By Hatim Kanaaneh
‘April is the cruelest month.’ — T. S. Eliot.
In rural Palestine we belittle men who cry. Only women let their tears flow freely. It is considered less than manly. Real men are stoic and conceal their pain, physical as well as emotional. At least in public, I try to conform to the dictates of village culture in matters that do not impinge greatly on my personal freedom. Perhaps that is why I rarely attend funerals in Arrabeh. But also I attend few weddings. Now that the village is large enough for weddings and/or funerals to be daily occurrences I avoid both extremes of village social interactions. Instead I celebrate and grieve privately on YouTube, enjoying a daily portion of Arabic song and dance on or commiserating with fellow peace and justice seekers on our various cyberspace powwows.
A rural tradition I have come to observe recently is early rising: I am up each morning at the crack of dawn, just as the seven youthful muezzins commence blaring their cacophonous calls for prayer from the loudspeakers atop their minarets, strategically dispersed around the village to reach its every bedroom. Not that I have anything against praising the good Lord early in the morning. In fact on occasion I enjoy a visit on my tape recorder with Sheik Kaid, the old village muezzin and my former Arabic language teacher who used to dock me points for not appearing at the mosque for the Friday noon group prayer. After I came back from my studies in the States and before he went on his mosque building spree resulting eventually in six additional mosques in the village, I took the trouble of making my own recording of his beautiful call for the dawn prayer. I did it one early calm summer morning when there was nothing to disturb the village peace. It was when the sheik still did not have a loudspeaker; he sang his praise of God and call of the faithful to the mosque from the lofty balcony of the old minaret in the center of Arrabeh in the serene calm of Galilee. Only an occasional rooster would crow, a dog bark or a donkey bray. It was before the advent of electricity, the innovation that threw the roosters’ timing off and made them crow every time an electric light is switched on in the village.
Once the muezzin’s morning competition in praising God is over calm returns except for the melodious singing of blackbirds in my garden. By then I have prepared my morning cup of coffee and switched my computer on. I start with a quick glance at my email inbox for any special messages, loaf around cyberspace for a few minutes, and then proceed with the morning’s writing assignment for the next few hours.
On Saturday, April, 09, 2011 I connected to The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice http://rachelcorriefoundation.org to check if the website had acknowledged the piece of bitter sarcasm I had just added on my blog about the last two sessions of the Corries’ court case against the State of Israel. Bam! Rachel’s glorious smile went right through to my heart. I was devastated. How could I have such emotional crush, fatherly as it was, on a young woman I never met in person? I craved for a hug from that beautiful woman to quench my longing for her. It was two months since the last time I had held Rhoda, my daughter, in my arms. I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. Here was Rhoda being run over by the blade of that D-9 Caterpillar. Oh, my God! How can they do that to my sweetheart? I held Rachel closer to my heart to protect her from the biblical cruelty she sacrificed herself to protect other humans from. I squeezed hard and broke out crying. I was afraid I might wake my wife. I gulped silently for air and let my tears flow quietly down my unshaven face. What kind of man was I? I had to take control of myself. I gave Rhoda a tight hug and kissed Rachel on the cheek before I opened my eyes and walked over to the washbasin to splash some cold water on my face. I refilled my coffee cup, went back to my computer and wrote a couple of emotional pages in my novel about Galilee, Palestine and Israel.
After a breakfast of fresh citrus fruits and fried eggs from my two surviving free-range chickens I puttered around in the garden for a while. By now I felt exhausted. I took a rest. [How did He manage to slug at it for six days straight before taking a rest? Perhaps He didn’t have much on His mind. Bad thoughts are more exhausting than ditch digging; take it from one who practices both regularly. It must have been before the Internet and all its disturbing tidings.] Soon I was up again with my laptop. I saw another video, this one posted by Kate on Mondoweiss, the online periodical that proclaims itself as the locus for “The war of ideas in the Middle East” and hence the place where I occasionally give expression to my frustration and bitter protesting. April 9th is the memorial day of the Deir Yassin massacre. [He simply couldn’t have seen this video and kept quiet. Please, don’t be upset with me. I am giving Him the benefit of the Doubt. After all, He must have slept on the job and didn’t see the actual event in 1948, just as he did earlier when the holocaust was in progress. But at least, later on, when He found out about the holocaust He tried to do something about it; He compensated His favorite children politically and financially. Never mind that He screwed us, the Palestinians, in the process.] Here is the link for it should you want to rid your body of excess salt and accumulated fluid. I for one cried my eyes out.
The over-half-an-hour-long video opens and ends with the saddest o‘ud music. In between it maintains a balance between Arab and Jewish narrators and covers a range of relevant information, from the three existing Deir Yassin memorials in New York, Scotland, and Wales to the orphanage and school established by the grand Palestinian philanthropist, Hind el-Hussainy for Deir Yassin’s children. In an entry in her diary she specifies 138 Palestinian liras as her total savings at the time. But she had the goodwill and the moral reserve to make a go of it after she found the 55 lost children let loose by the Irgun and the Stern gangs at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.
I am pleased that Hiam Hussein, the proud daughter of the neighboring Galilee Palestinian village of Deir Hanna, has done Hind justice in playing her role in Julian Schnabel’s controversial new film, Miral. It is a film based on the autobiographical novel by the same name written by his girlfriend and former Dar el-Tifl el-Arabi resident, Rula Jebreal, another proud Palestinian with local roots, Haifa to be exact. Also I noted with displeasure that the video producers gave no credit to my own brother, Prof. Sharif Kanaana of Beir Zeit University, to the best of my knowledge the first researcher to document the actual number of Deir Yassin Palestinian residents murdered by the Zionist armed gangs and the Haganah and to stipulate that the numbers previously quoted were inflated by both sides of the conflict for their own convenient ends: by the crime perpetrators to sow panic among Palestinians and by the victims to maximize the blame for the crime.
Mind you, I am beating around the bush here. I am speaking of tangential issues to avoid crying again: The mere sight of the serene stone homes, now housing the Givat Shaul Mental Health Center, released a flood of tears. When I got to the part where a former Deir Yassin resident, likely the wife, the daughter and the sister of the village’s stonecutters of old and the descendent of seven centuries worth of stonecutting toil and sweat, was aided to walk next to her villages current barbwire perimeter and she reached to touch a tree branch to her face, I nearly collapsed stifling my urge to sob and to scream out my pain.
The next morning, Sunday, April 10, I rose before the muezzins. By the time the village regained its morning quiet I was scouting the Internet for fresh news. A mailing from a friend contained a title that piqued my curiosity: “Juliano Mer Khamis Predicted His Assassination,” it said. I clicked and followed the link to a half-minute long English language You Tube video that said it all exactly as it would actually happen to him. Here is that link. See for yourself what raw courage is. For some ten minutes I shook with silent tears of outrage and disappointment. How could someone be so stupidly misguided? And to kill such an enlightened bright promise presumably in the name of Islam! Seven guys in Arrabeh alone had just finished noisily shouting the praises of God’s mercy and justice to be totally discredited by the bullet of a “fucked-up Palestinian” as Juliano had put it! . And the guy is not only insightful. He is a good actor; you can see it even in the half-minute video. And his blonde wife is reportedly pregnant with twins. Oh God! Now I am sobbing for the orphaned unborn twins.
That indeed was the ultimate conspiracy. Juliano was literally the embodiment of integration and understanding, himself the product of interracial love and idealism. I had met his parents, the Russian Jewess Arna and the Christian Palestinian Saliba, both protesting commitment to higher ideals of revolutionary justice, humanitarianism, and internationalism, all under their communist convictions before that pipedream turned sour. And I had met Juliano on more than one occasion. I remember him informing an audience in New York that, as a parachute trooper in the IDF before he discovered peaceful resistance, he took it for granted to carry an extra handgun in his backpack to plant on any civilian Palestinian he may kill. He was an acquaintance, not close enough for me to claim him as a friend. Now I was crying for having failed to open my heart wider for this former soldier, this brave comrade in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
The weekend before his senseless murder my wife and I had planned to travel to Jenin to see his adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland performed at the Freedom Theater, his life’s unique project and answer the world’s barbarity, to occupation and to apartheid. Alas, a friend dissuaded us from taking the trip with the explanation that on Saturdays it would take several hours to clear the checkpoint at the border. There were that many Palestinian shoppers from Galilee making the trip on their day off to take advantage of the cheaper prices in the depressed economy of the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Now I was crying for the poor Palestinian brothers and sisters who toil endless hours to wind up with worthless produce, not intrinsically worthless but rendered so by the imposed boundaries and regulations. That was what Juliano tried to tear down. Why didn’t I bother to know him more closely? Why had I never hugged him or kissed his handsome face? I had to hear him posthumously on You Tube to fall in love with him! What a rotten deal we both have had.
Saturday, the 16th of April I slept late. The night before I had stayed up past midnight at a nephew’s wedding celebration. Juliano would have felt at home at the banquet hall: a mix of village locals and communists from across the land, Arabs and Jews. The groom is one. My sister, mother of the groom, had spent the better part of a week dancing the local feminine style, alternatively clapping her hands and twirling them over her head. Finally her rheumatism kicked in and her wrist swelled up with an acute flare of inflammation. We call that “repetitive motion injury.” Doctors are striking. I had to rush over at three in the morning to put her arm in a splint and give her a painkiller. Was she crying in physical pain or for her last gosling abandoning the nest?
By sunrise I was up but not fully alert, still dazed and in a contemplative mood. A dove was romancing another on the red bougainvillea bough sweeping across the full width of my view through the window of my study. I opened the window to hear their melodic chatter. An announcement on the mosque’s loudspeaker lamented the death of a young man in another car accident. It ruined my joyous repose and I decided to check the news. I did. Another stab in the heart of solidarity, freedom and moderation. I read and reread all the standard platitudes: “One of the most passionate supporters of justice for Palestine.” “Full of the joy of life.” “The man with the big smile and gentle nature.” I never met Vittorio Arrigoni, but he had a cause: “Stay Human,” he was known to admonish all concerned. Why would anyone kill such a refreshing soul? And why the torture and willful cruelty?. Who stands to gain from this or from the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis? Or from the murder of the settler family in the outpost next to Awarta in the occupied West Bank for that matter? Not who the press reports say it is, I am sure. Check with me in fifty years when the secret documents are released and I will score another I-told-you-so point, I am sure. Or else join me in signing the appeal to keep the Wikileaks founder free.
I run the video, a collection of photos of the Italian freedom fighter set to music: He is handsome, muscular and imposing with a disarming smile and a big tattoo. Just like my son, Ty, nearly of the same age. I haven’t seen my boy for four months. What keeps me away from him and his kids, God damn it? Then I reach Carlo Latuff’s cartoon portrait of Vik holding the hand of Hanthala, Naji El-Ali’s immortal symbol of Palestinian diaspora, dispossession, resistance and survival against all odds. The floodgates open again and I cry my eyes out, not only for Vik but also for Hanthala who lost another friend and protector and for all those among us who have not learned to heed those two friends’ admonition to “Stay Human.”
I wanted a fruit. I headed to the citrus side of my garden. On the way I walked over with the key and opened the cage for my dozen new chickens. I had learned a lesson: Freedom may cost a chicken its life. Only in the security of the full light of day can my chickens be safe from the murderous mongooses. I rummaged through the navel orange branches for the last fruits of the season. The perfumed scent of the flowers was overwhelmingly pleasant. Still, picking the very last orange of the season on my tree saddened me. Unexpectedly, the pleasure of admiring my citrus trees in full bloom in the rays of the rising sun evoked sadness in my heart. And my flowering apple trees and ripening kumquats and all the red poppies underneath them. How long will I have the pleasure of connecting to my chickens and trees and to the poppies in my field? Avigdor Lieberman and his fascist followers claim them as their sacred property. After all, geographically, I live in Israel and he thinks it is his exclusive property: “Israel Beitainu –Israel is our home,” he proclaims victoriously.
How many times must I repeat: “Stay Human!”
“Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.”
– Hatim Kanaaneh, MD, MPH is the author of ‘A Doctor in Galilee: the Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel’, Pluto Press, 2008. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: http://a-doctor-in-galilee.blogspot.com.