I clearly remember that day.
It was March 15th, 2014. Earlier in the week, my father relayed a message through my mother asking for me to call him on a given number at 5.a.m. I was in a state of anticipation; counting the days and hours to what I had already known would be an extremely short, barely audible, phone call.
On that night, I set up five alarms: my phone, a friend’s phone, a friend’s tablet, my computer and one of those “running away” alarm-clocks (you really have to get up to turn it off or to place it on snooze!). I had also asked a couple of my friends to make sure I was up. I was about to hear my father’s voice for the first time following his latest arrest by the Israeli occupation.
I was barely able to sleep. I woke up before all the alarms rang, and before my friends’ had walked into the room. I had thirty minutes before the arranged time. I made a cup of coffee and started thinking about what to tell him; my friends, family news, my last semester at college, graduation and fear of graduation, how much I miss him, next plans, etc.
At that exact time, 5 a.m., I rang the number and waited for an answer. My father’s voice came through. “Happy birthday Basil,” he quickly said. “How are you? How is your health, your studies and your grades?” he added. I started answering him – attempting to cover nearly a month of news, feelings and longing in a short, two-minute, conversation.
“What about you, dad? How are you?” I asked. “I am good, don’t worry about me. Tell me more about you,” he quickly responded. As always, I found myself the one doing most of the talking during those unjust (a continuation of a never-ending injustice, that is) moments, while my father was extending arrays of inspiration, love and hope through the calmness of his voice.
On phone calls like these, my father has always been the listener. He listened even after his -and the administrative detainees’- nearly two months of hunger strike demanding an end to the use of administrative detention by the Israeli occupation and its racist government.
Today, on my father’s birthday, I wish I were able to do exactly the same. To call and say, “happy birthday, dad.” And to listen.
My father never missed an occasion.
Throughout his numerous years of arrest, my father would always find his own way to send wishes on occasions. He finds ways to wish a happy birthday, a Happy New Year, a Merry Christmas, a Happy Eid, to send congratulations for weddings, for newborn family members, high school and university graduations.
He seemed to always be missing and present at the same time.
I was nearly two years old when my father was arrested in 1994. On one of his birthdays, my mother bought a cake and placed his picture in front of it. We celebrated his birthday in his absence. I blew out the candles on his (our) birthday cake.
My father, however, celebrated in his own way.
He did so on January 17th, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1996, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012. He is doing so, again, today.
On my father’s birthday, I am celebrating his, and the other Palestinian prisoners’ freedom. I am celebrating the centrality of their struggle to the struggle of all peoples fighting for justice, equality and dignity.
I am celebrating my father’s love that transcends the prison walls he became so acquainted to. I am celebrating his unwavering commitment to justice and equality. I am celebrating the few words he sent out, through a lawyer, while on hunger strike seven months ago: “my determination reaches the furthest point in the sky.” I am celebrating the moments we had and those we will have.
I am celebrating a picture clearly imprinted in mind and heart, a two-minute -nearly 14000 km away- telephone call, and an idea.
All the memories come back to me, at once, on my father’s birthday.
I stare at that same picture taken 20 years ago and wonder, when will my father and all other prisoners of conscious blow our their own candles, together, with their families?
Happy birthday, Abdul-Razeq.