Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A lifetime


I met a woman the other day who said she was 104 years old. She lives alone in a one-room stone house in a village called Khirbet Abu Falah, in the Palestinian highlands north of Ramallah. The house, with its distinctive Ottoman-style vaulted ceiling, is older than she is.

She is hard of hearing and spoke in a peasant dialect so distinctive that even my Palestinian friends had trouble understanding her. She didn’t say much anyway.

I imagined all that she has seen in her lifetime. When she was born, at the turn of the last century, there were no political borders from Jerusalem to Damascus to Baghdad to Istanbul. The population of the region that was to become Palestine, and later Israel and the Palestinian territories, was 600,000, of which 87 percent were Arab Muslims, 10 percent were Arab Christians and 3 percent were Jews, both immigrants from Europe and indigenous Sephardic Jews.

Nearly a decade after her birth, in 1909, Tel Aviv was founded as the first Jewish city in the Middle East. She was approaching adulthood, when in 1917, British forces occupied Jerusalem and began a 31-year occupation.

In middle age, in 1948, British troops left Palestine, Jewish residents declared independence as Israel and war erupted. Seventy-eight percent of Palestine was conquered by the new state of Israel. Three-quarters of a million Palestinians, or 90 percent of those living in the Jewish state, became refugees. Israeli bulldozers destroyed more than 400 Palestinian villages, after their occupants fled or were forced from their homes.

Her village, however, was spared. It became part of a new political region known as the West Bank, annexed by Jordan.

Nineteen years later, she was in her late 60s when Israel invaded Jordan (as well as Syria and Egypt) and occupied the rest of historic Palestine, including her village. She later survived one Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, in the late 1980s, and so far has survived the second, which began in 2000.

2 Comments:

Blogger Rami said...

My (also Palestinian) grandmother had a similar life dying at the age of 98 years.

Born when borders did not exist in Ottoman Palestine.

She survived WWI when her father escaped to Chile to avoid being taken to war by the Ottomans.

She survived the British occupation of 31 years. Her husband helped build the King David hotel now under Israeli control.

In 1948, her village was half-occupied by the Israelis... she ended up on the east side of the fence but her home and land on the west side. She lost them forever. She survived the betrayal of her zionist American immigrant neighbor Moshe whom she trusted but who betrayed her when he convinced her to leave her home "temporarily" for her own safety only for her home to be taken away from her forever.

In 1967, the rest of her village was occupied. Three of her children became refugees in Kuwait and Jordan since they left looking for work but were never allowed back to Palestine. She was left with two children with her in Palestine.

She survived some of her grandchildren serving jail time for rock throwing in the late 1980s.

She survived Israeli discriminatory laws that confiscated much of her little remaining land for highway projects that serve Israeli settlements. It was all without compensation while her children lived in poverty in Jordan. She also survived the laws that turned her whatever was left of her property to green land to prevent her and her children from building new homes. Instead Jewish settlements were built on the land.

She survived a lot... but she always said passionately about the old times that her family always said eat at the home of the Jews and lodge at the home of the Christians. She was Muslim. She sent my mother to a Christian school... she also dyed eggs on easter even though it was not a muslim feast. She saw everyone as equal humans. She survived many inequalities but then died of old age in 2005.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Sura said...

Bob- what's the best way to get in contact with you?

thanks

5:21 PM  

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