Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Mahmoud Darwish

This Stranger in the coffin

“The Stranger”. Poem by late Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish

This person was a stranger to me

I had no idea what she could have done before
I saw a coffin, people in mourning
I walked with her, (the masses of mourners?)
Her head low, in an important respect attitude
She was walking ahead of me.
I found no opportunity to ask her my well-composed questions
“Who is in the coffin? How this late person died? How it lived?”
Of the many ways people died from,
I can vouch for one that I experienced
“Living badly”
Note: The mourners have been strangers in Palestine since 1948, the establishment of colonial implant of Israel

What you miss in your mother, after she passed away?

أحنُ إلى خبز أمي وقهوةِ أمي ولمسةِ أمي
وتكبر فيَّ الطفولةُ يوماً على صدر يومِ

و أعشق عمري لأني إذا متُّ .. أخجل من دمع أمي
خذيني .. إذا عدتُ يوماً وشاحاً لهدبكْ

وغطي عظامي بعشبٍ تعمَّد من طهر كعبكْ
وشدِّي وثاقي بخصلة شعرٍ بخيطٍ يلوِّح
في ذيل ثوبك

عساني أصيرُ إلهًا .. إلهًا أصير

إذا ما لمستُ قرارة قلبك
ضعيني إذا مارجعتُ وقودا بتنور ناركْ
وحبل غسيل على سطح داركْ

لأني فقدت الوقوف بدون صلاةِ نهاركْ

هرمتُ فردّي نجوم الطفولة
حتى اشاركْ صغار العصافير
درب الرجوع لعُشِّ إنتظارك ..•~

محمود درويش : الأسطورة

“The Stranger”. Poem by late Palestinian Mahmoud DarwishThis person was a stranger to me

I had no idea what she could have done before
I saw a coffin, people in mourning
I walked with her, her head low, in an important respect attitude
She was walking ahead of me.
I found no opportunity to ask her my well-composed questions
“Who is in the coffin? How this late person died? How it lived?”
Of the many ways people dies from,
I can vouch for one that I experienced
“Living badly”

“The Stranger”. Poem by late Mahmoud Darwish

An abridged translation of Jamil Berry’s French version from Arabic


This person was a stranger to me
I had no idea what she could have done before
I saw a coffin, people in mourning
I walked with her, her head low, in an important respect attitude
She was walking ahead of me.
I found no opportunity to ask her my well-composed questions
“Who is in the coffin? How this late person died? How it lived?”
Of the many ways people dies from,
I can vouch for one that I experienced
“Living badly”
Jamil Berry translated the poem into French on FB this April 30, 2014 


Cette personne m’était étrangère
J’ignorais ce qu’elle a pu faire naguère .
J’ai vu un cercueil , des personnes endeuillées
J’ai marché avec elles tête baissée
Par un respect imposant
Moi derrière , elles devant

Je n’ai pas trouvé un seul écueil
Pour poser mes questions ressassées
«Qui est cette personne dans le cercueil ?
Où a t elle vécue ? De quoi a-t-elle trépassé ?

La mort a des causes multiples
L’une d’entre elles , je vous la livre
J’en fais mienne; c’est le mal de vivre .

Je me suis demandé :
Cette personne nous voit-elle ?
Depuis son lointain néant
Déplore-t-elle notre destination?

Elle n’ouvrira certes pas son cercueil
recouvert de couronnes fleuries
Sans nous faire des adieux endoloris
Ou nous susurrer la vérité

Mais de quelle vérité il s’agit ?

Décédée ; pour elle c’est trop tard .
Il se peut qu’en ces heures sombres
Elle soit en train de replier son ombre
Pour parachever son départ .

Elle fut la seule personne qui ce matin
Ne pleura pas de chagrin et ne vit point
La mort planant tel un rapace aiguisé
Au dessus de nos têtes médusées

Que sont les vivants pour la mort
Si ce n’est ses cousins germains …
Les personnes mortes elles , à jamais
Par son calme et son sommeil fraternisées .

Je n’ai trouvé nulle raison pour demander
Qui est cette personne étrangère et
Quel était son nom , qui ne paraît pas illustre
Les marcheurs derrière une petite vingtaine
Et une , si on compte avec , ma présence frustre

Mon cœur erra devant l’église et sa porte
Il se peut me dis je , que cette personne morte
Soit un écrivain ou un travailleur
Un réfugié , un voleur ou un tueur .

Comment le savoir , les morts ne parlent pas
Ne rêvent pas , ni couchés , ni debout ni assis
Avec eux leurs différences meurent aussi .

Et si cette personne étrangère n’était que moi
Et que cet enterrement était le mien
De jour en jour retardé
Par un incident d’ordre Divin ? …

Retardé pour de multiples raisons
Parmi lesquelles il se peut même
Que ce soit …
Une erreur non corrigée dans mon poème

( Traduction Jamil BERRY )

See More

قصائد محمود درويش لاعب النرد / ملوك النهاية / الجدارية / انتظرها / وعود من العاصفة /قصيدة الأرض/أربعة عناوين شخصية/ريتا/هكذا قالت الشجرة المهملة/الجسر/عن الصمود/الآن في المنفى/بطاقة هوية – سجل!/أنا يوسف يا أبي/ضباب كثيف على الجسر/فرحاً بشئ ما/كمقهى صغير هو الحب/لا أنام لأحلم/الجدارية/ لوصف زهر اللوز/هنالك عرس/الجميلات هن الجميلات/البئر/…
Ajoutée par Cortizooooon

Trailing a butterfly by Mahmoud Darwish (Part 2, December 30, 2008)

Hope is neither matter nor a concept. It is a talent

What…Why all that?

He is walking alone, having a short discussion with himself.  He is uttering words that are not meant to mean anything “What… Why is all that?”

He does not mean to complain or even to inquire; the nonsense sentence is not meant to starting a tempo that could aid for a youthful walk.

As he repeats “What…Why all that” he feels that he is in company.  The passerby does not believe that he is a lunatic; he is probably a poet receiving revelations from Satan.

He didn’t know why he recalled Genghis Khan; maybe he saw a white horse without a saddle, flying over a destroyed building in the valley.

An old man was pissing by an eucalyptus tree; the ascending young girls from the valley laughed at him and threw pistachios at him.

Two strangers

He looks up and sees a shining star.  He looks down and sees his grave in the valley.

He looks at a beautiful woman who does not notice him.  He looks in the mirror and a stranger looking like him is reflected to him

We arrived late

There is a precarious stage we label “maturity”; we are neither optimist nor pessimist.

We are past passion, longing, and recalling the opposite names of things.

We are too confused between forms and contents.

We acquired the habit of pondering before speaking.  We adopted the style of physicians inspecting a wound.

We try to remember the past and wonder “How many mistakes have we committed? Have we reached wisdom a tad late?”

We are not sure from where the wind is blowing; what is the benefit if someone is still waiting for us by the foot of the mountain to share a prayer for our safe journey?

We are neither optimist nor pessimist; just a tad late.

We wish the lad was a tree

An ancient poet said “I wished the lad was a rock”.  It would have been more appropriate if he wished the lad to be a tree.

A big tree cares for the smaller one; it prolongs its shadow and sends a bird, now and then, to keep company.

No tree violates its neighboring tree, and never mocks it if it does not bear fruit.

When a tree is transformed into a boat it learns to swim; when shaped in a door it keeps the secrets, when a desk it teaches the poet never to become a logger.

A tree stands respectful to passersby; it bends lightly with majesty to the winds.  I wish the lad was a tree.

The talent of hope

Whenever he thought of hope he felt tired and bored. He invented a tricky illusion and said “Now, how can I measure a mirage?”

He rummaged through his documents and dusty files of who he was before his invention.

He could not find any copy where he might have noted down, events of fast beating heart and carelessness.

He could not find a trace of standing in the rain for no reason.

Each time he thinks of hope the distance widens between a heavy body and a heart inflicted with wisdom.

He opened a window and saw two cats playing with a puppy dog.  He said: “hope is not the opposite of abjectness; maybe it is faith in a God who is careless; a God who let us rely on our individual talents to pierce through the cloud.”

He said : “Hope is neither matter nor a concept. It is a talent”.

He swallowed a pill for blood pressure; he forgot to query Hope…he felt some kind of happiness of unknown source.

“Trailing a butterfly” by late Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish (Part 3, December 30, 2008)

Routine in Gaza

Low atmospheric pressure; a north-western wind; rain drops, and a wrinkled gray sea is the background.  Autumn clouds (a euphemism, symbolic term for coming massacres);

30 fallen martyrs today in north Gaza. Two women died in a demonstration demanding their share of rights.

Autumn clouds on a clear sunny day destroyed an entire family of 17 members under the debris of their home.  This unusual life is pretty much routine in Gaza.

People can still wish a good morning if they survived a fighter jet bomb: They resume their routine of burying the martyrs.

The people in Gaza are never sure to return to a standing home as the tanks and bulldozers surround the area. People of Gaza wish to be foxes to have safe heaven in grottos but there are none.

We are asking that the devils agree for a short truth to bury the dead.

(Gaza is surrounded by unfriendly States of Israel and Egypt of Mubarak)

A rifle and a “kafane” (shroud)

“Nobody will defeat me; I will not subdue anyone” said a masked security man.  He fired his gun into air and said “the bullet will zoom in on its enemy”.

The masked man is jobless and on a rampage for his private war:  There is no peace to defend and die for.

The man with the rifle was hungry; he fired one more (rashak) in the air hoping that a clump of grapes from heaven would fall to him.

If peace is an interlude between two wars, the dead should have the right to vote: they would certainly vote for an Army General as leader.

(Most of Israel’s PMs are Army Generals)

If we wanted

We will be a people, if we want, when we realize that we are no angels, that evil is not the specialty of the “others”.

We will become a people when we desist of saying a prayer to the “Sacred Nation”, everytime a poor fellow finds something to eat for supper.

We will become a people when we can curse the Sultan and the valet of the Sultan without retribution;

When we forget what the tribe has ordered; when little details are appreciated and valued.

We can be a people when the police protect whores being beaten on the streets; when mixed marriage is a civil law.

We will be a people when we respect the just, the right, and the error, and the wrong.

The law of fear

The killer looks at the ghost of the murdered, not in his eyes, without remorse.  He tells the mobs “Do not blame me: I was just scared

A few interpreted the sentence as the right to kill in self-defense.  A few shared their opinions saying “Justice is the overflow of the generosity of power”. 

Others said “Wouldn’t this murdered individual have a name in other nations?”

The mob paid their condolence to the killer but when a foreigner wondered “But what is the reason for killing a baby?”

The mob replied “Because one day this baby will grow up and then we will fear him”

But why kill the mother?  The mob said “Because she will raise a memory“.

The mob shouted in unison “Fear and not justice is the foundation for authority

Over my heart I walked (The poet had serious heart ailment)

As if my heart is a road, a street pavement, or air;

I walked over my heart.

My heart said to me: “Your question is tiring me; where to go when there is no land, no sky, and you always obey me”

I replied “Revolt against me, run, run; there is nothing behind us but the past“.

Cultural boycott of Israel institutions disseminating misleading propaganda positions

On Monday, CounterPunch ran an article by Omar Robert Hamilton that responded to JK Rowling’s joint letter to defend Israel.

This was one amongst many responses to her letter. JK Rowling responded, and Omar responded to her. We run both below.

JK Rowling Responds:

I’ve had a number of readers asking for more information about why I am not joining a cultural boycott of Israel, so here it is:

As the Guardian letter I co-signed states, the signatories hold different views on the actions of the current Israeli administration.

Speaking purely for myself, I have deplored most of Mr Netanyahu’s actions in office. However, I do not believe that a cultural boycott will force Mr Netanyahu from power, nor have I ever heard of a cultural boycott ending a bloody and prolonged conflict.

If any effects are felt from the proposed boycott, it will be by ordinary Israelis, many of whom did not vote for Mr Netanyahu.

Those Israelis will be right to ask why cultural boycotts are not also being proposed against – to take random examples – North Korea and Zimbabwe, whose leaders are not generally considered paragons by the international community.

The sharing of art and literature across borders constitutes an immense power for good in this world.

The true human cost of the Palestinian conflict was seared upon my consciousness, as upon many others’, by the heart-splitting poetry of Mahmoud Darwish.

In its highest incarnation, as exemplified by Darwish, art civilises, challenges and reminds us of our common humanity.

At a time when the stigmatisation of religions and ethnicities seems to be on the rise, I believe strongly that cultural dialogue and collaboration is more important than ever before and that cultural boycotts are divisive, discriminatory and counter-productive.

Omar Robert Hamilton Responds:

Dear Ms Rowling,

I don’t know if you read my response in Counterpunch to your signing the Cultures of CoExistence letter.

I hope you will take the two minutes it asks of you. You’ve since expanded on your position and so, although I may be speaking to an empty room here, I feel I should step in again.

Firstly, the cultural boycott is not designed to force Mr Netanyahu from power.

If it were not Mr Netanyahu in power it would have been Mr. Herzog and his track record leaves us no reason to hope he would be the kind of visionary leader needed to bring a just resolution to the great injustices that Zionism has wrought upon Palestine.

The cultural boycott is designed to isolate institutions that are directly collaborating with the Israeli government in the on-going occupation and colonization of Palestine.

The cultural, economic and political boycott is designed to bring justice for the Palestinian people.

It is misrepresentative to suggest that BDS is a blunt instrument that blindly targets people based on their ethnicity. That’s what Israel does.

BDS, on the other hand, is a carefully considered campaign based on ethical principles.

It does not target individuals, it does not target people for their beliefs; it targets institutions that profit from death and their brand ambassadors, it targets people who, by accepting money, make themselves complicit with the Israeli state.

Let’s take two examples.

Gal Gadot is an Israeli actress soon to be an international star for playing Wonder Woman.

She served in the Israeli Army and has no problem acting as a representative of her country. However, as no Israeli state institutions contributed to the financing of her films, she is not someone that would be targeted by BDS.

Idan Raichel, on the other hand, has hosted gala fundraisers for the Israeli Army and provided morale boosting entertainment for soldiers on active duty in the most recent assault on Gaza.

In his own words, Raichel said “I believe that our role as artists is to be engaged in the Israeli propaganda campaign [Hasbara].”

Mr Raichel is the kind of artist that BDS targets.

It is laid out very clearly on the website for the Palestinain Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

BDS targets artists, companies and institutions that are in the service of the state and its policy of ethnic cleansing.

You ask why we don’t boycott North Korea?

This is a question often asked by Israeli apologists and the answer is simple: North Korea has no international cultural propaganda programme to boycott. How many state-sponsored celebrations of North Korean culture are happening this year?

How many North Korean lobbyists are at work in Washington DC? How many popstars have had to rescind tweets against North Korea? The answer is zero.

BDS does not stop the sharing of art or of literature across borders.

BDS stops government-sponsored propaganda from masquerading unchallenged as art.

BDS demands that art be art and that artists speak for themselves and not be mouthpieces of an apartheid regime.

Real cultural dialogue between individuals or institutions not affiliated with the state is of no interest to this campaign.

What BDS targets is state-sponsored smokescreening designed to buy Israel more time to conquer more land.

As a signatory to BDS there would be no preventing you from talking and working with as many ‘ordinary Israelis’ as you like.

In fact, it would guarantee that this sector about whom you are so concerned is identified.

Israelis resistant to their state’s policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are welcomed with open arms.

But those that profit from it: they are the ones that we are no longer interested in dialogue with.

I believe that if you consider this carefully you will find that it is actually BDS, and not the Cultures of Co-Existence Clan, that is in line with your stated principles.

 A few of the Most Beautiful Writings from and for Gaza

Mahmoud Darwish once wrote of Gaza,
We are unfair to her when we search for her poems.”
We are certainly unfair when we scrabble anywhere for poems, searching for aesthetic pleasure in others’ suffering. But here, poetry seems to have welled up from the need to speak, to create, to defy silence: Zuabi speaking at an Edinburgh cultural summit.

Most of the Arabic writing about Gaza that came out of the last month was first-person reportage on events.

But some of it mixed together with other elements to create otherworldly or impassioned prose.

The piece that most stunned me in the last month was not by a Gazan, but by Jerusalem-based playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi. His The underground ghetto city of Gaza ran in Haaretz on August 4. 

Zuabi has said elsewhere that he would prefer people to see “dreamlike poetry in his work rather than political drama”; it’s hard to imagine how they would miss it:

“And we start to hope that if we keep on digging, all the way to the core, if we don’t stop, if we perforate the land like a honeycomb, if we make it as flimsy as silk, maybe it will suddenly collapse in on itself.

And then, like a tray piled with cups of coffee and cookies that crashes to the floor in a mess of crumbs and glass, it will all mix together.

The upper part and the lower part will blend. And the rules will change. And we’ll be able to say with a sigh of relief:

Here is a piece of sky mixed with a cracked piece of sea; here is Shujaiyeh mixed with Sderot.

Here is Zeitoun mixed with the Mount of Olives.

Here is compassion mixed with relief; here is one human being mixed with another. And we’ll know that we were saved from the living death in which we are trapped, and now we’ll join the life of above, and with them build a new land. [Read the whole piece.]

Atef Abu Sayf, a novelist and the editor of The Book of Gaza, a short-story collection published this year by Comma Press, wrote a number of pieces. Perhaps the first was “I Do Not Want to Be a Number,” which ran in Slate (translator not named):

“I do not want to be a number, to be a piece in the news, a name mentioned by a beautiful TV anchor waiting impatiently to finish reading news from Gaza.

I do not want to be a small number in a large one, a part of the data.

I do not want to be an image among thousands of images that the activists and sympathizers share on Twitter or post on Facebook, rained down on with likes and comments. [Read the whole piece.]

Abu Sayf also had “Eight Days in Gaza: A Wartime Diary” in the New York Times (translator not named):

“My wife, Hanna, is arguing with the kids over what to buy to celebrate Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. She has forbidden them to go to the grocery store, and she’s adamant that they won’t visit the Internet cafes or the PlayStation shop near my father’s place. They don’t understand the impossibility of shopping at a time of war. [Read the whole piece.]

Photo of coffee in Gaza from

Gaza-based writer Hedaya Shamun shared several pieces of hers with ArabLit. After the 13th day of Operation Protective Edge, she shared “The Taste of Coffee in Gaza,” trans. Shaimaa Debees:

“War changes the taste of coffee. Sweets are no longer as they were before, and no one wants to touch them once the kids have gone.

A bitter taste settles into our eyes and into our hearts. Today is the thirteenth day of the war — of the sudden death.

Every day we greet, leave, and call each other, attempting to support each other, but time gets us! We all feel those terrible shells that are so close to our heads. [Read the whole piece.]

Poet Nathalie Handal, who is from Bethlehem, published two sets of poetry in the last month: Confessions at Midrange: The Voices and Faces of Palestine – Summer, 2014 and Three Poems for Gaza on World Literature Today.

From “Gaza“:

Once in a tiny strip
dark holes swallowed hearts
and one child told another
withdraw your breath
whenever the night wind
is no longer a land of dreams

And “Confessions at Midrange“:

My heart has telescopes

my eyes have invisible streets

my portrait is of a nation

with a hundred square feet of clouds—

maybe god is a country

my eyes can’t see.

gazaGazan author Refaat Al-Areer was editor of the 2013 collection Gaza Writes Backa reaction to the Cast Lead invasion of 2008-2009.

During Protective Edge, Al-Areer lost his brother Mohammed. In The Electronic Intifada, Al-Areer crafted a portrait of his relationship with his younger sibling:

“When I heard they wanted to name my new brother Mohammed, I started crying and shouting, “I don’t want you to name him Mohammed. I want you to name him Hamada! I want Hamada!”

I used to scream my lungs out every time someone called him Mohammed until no one dared do so. He was then known to all as Hamada (which is a pet name for Mohammed). Everyone called him Hamada except, to my disappointment, my dad, who always used his official name, Mohammed.

Ever since, I felt a very strong connection towards Hamada. It was like he was my son, like I owned him, like I had to take care of him and to make sure his name remained Hamada. [Read the whole piece.]

Another Jerusalem-based writer, Amani Rohana, writes “A Story from a Bus in Jerusalem.

Like Al-Areer’s story, Rohana’s is part of Israeli-American poet Moriel Rothman-Zecher‘s list of 39 recommended readings about Israel’s latest attack on Gaza.

From Rohana’s “Bus”:

“Lately, I am just tired of having conversations about anything. Every once in a while, when I find the strength to leave my university dorms in the French Hill, I am advised by my concerned mother not to speak in Arabic in public.

Given the limited resources provided to challenge that fear, I choose not to speak at all. Sometimes, however, you are forced into a conversation, and by that, you are forced to choose between your own conversation and that of others, knowing that either way, you are going to have to bear unbearable consequences, which would include, in the best case, longer, more dreadful conversations. [Read the whole piece.]


More writing from the Book of Gaza authors can be found at the Comma Press blog.

From Israeli novelist Etgar Keret: “Israel’s Other War

From Palestinian-Israeli novelist Sayed Kashua: “Why I Have To Leave Israel”

Collective reading to commemorate: Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish

ANSAmed posted this March 10, 2014

Italian cities to commemorate Palestinian poet Darwish

In collective reading on 13/3, ‘Poetry against Oblivion’

Eleven Italian cities will be celebrating the renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish on the day of his birth with poetry readings, in part to raise awareness about the ‘disappearance’ of his works from Italian bookshops.

On March 13, collective readings will be held in Bari, Milan, Messina, Naples, Cagliari, Florence, Macerata, Rome, Salerno, Turin and Venice of some of the works of the poet, who died in 2008 and is considered one of the most important poets in the Arab world.

His works can still be found in Italian libraries but not in bookshops since the main publisher of his works – the Milan-based Epoché – shut down in early 2013.

The initiative by the cultural association Arabismo has been named ‘Poetry against Oblivion. Poetry Readings for Mahmoud Darwish’.

A number of bookshops and libraries of Bologna, Modena, Mestre and Venice will take part, including with a series of multilingual installations of Darwish’s books.

Note:  Trailing a butterfly

“How I felt Erased of my indentity!”: US Randa Jarrar

On a recent trip to Israel, US citizen Randa Jarrar gets detained, denied entry, and sent to ‘the Arab Room.’ 

Randa posted this May 4, 2012: “Imagining Myself in Palestine”

Image from Flickr via Rusty Stewart

“Trouble began weeks before I boarded my flight to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

I had heard horror stories about a detention area dubbed The Arab Room.  In my anxious and neurotic style, I had emailed a dozen people—American academics and artists of Arab, Indian, Jewish, and European descent— and asked them: ” what I am supposed to tell the immigration officers at Ben Gurion once I arrived?”

They all wanted to know if I was using my American passport, and I assured them that I was. The vast majority told me not to tell the officers that I would be staying at my sister’s in Ramallah. They said this would cause trouble, and offered up the names of friends and family for my use.

The generosity of people poured in, and I was advised to say that I was staying with this writer, or that visual artist, or this former-IDF soldier—people I had never met, but who had volunteered themselves to be my proxy hosts. A friend of mine, who is a phenomenal photojournalist, gave me her phone number and advised to tell the officers that I would be staying with her, and I agreed.

This photojournalist told me to prepare for the officers to call her themselves once I gave them her number, as this is something they are known to do.

I was so afraid of facing the guards at the airport that I had a difficult time imagining the rest of my trip. I would picture myself walking around Ramallah with my sister, or attending a concert, or visiting my aunts, or seeing the separation Wall of Shame, or staying at the American Colony Hotel for an evening, and I would draw a blank. There was a Wall there, too, between my thoughts and Palestine.

Growing up, my Palestinian identity was mostly tied to my father. He was the Palestinian in the family, and when we went back to the West Bank it was to see his brothers and sisters and parents. We always entered Palestine through Amman, crossing the Allenby Bridge over the river Jordan and waiting in endless inspection lines.

I remember these trips dragging on through morning and midday and well into the afternoon. My father would sit quietly, and when I complained, my Egyptian mother would tell me that the Israelis made it difficult for us to cross into the West Bank.

Mother said: “The Israelis wanted us to give up, that they would prefer we never go back. We must not let them win.

My relationship with my Palestinian identity was cemented when I enrolled in a PLO-sponsored girls’ camp as a teen. We learned nationalistic songs and dances and created visual art that reflected our understanding of the occupation.

As my family and I moved to America in 1991, my Palestinian identity shifted again, and I began to see myself as an Arab-American. My father’s fiery rants on Palestine died out when Yitzak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish-Israeli extremist. I remember my father weeping in our American wood-paneled den. He said that Rabin had been the Palestinians’ last chance.

When my sister got a job in Ramallah last year, teaching music to children, I knew I would want to visit her. I had not been to Palestine since 1993. I had planned to go back in the summer of 1996, but I was pregnant and unmarried.

My parents did not want to speak to me, let alone take me with them, in such a shameful condition, to the West Bank. I never went back with family after that. I led my own life.

I moved about a dozen times over the following 15 years—an American nomad. I didn’t want to visit the West Bank and be at the mercy of family. If I ever visited, I would do so independently. When my sister moved to Ramallah she found an apartment of her own, and it had an extra room. It was the perfect time to go. My husband booked my flight and was thrilled. I told my sister I was coming.

I felt uneasy as soon as I arrived at the Philadelphia Gate. I didn’t notice  any other “Arabs” boarding US Airways flight 796 to Tel Aviv.  I found myself surrounded by Christian missionaries and Evangelicals and observant Jewish men. The group across the aisle had their bibles out, the man sitting next to me read from a miniature Torah…

As the flight took off, I recited a verse from the Quran, almost against my will. I am an atheist, but all the praying was contagious.

I spoke to no one on the plane, and no one spoke to me, until I got up to stand in line for the bathroom. A man with a wandering eye and a yarmulke asked if I knew why a section of the plane had been hidden behind a thick grey cloth. I said that it was probably to give the flight attendants a little privacy during the eleven-hour trip. He nodded, and said, “Good. I was worried that it was for those crazy Ultra-Orthodox people. They’re like the Jewish Taliban.”

I nodded, uncomfortable. I wondered if he would have spoken to me like this if he knew I was of Palestinian descent, and an ex-Muslim. He continued, “They’re ruining Israel. They spit on an 8-year-old girl because she was dressed inappropriately.” I told him that I had heard about that story. A bathroom opened up, and he moved to slip inside, but before he locked the folding door he said: “Unbelievable how crazy they are.”

It was not a conversation I had expected.

As we descended into Israel, the blue Mediterranean floated by below us. We saw the shore of Tel Aviv, and the buildings along it. An American teenager sitting in front of me started shouting, “It’s so pretty! It’s so pretty!” She wouldn’t have any trouble clearing customs, I was sure.

When we landed, everyone on the plane clapped, something I thought only Lebanese people did, and I smiled. I turned on my phone and called my sister and let her know I had arrived, and that I would call her on the other side of customs and immigration. I was only an hour away from her.

I took a deep breath and did something superstitious, as I tend to do when I am feeling powerless and anxious. I flipped to a random page in my passport, hoping to find meaning and reassurance in it. The page was a picture of an old steamship, presumably in the shadow of Ellis Island. I found the image inspiring, calming, and I felt ready to face customs.

This was how Israel treated someone with a voice and American citizenship.

I had deleted anything on my website critical of Israel, which amounted to about 160 posts. I had deleted the section in my Wikipedia entry stating  that I was a Palestinian writer. It had been unsettling, deleting my Palestinian identity in order to go back to Palestine. I had been told that the Israeli officers might confiscate my phone and read my Facebook posts and Twitter feed…

So I temporarily deactivated my Facebook account and locked my tweets. The entire endeavor left me feeling erased.

I had read an article about the hundreds of activists that had flown into Tel Aviv Airport last July 8th (mostly French). They had all been detained over the weekend and then flown back to their countries of origin. Only one of visitor had made it through. When she was asked how she managed it, she said: “I chose the “smiliest” immigration officer and stood in her line”.

So, when I entered the immigration hall, I did the same. The agent I chose was blonde and young, and her line was moving the fastest. I stood, waited, and tried to relax.

When there was only one person in the line in front of me, the woman went to the back of her booth and a young bearded man took her place. He did not seem “smiley” at all. I considered switching lanes, but I knew I would look suspicious. And I waited.

When it was my turn, I gave the officer my blue American passport. As he scanned it, I noticed that he had unbelievably long lashes. He thumbed through the pages, and I was afraid of what he would make of the Lebanese stamp. He asked me what my purpose was for visiting Israel. I told him it was my Spring Break, and I had come to visit friends. He asked me where I was staying. I did as I’d been told…I was staying in Jerusalem, with the photojournalist.

He picked up a black telephone. When he hung up, he told me to go wait in the room in the corner. I asked him if I could have my passport back, and he said no. I asked him when I would be getting my passport back, and he didn’t answer. He only repeated that I needed to go to the room in the corner.

I crossed the immigration hall diagonally, and entered the Arab Room. Sitting in the room and waiting were a young Arab man and an older Arab woman in hijab, two black men in African garb, one of whom was holding an iPad, two middle-aged Arab women in hijab, one dark-haired Tunisian-American woman in a long skirt, one woman in a Whitney Houston t-shirt, her hair gathered up in a turban, and one dark-skinned Arab woman in a pant suit…

It was readily transparent that we had all been racially profiled. A young man joined us, and got on his phone. I heard him saying, “No, they just finished questioning me. I’m half-Egyptian. I should be out soon.” I got up and told the woman guard at the door that I needed to go to the bathroom, and she nodded. When I came back to the room, I sat down and took out a magazine, reading as calmly as I could.

About twenty minutes passed before a redhead, about nineteen, summoned me down the hallway. I followed him to an office where a few brown men were answering questions. The redhead asked me to take a seat and swiped my passport through at his station.

He asked me, “What is the name of your father? And what is the name of your father’s father?”

My father and I hadn’t spoken since he read my first novel, nearly four years ago. He had sent me an angry email, and told me that we would no longer be seeing one another, or speaking.

I gave the redhead the names he’d asked. He noted something on a piece of paper, and asked me where my father was from. My father was born in 1950, when the West Bank was part of Jordan, so I told the redhead that my father was a Jordanian-American.

“So, he is from Jordania?” the redhead said, and I said that technically, yes. “Where was he born?” I told the redhead that my father had been born in Jenin. He noted something else on a piece of paper, gave it to a man who seemed like a superior, and asked me to go to another room in an opposite corner. When I said that I was a writer and an American citizen, born in Chicago, he shrugged, and instructed me, again, to go to the room in the opposite corner.

I went to the room, and I waited.

My father had said in his email that, by writing about sex in my novel so shamelessly, I had disregarded the legacy of my Palestinian family, which had defeated Napoleon!

I always thought he was being dramatic about Napoleon, but eventually I looked it up. In a book titled Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus 1700-1900, I found the Jarrar family, and I found Napoleon. The Emperor’s attempt to conquer Palestine had been stopped short in 1799, and an ancestor of mine named Shaykh Yousef Jarrar, the mayor of Jenin, had written a poem “in which he exhorted his fellow leaders… to unite under one banner against the French forces.” I’d never heard of this poet-warrior ancestor before, but I had given my son the middle name Yousef, as if by instinct.

A woman, wearing seven rings on her fingers, and a lot of blue eye makeup caked around her eyes, emerged from a small interrogation room and asked me to join her. She told me to close the door behind me.

The room was the size of a walk-in closet, and I knew it had been built to intimidate travelers. The woman said she liked my necklace, and we spoke about jewelry for a few minutes. I admired one of her rings in particular, and she smiled and said it was from Egypt. She then swiped my passport, and asked me about my parents’ names, again.

This time, I told her I was not in communication with my father, and that I was an American citizen, and a writer. She did not seem to care about this information one way or the other, and spoke my grandmother’s name.

I hadn’t heard my grandmother’s name in years. She had died in the early eighties. I told the officer this, and she nodded, and gave me the names of many of my ancestors. I wanted to ask her for her grandmother’s name, instead I gave her the name of my friend in Jerusalem, and my Israeli publisher in Or Yehuda.

“Your publisher?” she said, confused, and I said my book had been translated into Hebrew and published in Israel. I could see her computer screen. She plugged in my publisher’s name and my friend’s, in Hebrew, and their addresses came up. The program she was using looked clunky and old, but it held information on every citizen in Israel. At this point, things began to feel Kafkaesque.

She said that there was a Palestinian ID attached to my name. I told her I had no such ID. She said that I had entered the West Bank with the ID in 1993, and that they had record of the entry. She said that this would be a problem. When I tried to plead my case, she asked me to put my right finger on a glowing red scanner. Then my left finger. She took my photograph and asked me to go back to the first waiting room. When I asked her what I should expect, she said she wasn’t sure.

Half an hour later, a group of teenage guards took me to baggage claim. I asked them if I could speak to someone from the American embassy, or the consulate, and they nodded, smirking. A few minutes later, I asked them what we were doing there, and they said we needed to find my bag. I said that my carry-on bag was my only bag, and they seemed shocked. I travel a lot, I told them, which they seemed to find suspicious.

The teenage guards asked me why I travel light, and I said I was a writer. They frowned at me. We waited for more guards. It must have been their shift change. The baggage claim was deserted. In the corner, a few guards were giving each other massages. The guards I was waiting with gave each other high fives and chatted about teenage stuff. I kept asking what we were waiting for, and they ignored me.

Finally, they took me to a room in the corner of the baggage claim area. It was becoming clear to me that at Ben Gurion, unjust things happened in corners. The guards asked me to open my bags. I did as I was told. I noted that the room was filthy.

The Israelis were concerned with showing a clean and gleaming exterior—the floors of the airport outside shone–but for suspected threats and people like myself, behind closed doors, tucked away in dirty corners, they hadn’t bothered.

A very butch young woman asked me to follow her. She led me to yet another room, where the walls were faded and filthy, and the floor was covered in dirty carpet, littered with small bits of paper and hair clips. It reeked of intimidation, and of humiliation.

I don’t believe in hokey things such as souls or spirits, but I could sense a deeply disturbing feeling in the room. There, though I was not strip-searched, the young guard poked and searched every millimeter of my clothes and underclothes. I tried to keep myself distracted, so I wouldn’t weep. I tried to keep my spirits up. I wondered if she thought I was a “hair-orist.” I did not want to allow these teenagers to rob me of my dignity.

When I came out of the room, a boy with pimples, who looked like he was my son’s age, was going through my clothes. Above him hung a tourist poster for the Dead Sea. The poster read: “The Dead Sea; Where Time Seems To Stand Still“. I had been in Ben Gurion for over two hours, and knew the feeling. It was as if I existed outside of time, suspended in a strange molasses of interrogation.

When he was done checking all my clothes, he asked me if I needed any help re-packing the bag. I said that I didn’t, and that I had a system for packing. “You have a system?” he shouted. I told him this was an American idiom. Still, he watched me closely as I packed.

I was worn down and angry. The teenagers escorted me back to the waiting room, the Arab Room, where there was now a new guard. A few people were gone, and a few new people had arrived, but it was still an Arab Room.

The woman with all the rings walked in with my passport in her hand and said that she was sorry, but that I was not allowed to enter Israel. She said she had spoken to her supervisor, and that he had decided that I was not to enter Israel. When I asked her if I could speak to him personally, she said she would ask, and walked away with my passport. I never saw her again, nor did I see the supervisor.

I called my sister and told her the news. She was devastated. A friend of mine had been waiting in his car outside the airport to drive me to her, and I called him, too. When I told him now that I was being shipped back to the U.S., he said, furious, that he would call his friends at the U.S. Consulate. When I called him back, he said that there was nothing the US Consulate could do, and that I was banned by law from entering Israel because I was considered Palestinian.

I told a guard that I was a diabetic, and hungry, and an hour later someone wordlessly brought me sandwich. I began to feel like a prisoner, grateful for a dry bit of bread and cheese. Half way through the sandwich, I asked the other people in the room if they were hungry. A middle-aged woman in hijab said she was, and I gave her the rest of the sandwich.

A large guard appeared over me, hovering, and asked me in Arabic where I was from. I answered reflexively in English, “I am from here. And from California.” He asked me, in Arabic, where I was going after the airport. I said, in English, that I was going to Jerusalem. He walked away and accused me of pretending not to know Arabic. He said the word Arabic hatefully. I followed him, and said, in Arabic, “OK, I do speak Arabic. Where do I want to go after this? I want to go to a bar with my friends.” He laughed at me, and said I could go to a bar when I got back to America.

After a while, I was the last person in the room. It had high stone walls that spanned every floor of the airport, and when I tried to look all the way up, I could not see the ceiling. I felt as if I were trapped in a strange, deep well.

An elderly man who was not Jewish but who had attempted to make Aliyya was put in the room with me. When they told him he was being deported back to the U.S., he said he would not leave. The guard said to him: “I could do this the nice way, or I could do this the not nice way.” It was ludicrous in more ways than one, to hear a nineteen-year-old speak to an old man that way. He sounded like a thug.

An hour later, the bearded young man who had originally questioned me at the immigration hall became my guard. When I tried to go to the bathroom, he said I was not allowed. This made me nervous. I had been allowed to go before. I told him so. “Well, it’s different now,” he said.

“Different how?” I asked. “Am I under detention?”

He would not answer me. I told him that I was an American citizen and that I demanded to know whether or not I was under detention. He closed his eyes, then opened them, and said, reluctantly, “Yes.”

I lost it. I demanded to see someone from the embassy or the consulate. He ignored me. I said that he needed to take me to the bathroom. He said no. I lifted up my dress and pretended to squat, and shouted, “Fine, then I will go to the bathroom right here!”

He became angry and shouted to another guard to take me to the bathroom. When she said she couldn’t, he took me himself. He insisted on the gender-neutral handicapped toilet, and he waited outside the stall. When I was done, he checked the stall after me, to make sure that I had not concocted a bomb out of my pubic hair. I laughed at him, and he angrily took me back to the detention room.

I waited two more hours. Whenever a guard came into the room, I would ask him what was going on with my passport, and what I could expect. The guard would look down at me and sneer, “You have to wait. You have to wait.” When I told him I had been waiting for hours, he only repeated, “You have to wait.”

My wait felt interminable. In his speech to the UN, Mahmoud Abbas quoted the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “State of Siege.” He read, “Standing here. Sitting here. Always here./ Eternally here,/ we have one aim and one aim only: to continue to be. And we shall be.”

The state of sitting, of standing, of waiting, is the principal state of the Palestinian, it is the state of the refugee, of the oppressed, of the outsider, of the writer.

Eventually, two female guards came to tell me what time I would board the flight back to the U.S. When they did, I burst into tears. I had been holding out hope, right to the last. After they left, I was stuck with the male guard again, the one who had picked up the phone in the immigration booth.

I asked him if I could board a flight elsewhere—to Amman, or Cairo, even Paris. I wanted to go somewhere, at least, even if I couldn’t see my sister.

“No,” he said. “You have to go back from where you came.”

I said that this was unacceptable, and that I wanted the choice to go elsewhere.

This time, he shouted it. “No. You must go back from where you came from.”

“Are you from The Lord of the Rings?” I said.

He narrowed his eyes at me, and snapped, “Come with me.” He made me stand in a hallway for twenty minutes, as punishment. I made fun of his long eyelashes. I asked him if he was related to Snuffalupagus. He ignored me.

An hour or so passed, and a guard came and eventually escorted me to flight 797, back to the U.S. We bypassed security, avoiding a scene, and when we got to the airplane the guard gave my passport to the American flight attendant.

Do not give her back her passport until you arrive in America,” he said.

She squinted at him, confused. “What do you mean?”

“This woman was denied entry, and must return to the United States. Do not give her this passport until you have left Israel and arrived in America.”

She looked at me and nodded, frowning.

I went to my seat, which was in the middle of the middle row, the worst place to sit on a twelve-hour flight. The flight attendant walked over and handed me my passport. “Um, here you go,” she said, and I laughed and thanked her.

Holding my passport again on that almost-empty plane, I understood, in a way, how lucky I had been. The passport hadn’t been confiscated. I was not imprisoned. And yet, this was how Israel treated someone with a voice and American citizenship.

There are today, held without charge in the Israeli military detention system, hundreds of Palestinians, including children. There are reports of a systematic pattern of ill treatment towards them. Silenced and oppressed, these prisoners have little recourse. In the news recently I saw that two thousand of these prisoners have resorted to the last form of protest left to them: they have collectively gone on hunger strike.

I flipped through the passport, and, surprised, found that the officials had left a stamp on it. The stamp was massive, and read, in English and Hebrew, Ben Gurion Airport ENTRY DENIED. I stared at it for a few minutes. Then, I saw it: the picture of the ship I had seen eight hours earlier, that I had thought was a sign of good luck.

I remembered how, when I first met my mother-in-law in Texas, we had bonded over her collection of costume jewelry. A lot of the pieces were from her first husband, whom she had divorced before meeting my father-in-law. I noticed that many of the pieces he’d given her had imagery of boats and ships. When I pointed that out to her, she had raised her wine glass and said, “You’re right! He was shippin’ me out.” And that’s what had happened to me. I had been shipped out.

Two massive, bald-headed men sat on either side of me. If I believed the conspiracies, I would have thought those guys were Mossad. But it was obvious before long, from the way they blasted terrible club music on their earphones and, later, passed out, that they were just some doofuses on their way to America. In an attempt to be polite and not touch the men around me, I folded my arms, but this became terribly uncomfortable after a while.

A few hours into our flight, I decided that I was tired of being polite and so I put both my arms down. Minutes later, the man on my right began to jab my elbow. I ignored him and feigned sleep. He jabbed and jabbed.

Finally, I turned to him, my arm firmly on the armrest, and said, “I get it.”

He looked at me, embarrassed.

I really get it. But I am keeping this armrest. I am not moving. I will keep my arm here for the rest of the flight,” I said. And I did.




January 2023

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