Edna Yaghi’s Column
From the poem “Island” by Langston Hughes
I am a poor boy too. I had no gift to bring for the newborn babe in Bethlehem. At the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of baby Yesu, a symbolic kufeyah anointed the empty chair where Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who is under town arrest by the Israelis, was supposed to sit the day my world came to a halt.
Though I am only 9 years old, I have already been made a refugee several times over. It seldom snows in the little town of Bethlehem and unlike manger scenes decorating the warm hearths of American homes, the bare ground in the refugee camp where I live is frozen and hard. The tent that sheltered my many brothers, sisters and me did not shut out the bitter cold of winter nights and our meager fire could not even warm our young imaginations.
Not so long ago, my family and I lived in a three-room house. It was certainly no five-star hotel, but it was the simple place we called home in the Khan Younis refugee camp after we were driven from our original home in our once free Palestine. For 15 months my people and I have lived under siege. Since Intifada Al-Aqsa, more than 850 Palestinians have been killed and tens of thousands injured. But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has increased the military incursions into Palestinian territories and my siblings and I have witnessed bombardment by F-15 and F-16 warplanes, by Apache helicopters and by Israeli tanks. Israel always claims it has made the desert green, but in truth, it has made our green land barren by uprooting our trees, by destroying our farmland and by polluting our natural springs.
Forty days ago, the small house that was home to my family and me was destroyed by Israeli forces. At the same time, an Israeli bullet hit me in my leg. I do not know which was more painful; to watch our only abode being ripped apart before our eyes, or the searing hole in my leg.
There we were, in the middle of winter without a place to stay and without refuge from the biting bitter cold. A tent is fine for camping in the summer in places where green grows all around, where rivers run free, where birds sing, where the sun shines and where there is no war or hate. But a tent is no place in the dead of winter for young children or for my toddler brother who is only two years old.
I woke up at 2:30 this morning to the smell of burning flesh. Somehow, a fire had started in our tent and the flames hungrily and rapidly reached out for its victims. I could hear the screams of my baby brother Nafez and the moans of my mother and handicapped father. Then I felt my charred body drift above it all, over the burning tent, over the bodies of my dead brothers and sisters, over the gathering crowd, over the ambulance come to carry away our dead and wounded.
My parents and the surviving siblings now lie critically burned in a Gaza hospital. I float through the air like a cloud. The pain is gone now but not quite forgotten. I wish I could kiss my dear mother on her cheek and take away her agony. I wish I could wake up my father and surviving siblings and tell them all how much I love them.