To Gaza, soul of my father

I hate politics. But this one is for you, father. he called last night, an unemotional man who has always mastered the art of self control. This was the first time his voice revealed pain, I almost cried. Well, I did, after he hung up, of course!Gaza

  • How are things in your homeland, daddy?
  • Many died in the air raid [on Gaza]. Your uncle held a wake for them a few days ago.
  • Where were they?
  • Some where praying in the mosque. Some where in their houses. May God help them. Do you remember Gaza? You must remember it, I took you there many times as a child.
  • Yes, I do. I didn’t like it much when I was a kid. I’m sorry, but I didn’t.
  • [mumbles]… Gazans are a great people. What they are enduring is… heart breaking.

So… my dad’s heart is broken. So is mine. We love what our loved ones love. He spent many years fighting for a proper higher educational system in the university he presided over for so many years in Gaza. We barely saw him as kids, as he commuted frequently between our residence and his beloved, Gaza. One time he was away for I don’t know how many years, locked up in Gaza, since Israelis refused to grant him pass back home on the other side of the Bank. I remember running to the door to greet him, he looked so distant, I didn’t know him, he didn’t quite know me.

He was born there, I wasn’t. I spent most of my childhood relating more to my mother’s roots in Damascus, and hated going to Gaza. We used to get VIP treatment at the bridge every time we went owing to dad’s academic position. In old times, academicians were treated with respect… until the day came and we were told no more VIP room for us, we were all potential terrorists. My dad threatened to fax Harvard University, all the academicians he knew in the world, if they dared insult us. An Israeli officer with a beard told him: Dr…. I am a professor too, sir, but those are my orders.

Like everyone else, we took off our clothes and shoes. My father and brother went to the men’s section, I was led away from them. I remember panicking over the fact I was left alone with a female Israeli soldier. She was trying to be nice to me, but I felt so ashamed and exposed standing there half naked and crying: where is my father? where are you taking me?

What kind of a “state” that strips people of clothes to enter territories it has occupied! As a kid I started hating going to Gaza. But we continued going there, until one day my grandmother called my father and told him:

  • You are no longer my son if you refuse to bring the kids and sleep over at my house tonight.
  • Ya 7ajjeh, what’s wrong with you?
  • I had a bad dream and I want you to leave your house (the uni president’s house near the sea in Gaza), and come spend the night over here.
  • It’s just a dream, ya 7ajjeh, the children are OK.
  • I swear to Allah the Almighty if you don’t come spend the night here, you’re not my son and I don’t know you.

My father is grandmother’s eldest, she used to swear on his life, and so with that kind of threat, he couldn’t ignore her irrational request.

So, we took our pajamas, and went to sleep at grandmother’s house inside the city of Gaza, a bit off the sea (a beautiful blue sea it was).

Next morning, we went back home, to find shrapnel, bullets, hand grenades… the house was a mess, the windows were shattered, everything inside was burnt. Neighbors gathered around dad, they were screaming details of what had happened the night before… they told him a helicopter flew over at night, several masked soldiers went down on hanging ladders and worked their machine guns, leaving holes in the wall… they threw hand grenades inside, creating havoc and panic around the neighborhood.

My dad, being a freedom fighter who feared God only, wanted to send a message that said: I am not afraid (apparently he was used to this kind of stuff).

He brought in new furniture, put up new windows, and once the house was kind of livable, my brother and I were kept inside as a sign of defiance. We were locked up inside the only room that didn’t breathe smoke, guarded by my many male cousins for a month.

For a month we didn’t see sun light; food was brought to us by a cousin I grew up to hate (kids don’t know the difference between being protected, or being locked up, it was jail all the same to us). I remember our lunch was 7alaweh & bread every single day of the month (they were afraid we might get poisoned – I still think it’s lame). We had people from friends, family & the university sleeping in the garden at night to guard the house. They all cringed every time a helicopter whizzed by.

Dad had received a letter saying we were going to be kidnapped if he continued his non sense with the university, the university which triggered the 1st Intifada and lost many martyrs (knew about this in recent years only). I remember we weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom only very occassionally, I didn’t see my dad, only that cousin who heard us scream inside: Get us out!!! MAMAAAAAAAAAAAA.

My mom was on a UN mission around that time around Gaza, so somehow she gained access to us after 2 weeks. She came in and helped me up for my 1st bath in 2 weeks. I don’t know how old I was back then, but since I needed mom for a bath I guess I was pretty small. I kept on weeping as she gave me the best bath in my life, telling me that everything is OK. She told me she was in interrogation somewhere but her UN passport made things easier for her and she managed to come over to stay with us.

Forever scarred. I grew up to hate Israel and that Gazan cousin who slept outside our door and didn’t let us out when we spent days and nights crying out loud: Get us out of hereeeeeee… I want mamaaaaa! The shutters were always down. Once we were crying so loud that our cousin came in & opened the shutters for half an hour so we could see sunshine.

As family, we never spoke about that incident. Did they think I will forget? Anyhow, a few years ago, I sat with my father and told him… “Remember the assassination attempt?” He smiled embarrassingly. “Why didn’t you take us to therapy afterwards? No one spoke about it to us as if it never happened. Have you any idea how many nights I spent in nightmares? I was one of the smallest kids around with insomina!”

  • He said: “That’s the nature of the struggle. That wasn’t the first time, but I thought it was better not to burden you with it all. I thought you will forget.”
  • Burden me? I was there. I still hate that cousin who only fed us 7alaweh and bread.
  • He is a good hearted man, he still asks me about you. He loves you so much. He was so careful because he feared for your life.
  • Well, I don’t love him & he over did it. No one explained to us why we were locked up for a month. A month!!!
  • 3 weeks.
  • All the same. I am glad we finally spoke about this, though. I think you can understand why I’m not such a fan of Gaza. You know my brother remembers nothing of what had happened?
  • I know. Don’t remind him. Let’s not talk about this again.

I am sorry Gaza for all your pains. On first day of this year, I spent a whole day at the Sufi Zawya praying for you, my relatives, uncles, aunts, and most of all, my father; the man I would die for. If he loves you Gaza, then I love you too, for you are his soul.

So… when people talk about peace. When people talk about forgiveness, they speak from their… because when a “state” decides to kill a university professor along with his family, it is a state of evil. I shall die with this conviction. May God burn you in hell Israel, and may all the false peace treaties and trickery and darkness you spread around come back to haunt you.

Ila Jahanam wa bi2sa al maseer.

* This is a true story. The narrator of the above is still alive & continues to hate talking about patriotism & politics.

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About 50% Syrian

What is identity? I was raised Arab (of varying origins), with a Syrian mother, and Moroccan, Lebanese and Tunisian great grandfathers and grandmothers. I always felt 50% Syrian, and this percentage mattered to me more than anything else. Love of my life, my late Sufi grandmother, is Syrian... all her bedtime stories were about her life in Damascus. Damascus is where the heart dwells.
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6 Responses to To Gaza, soul of my father

  1. saint says:

    very touching sotry, I hope to see an end soon for the atrocity and havoc in Gaza

  2. Yaak says:

    I hate politics, especially in that part of the world because it is intertwined with religion. The Gods of the three “sammawi” (accent on m is mine) religions must be watching the news in amusement! They are the ones who told their peoples to build their most revered shrines within a square mile. I can’t understand why the Gods haven’t told them to disperse in the vast land (what’s wrong with Mongolia?) What a wicked set-up by these Gods of their own people!
    However, I do agree that what the poor Gazan people are taking upon their shoulders dwarfs all Arabs, big and small.

  3. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Syria: Gaza On Our Minds

  4. I came through your link on Global Voices. I’m so sorry for everything you went through. My heart, and my respect, goes out to you and your family; your dad in particular. What a strong man! I’m very sorry what you had to endure. As someone who grew up in Canada, far away from the turmoil and pain of the Middle East, I cannot being to fathom what it must have been like. But nevertheless, your father shows admirable strength. This cause, this Ummah, needs more men like your rather, Allah yi barek fee ya Rabb.

    My prayers go out to Gaza and your family. Although I love Palestine as though it were my own country, I am not Palestinian, or Gazan for that matter, so this is no matter of patriotism. This is a matter of humanity and dignity and basic rights.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. I would love to provide a link on my page, if you don’t mind?

    Thank you again.

    S&S

  5. 50% Syrian says:

    Saint… me too.

    Yaak, Amen… what’s wrong with Mangolia!

    souvenirsandscars… Thanks for uyour heartfelt comment! please feel free to post link where you wish. Loved your blog!

  6. Pingback: Links on Peace and Pain « Souvenirs and Scars

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