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Tamim al-Barghouti: To Belong

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    The two sisters from Acre: Reflections on what it means to belong By Tamim al-Barghouti The Daily Star Tuesday, July 27, 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2004
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      The two sisters from Acre:
      Reflections on what it means to belong

      By Tamim al-Barghouti
      The Daily Star
      Tuesday, July 27, 2004

      http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?
      edition_id=10&categ_id=4&Article_id=6638

      During the first intifada, whenever a Palestinian child was arrested
      by Israeli soldiers, any woman in the street would run and try to
      snatch him away from the soldiers' hands, screaming "my son, my son!"
      even if she was not actually the boy's mother. Once, it happened by
      coincidence that four women tried to snatch the same boy away, each
      one of them screaming that the boy was her son. The Israeli soldier,
      as angry as amazed, yelled at the women: "What are these crazy Arabs,
      one boy has a hundred mothers?!!!" One of the women answered without
      blinking: "Well, khawaja (foreigner), praise be to God, our boy has a
      hundred mothers, but your boy has a hundred fathers!"



      An old man from Saffuriya, a Palestinian village in Galilee, went
      back to his village, after the expulsion of 1948, to find a Romanian
      Jew occupying his house, so the Palestinian asked the new
      comer: "Where are you from, sir?" and the new comer said: "I am
      Isaac, I am from here, from Saffuriya, and you?"... The Palestinian,
      wearing his headdress and a peasant's gown said, again without a
      blink: "I am Abu Ahmad ... from Romania!"



      I heard both stories, from Abu Salam, the late Emile Habibi, author
      of "The Pessoptimist," which is, in my judgment, the greatest
      Palestinian novel of the twentieth century. I met him 15 years ago in
      Budapest. I was 12 years old, but still I was struck by his flood of
      stories, sharp, funny and bitter. I read his novels a couple of years
      later, and kept rereading them until today. Habibi was able, like no
      other, to express the passions of the Palestinians who stayed in
      their lands after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.



      Two threads of feelings emerge in his writings, one of fear and
      anxiety that sometimes borders on despair and another of extreme
      stability and continuity. You never get the feeling when you read
      Emile Habibi that you are reading minority literature. He lets you
      believe that in any honest census, even the birds and the trees would
      count as Arabs. Habibi was an Orthodox Christian by birth and an
      orthodox Marxist by choice, but his literature is inseparable from
      his Arab Islamic heritage. Unlike his controversial political
      stances, his literature is clear cut: Israel, is just like any other
      invasion, it will come and go, leaving its traces on some
      gravestones, some buildings and maybe a couple of dishes, but that's
      about it.



      This week, I met a seven-year- old Palestinian girl from Acre. She
      goes to a singing school in Ramallah, she was skillfully singing
      melodies from thirteenth century Andalusia - the words of which were
      written by Lisan Al-Din ibn al-Khatib, the great vizier of the house
      of Bani Nasr, the kings of Granada and the builders of the famous
      palace of Al-Hambra. The girl then started singing a classical
      Egyptian song from the Turkish school, composed by a late nineteenth-
      early twentieth century musician, followed by a more recent song by
      Sheikh Imam, the greatest underground musician of the 1970s. Imam's
      songs were forbidden in Egypt, but now they are more famous than the
      ministers and prime ministers who forbid them, and a seven- year-old
      Palestinian from Acre knows them by heart. Finally, she sang a couple
      of folk songs from the Levant, common in Palestine, Lebanon Syria and
      Jordan. Her sister, who played the violin marvelously, played a piece
      of hers she had called Yafa. The complexity and skill of the piece
      were breathtaking.



      As I was listening to the two sisters, I remembered Habibi; like him,
      in their innocent production of beauty, they seemed to be bitterly
      mocking the state of Israel. Given geographical and historical
      conditions, it seems unlikely that Israel would ever be able to
      isolate the Palestinians living within its borders from their broader
      Arab and Islamic cultural space. As communication becomes easier by
      the day, the sense of identity and belonging will grow stronger and
      stronger. It will be impossible to really convince this girl that
      Ariel Sharon belongs here more than she does. It is true that half of
      Israel's Jewish population comes from eastern countries and the
      Middle East, but the identity Israel chose for itself is foreign and
      will remain foreign. The girls were able to belong, 100 percent, to
      the Arab world, more so than the nuclear weapons that were meant to
      keep them away from it.



      This is not to say that our enemies do not have a culture of their
      own, or that ours is superior to theirs - the point is that, due to
      various historical reasons, our enemies were deprived of the
      opportunity of developing a distinct culture linked to geography.
      Their history for two millennia is one of Diaspora, a mixture of
      people belonging to different cultures and places, but not a
      continuous interrelated set of ideas and metaphors.



      Our son has a hundred mothers, but you can easily trace his ancestry.
      With them it is the other way around. Even if it is argued that they
      belong somewhere, then it is not Acre, and even if it is Acre, they
      definitely do not belong there more than those two girls, and through
      those two girls, Lisan al-Din ibn al-Khatib of Granada, Mohammad
      Uthman of Egypt and Fairuz of Lebanon belong to Acre just as much.



      Tamim al-Barghouti is a Palestinian poet who writes a weekly article
      for The Daily Star

      *********************************************************************

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