My father came home from prison when I was 7

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Dear Ahed Tamimi, I would like to dedicate this article to you. Sending you love and Solidarity, We Stand with You and with All Palestinian Prisoners.                                                                                                                    

“If you pull out an olive tree from my land, I’ll plant a hundred olive trees in return” and that’s my heroic motto.

After my father’s release from the Negev prison in 1988, our family, friends, and neighbors had a huge celebration welcoming him home. He spent a few months as a political prisoner in the harsh Negev prison. I was so happy to have him home. As a seven-year old it was terrible to have my father away from us for such a long time. At first, we couldn’t recognize my father with a big beard, and my little sister and brother were scared of the strange man embracing our mother.

Life was mostly normal after that, normal for a Palestinian family resisting occupation that is. Our lives were always interrupted with road closures, demonstrations, targeting of political activists, some of whom were my classmates, neighbors, relatives, and friends, and all kinds of restrictions on Palestinian life.

Wasan Abu-Baker (far right) with her dad and her siblings exploring the beautiful nature in the West Bank city of Tulkarem in 1985. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Through all this my parents were determined to give their children a decent life. They struggled to complete the construction of our family home which, in my culture, is the best way to guarantee a future for your family. There is a feeling that all you need is your land and home, and you can survive anything. Therefore, the confiscation of land and destruction of homes in Palestine by the Israeli Occupation is one of the harshest ways that they attempt to break the will of the people. But the people continue to struggle to keep and plant their olive trees, grow their families, and build their homes.

As we grew up, my father always encouraged us to be brave and not fear anything. I didn’t understand how important this was, but now I understand that being in a place where you have to struggle just to survive and have a voice you must be courageous. There are many “children of the stone” like me, children who grew up through the first Palestinian Intifada of 1987 and learned to face a force intent on destroying your way of life. The Palestinian struggle was keen on making the people aware of their human rights. It also encouraged them to stand up to oppression and defend their rights.

(Top) Wasan Abu-Baker’s father checks his new olive oil for taste in 2017, in his family factory in Tulkarem.
(Bottom) My parents’ house surrounded with olive trees orchard. (Photos courtesy of the author)

My dad was born before the war of 1948. He lost his father at a young age, and my grandmother, at the age of 18, had to raise four children on her own. She had nothing but her children and the land she inherited from my grandfather as the main source of income. She used the land to plant an olive orchard and make a life for her and her children. The olive tree is an important part of Palestinian heritage because it has guaranteed a life for those who take care of the trees.

When I was a young girl, my father would tell me the history of the olive tree and how the Romans brought it to Palestine when they ruled here. And Palestinians have adopted the olive tree as a symbol of their attachment to their land. This tree is a resilient tree and likewise, the Palestinians draw their strength from its strong roots and resilience. The olive harvest season in October bears sociocultural meaning where families come together to harvest the trees. I still remember those days when we came home from school and then going out to the field to pick the olives, then coming back home to finish our homework. After the harvest was completed we would take the olives to our family factory where the olives were pressed to make olive oil. I remember standing next to my dad to have a taste of the freshest olive oil along with my pita bread. He used to say that once you drink olive oil it becomes part of your soul. I will never forget and always miss the smell of olives on those days.

(Top) Lamees Abu-Baker, my youngest daughter wearing her thobe, a Palestinian dress, in California 2015.
(Bottom) Wasan Abu-Baker (second to the left) with her mother and siblings. In the photo Wasan is also wearing a thobe with the traditional design of Tulkarem. Each Palestinian city has a unique embroidery design over the bodice of the dress. (Photos courtesy of the author)

Every day, my father took us to work on our ancestral land, taking care of olive trees or just walking around on the land. I remember on our walks seeing only settlements in the distance and my father recalling how he would visit that distant land to visit relatives as a child. As a child myself, I would ask questions about who was there now and why we can’t go there to play where he used to play, but he had no answers to give. He would tell me more stories about the olive trees and their connection with the people of Palestine and all the civilizations that governed it over the ages.

The olive tree is a sacred tree and has been mentioned in the three holy books of the Abrahamic faiths; Quran, Bible, and Torah. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught the importance of this tree in providing food and medicine. Palestinians also take pride in that arguably the oldest olive tree in the world; Al Badawi, is found in Al Walaja which is a small town within the municipality of Bethlehem.

Lamees Abu-Baker, daughter of Wasan Abu-Baker creates a card for Ahed Tamimi, who recently celebrated her 17th birthday in prison. (Photos courtesy of the author)

The years have passed, and our trees have grown, towering with strength and dignity, bringing a larger olive harvest every year. In December 2017 I returned to visit Palestine with my three children from America, and they saw with their own eyes the presence of olive trees as a sign of our heritage.

Unfortunately, our visit coincided with President Trump making a decision which could deprive Palestinians of claiming Jerusalem as their capital of Palestine– a city that has been at the root of Palestinian heritage for hundreds and thousands of years. While we were there, the events unfolded rapidly with marches and demonstrations condemning this U.S. decision. There were, as always, violations of Palestinian rights which led to the arrest of Ahed Tamimi and her mother, Nariman Tamimi. Ahed is a Palestinian child born on the land of the village of Nabi Saleh in Palestine. She loved her family and her land and reminds me of myself when I was a little girl.

She, like me, was taught the significance of our Palestinian heritage and the importance of the olive tree in Palestine. Ahed Tamimi realized that the extraction of the olive tree from its soil was like grabbing a child from its mother’s lap. The olive trees in Palestine tell our people’s history, which needs to reach the ears of the whole world; it is a tale of a people ready to sacrifice everything for their land. A people ready to die with dignity like the olive tree, rather than live in humiliation.

About Wasan Abu-Baker

Wasan Abu-Baker is an American activist of Palestinian origin. She is the vice chair of the Corpus Christi National Justice for Our Neighbors, a member of ABCD New Addition Team, and a staff writer for Kings River Life Magazine. Wasan has also published articles in Muslim Vibes (UK), as well as some other newspapers. She is an educator and a teacher who loves teaching Muslim kids Islam and Arabic, integrating the arts, and helping them build their Islamic identity in the U.S. Wasan also was a fellow with American Friends Service Committee in California and was on the staff of the Fresno interdenominational refugee ministry that serves refugees in Fresno, California. Wasan Earned her master’s degree in special education and graduated from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York.

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4 Responses

  1. Citizen
    February 20, 2018, 2:17 am

    Thank you for this article; it is full of feeling in Palestinian context.

  2. niass2
    February 20, 2018, 9:09 am

    100’s of sorties bombing Gaza in the last 48 hours. But I didn’t learn that here. Guess that’s not important. Like with SERVPRO- Its like it didn’t even happen. I Have a massive event with Matisyahu. So I come on here to see if that is an issue.Neither Mondoweiss or BDS national bothered to respond. So, conclusion is that Matisyahu playing in front of 100,000 people this August is just peachy. keep writing-The Israelis are just reloading. Words are cheap. Debate is cheap. Action- no we don’t do that. Bernie supporters taking our cause on- that’s hard if we don’t even ask. Time to work on hunger as all the people on here do is write and speak to others who already agree. That ain’t going to get anyone their freedom. But it does pollute the environment with ink. Best way to ensure progress never happens is to only speak with those who already know. This is NOT How we worked to stop the Vietnam war. And it isn’t working. If BDS can’t rewspnd to email, why tell them anything that is possibly important. Anyays tickets to that Matisyahu show are now on sale.If you need some let me know. Its also on Ticketmaster so u can send your cash to Matisyahu. He will get a lot of positive publicity when he plays with the grateful dead in August. YOU KNOW BETTER but I know him. The grateful dead used to do benefits for The Hell Angels, and for Cambodia. And they have performed at Giza. No other band ever did that, cause they would not have been able to.. You’d NEVER understand why. The shows will occur, all 27 of them. Some with between 40 and 100,00 people in attendance and a day long party prior to the show in the lots where all kinds of info can be exchanged. But Homies at Mondoweiss don’t play that. They write and write and write.We could leaflet there. But why bother. You have to be a member of the Club here or you just are ignored and ridiculed. Annie and Phil are, but from here it just looks like a lot of whining and no actions at all. When u did write about rock and roll stars it was some lame thing about a rock star going to Hebrew school and finally in adult hood realizing IP is wrong. It took them their whole lives to figure it out. DUH. Us Deadheads know this is wrong from the day we learn to think. Sad. So let Matisyahu play and promote his bs. who cares, right? I already know the heads care cause when I Posted about this on their facebook page I got many supporting emails. No one said “Go to hell” except of course BDS and Mondoweiss. They couldn’t be bothered to even let me know if Matisyahu the fascist is an issue anymore. The Deadheads immediately seemed to understand. Of course they do. I assume he is not and The Music Never Stopped. And Fish are leaping up like Birds. And Fascists and Hippies are the same. So no one should be upset when he uses proceeds from that show to buy Israel weapons. Over and out. Desperation breeds contempt.

    • RoHa
      February 20, 2018, 7:16 pm

      If you want people to take action, might I suggest you present the case in a straightforward way?

      Identify the issue. E.g.
      “Matisyahu is an Israeli propagandist. * He will be performing at… We should counter his propaganda.”

      Propose action. E.g.
      “BDS and MW can produce leaflets, and then come to the venue and distribute them.”

      I think this would have a greater chance of success than ranting about the inertia of MW and the superior social conscience of the Grateful Dead and their fans.

      (*I’m guessing this is the issue. I’ve never heard of him.)

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