By Jane Otaqui
This poem was written shortly after a conversation with our Palestinian friend Rafiq who, together with his entire village, was expelled by the Israelis in 1948 and forced into exile. He spoke without rancor, just in a matter-of-fact kind of way. His whole village community decided to stay together as refugees and managed to acquire some land in Jordan. In 1985 they were still there, living together and running their own affairs, even policing themselves. For all I know, they are still there today. After 1967, it was possible for them to visit their old village and they organized a bus trip. I wrote this poem, using his idiom of spoken English, as a way to record his story. It is absolutely true!
A Visit Home
There were thirty of us on the bus
Making the journey back, to the ‘Spring of Karim’, our source.
So many years have passed since we were dispossessed.
Some are children, born, after we left.
The Village nestles on a hillside,
Not far from Jerusalem, today the sun smiles
As we wander through our streets.
I was only five when I left this place,
And all those early memories are long erased.
But I like this village, with its friendly narrow streets.
Built from stone, natural.
Here I can trace back my ancestry,
Perhaps seven hundred years.
I find myself alone and staring at one house,
Which more than any other ‘reaches out’.
It seems to want to take me in
It beckons me, yet it’s not the largest,
But I like its simple lines, to me it’s beautiful,
And I feel empathy.
My Brother joins me;
I ask “Whose house was this?”
“It’s our house” he says.
And yes, I know he speaks the truth.
Yet our house is now a hostel for wandering Jewish youth!
Strange to think that any Jewish child may come from anywhere on earth,
But I may not cross the threshold, of the house that saw my birth!
This house was never sold,
But was stolen from us,
And now it cries out and calls me back.
Later by the Spring of Karim
Where we will eat a simple meal
We drink ‘our’ water, and it tastes so sweet and cool.
I find the little village shop to buy our bread and cheese.
The old shopkeeper looks at me strangely,
And asks, in Arabic, my father’s name.
I am silent.
“Your father’s, father”, he asks again.
And when I answer
This was the only Jew of our village, of course, he is here still.
“Yes, yes I remember. Abdullah, Mohamed and your Uncle Khalil
And all of you.
You were my friends.
It’s not the same now.
The place is full of strangers.
Yes, leave it to me, I will give you bread and cheese for thirty exactly, not more.
And you know, I liked our village in the old days, the way it was before!”
– Jane Otaqui contributed this poem to The Palestine Chronicle