Monday, 23 April 2007

Don't grieve me alone

Khaled Diab

"The Jewish people have suffered for 2,000 years and now we'll make you suffer with us," was Tzachi's friendly introduction to the coming Memorial Day ceremonies that evening.

And pain, grief and loss were all around and almost tangible on my second day. In the morning, Amos and I went off to a nearby Arab village, Meyser. There, we met with the town's unofficial council of elders, the local senior citizens' club, some of whom were friends with Amos.

We started by chatting about their activities and the importance of sport at their age. They told me how things were gradually getting better over the years for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. But they also complained about how difficult it was for their community to send their children to university because of the cost and some bureaucratic obstructionism. "Many of our children go to Jordan or Europe to study because it is easier," one of them told me.

On the way, Amos had told me about all the left-wing Kibbutzim in the area and how good their ties were with the local Arab population. The subject with the elders soon switched to the sense of grief they still feel at the loss of their land, being as they were from the 1948 generation.

"We miss our confiscated land," one of them asserted. "The memory of our loss is alive in our children," rejoined another.

"My father's land is 250m down the road from here. They told me that you're father isn't here and so it is not yours."

The others went on to list the various legal tricks that they claimed were used to dispossess them of their land.

"Our youngsters need houses but they cannot get permission to build in the village," the oldest of the elders, who had been nodding off in a corner under the apparent weight of his kifeya, suddenly piped in.

They also complained about how they are neither her nor there. "Here we have Israeli identity cards but are not considered full citizens. In the Arab world, we're seen as Israelis. Neither side accepts us," one described.

But the conversation ended on a note of hope.

"The Jews around here are from Argentina and South America and so they have an 'eastern' outlook and it makes it easier for us to live together."

They discussed an experimental council of eight Jews and eight Arabs which went some way towards building bridges between the two communities.

"There are joint Arab-Jewish schools in some villages which is promising for the future generation," one of the old men observed.

©Khaled Diab. Text and images.

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