into the Orient House for your last farewell. “It is our headquarters,” you had told James Baker. “It should remain immune.”

There is no immunity from death-and no consolation.

“Hold your heads up high,” I choked as I embraced your own Fadwa and Abed. “Your father made us all proud.” (And I had lost a brother and my dearest friend as Palestine lost its leading son).

You wanted your children to find their mates, get married in your lifetime. Like a true father, “Who would deserve them?” you asked. A mother of two daughters myself, “No one!” I replied, half-jokingly.

Najat, Imm el-Abed, was devastated. “You, more than anyone, knew what an honorable man he was.” She grieves with all her heart. “I told him ‘you are like the Prophet to me’,” she recalled. “Remember how I used to beg him ‘don’t go, don’t leave me. It’s not safe’.” I remembered.

I remembered also how you had that special smile of affection whenever you mentioned her name, Najat. “She worries too much.” But you never forgot to call her.

She knew the risks we took. “Look after him. He never spares himself.” I tried, in little ways, but you never spared yourself.

Settlers, border guards, army, police, we faced them all. At the forefront of the march (to shield others less well-known), arms interlinked (to maintain lines) until clubs, fists and even gun butts separated us into smaller targets. Often bruised, often wheezing from the tear gas (with your asthma, that was cause for greatest worry), eyes smarting, muscles aching, we held our ground until we secured the release of the last detainee that day.

Mustafa, Sami, Nasser, and many many more, all loyal bodyguards, companions, sons–they grieve for you now as only orphaned children do. They had shielded you with their bodies then; they bore your casket all the way from Ramallah, running, crying, staring in disbelief.

You moved from the front lines to be lifted high above the heads of mourners, then to be laid to rest beside your father beneath the soil. The only back seat you ever took was that beyond the ranks of pretension. Too many “leaders,” courtiers, seekers of fame and fortune, shoving and pushing, with false smiles and vacuous zeal for a front row seat. Bowing out, almost unnoticed, except by those who had an eye for genuine leadership and humility, you observed their petty games with pity and benign indulgence.

Indignant at the daggers repeatedly plunged in your back, I chided often (that fills me with remorse now), “Fight back! Expose them for what they are. You know the faces beneath the masks.” You smiled, to my further exasperation. Now I know better. You got the better of them by actually being the better person.

“How Christian!” many scoffed, “turning the other cheek!” Tanya actually told me at the wake that you had the face of a saint and the image of an icon. Those posters did not do you justice-except for the sadness in the eyes. That was captured in an unguarded moment.

You always sensed the nearness of death, wondering at the identity and number of your mourners. You were not abandoned. Row upon row of genuine grief and unaffected affection streamed, seemingly endlessly, towards Jerusalem.

The sun, the heat, the Khamasin, were all as searing as the fact of your death itself.

No barrier could hold them back, no army checkpoint or wrong-colored identity card. The human tide came in and the Israeli occupation ebbed. The miracle of Jerusalem’s momentary liberation materialized only with your death. No occupation could hold back the grief of a bereaved and loyal people who, out of love for you, were bent on bearing you to your final rest in your eternal city.

Son of Jerusalem, father of Jerusalem, the people of your city lamented their new, orphaned state. Like your father and grandfather before you, no other place on earth could contain your remains in that final embrace.

At the Haram al-Shareef, the Noble Sanctuary, you finally found sanctuary. In the sight of the gleaming golden dome of the rock (flying the flags of Palestine and mourning that a brave young Palestinian hoisted, defying gravity), you made your way amid the chants, the cries, the tears and cheers of the faithful.

I could not stand up for long. Listening to the speeches, I could only hear them with your ears just as I saw your funeral with your eyes. Helped to a seat by a kindly worshiper, I saw Abed, head held up high, telling himself and his sister silently, “Be strong.” I made him sit beside me at the back while the speechmakers filled the front of the platform.

“He’s buried at Al-Aqsa,” he said. We looked at each other in mutual comfort. Your greatest fear, we both knew, was that of being barred from the final resting place of your lineage. “The people’s will was the power that got him there; the Israeli occupation could not prevail,” Abed said. In his first television interview that night, he repeated those words. You have nothing to fear now. You can be proud.

We’re in a state of siege now. Unable to reach Jerusalem or the Orient House to console and be consoled, I try to reach out beyond our collective prisons. I speak to Fadwa on the phone (she’s trying to be strong, for her mother’s sake). Najat is still wondering what meaning can life have after Faisal, and you’re not here to comfort her. Her loss is too great for me to lighten.

You’re free now. No siege or prison, no barbed wire or barricade can hold you back-and you’ve known them all. Many of your interlocutors have called-Israeli, European, American-with a sense of personal loss. And I remember your dignity when you spoke to a White House President, as I remember your humility before the Jerusalemite whose house was demolished, as I remember your compassion while comforting the mother whose son was sentenced to life, as I remember your parables and anecdotes in the midst of earnest negotiations.

Too many things to remember should not change you into a memory. You should remain the force for freedom, the drive for dignity, and the essence of humanity. You should remain the source of leadership through service and the spring of courage through humility.

You should have remained. But you left us with the Khamasin wind blowing and the earth cracking beneath our feet.

I have no talking points to write, no strategy papers to prepare, no policy meetings to organize (your “Tink Tank” joke still lingers). This personal note will have to do. What words could do you justice?

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