The Occupation At 50: A Palestinian Perspective
IT WOULD TAKE SEVEN YEARS after the 1967 war for me to show up in this world, but its legacy continues to play a significant role in my life. If we are to engage this 50-year anniversary in a way that propels us towards a sustainable resolution, we will have to take stock of how it fundamentally shaped and shapes each of us. I argue that requires painful introspection to figure out what we individually are willing to give up in order to break that legacy’s shackles.
I was born and raised in Dubai, not Palestine. Yet my father’s stories of olive groves, simple lives, and rich, colorful histories permeated my life in Dubai. I would lay next to him in bed after he came back from work and he would tell me about my grandfather taking him to Jaffa when he was ten. “We would sell our grapes to the orange merchants of our splendid port city,” he would say. He told me how in awe he was in the presence of larger-than-life merchants who’d drown him with their generosity and enchant him with their intellect. The place shined of stature and pride. But, in the winter of 1948, he saw those same proud men broken and defeated. Their backs bent from the weight of the belongings they were carrying, pleading with people from our village to “rent” them space under a tree. My father was 14 at the time. He told me, “At that moment, I promised myself that my generation will not make the mistakes of my father’s.” That day he joined the Palestine chapter of the Baath party, ushering in a life of political activism. He would later join Fateh and fight alongside Arafat, intent on transforming his people from refugees to freedom fighters.
Alas, on the 5th of June 1967, he found himself in his father’s 1948 shoes. He had been working in Jordan at the time and was conflicted over whether to go fight, even die, for what remained of Palestine or take my mother’s suggestion: “What if you stayed to bring up smart educated Palestinian children with even more zeal and passion for Palestine? Wouldn’t you be doing more for Palestine that way?” He opted for that route and from that point on our family thought, talked, breathed, and dreamt Palestine all the time. While I was only half Palestinian (my mother was Italian), my sister and I became deeply involved in the cause in ways our purebred cousins were not. I studied politics, was active in campus, worked in civil society, and then in negotiations—always looking for new ways, more impactful ways to achieve Palestinian liberation. The five years I spent with the negotiating team jaded me as I quickly got disillusioned with the process and, more importantly, shell-shocked by internecine Palestinian fighting. I felt we had totally lost our way and had a bigger problem on our hands than the Occupation. At my friend’s counsel, I went to Harvard to join a mid-career program focusing on leadership. Two of my professors, both Jewish, got me reflecting on the water I was carrying and my purpose. I found myself asking fundamental questions about my identity and what Palestine means to me; a diaspora who chose to go back and then left again. It was then that I made object that to which I was subject. I finally could see the Occupation and not be subsumed by it. I started seeing new routes for my destination.
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Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 2:34-35