“You, know, psychology…”
“So, a doctor!”
“Sure, teita, a doctor,” I’d nod in resignation.
“I knew you’d make us proud!”
In typical old-fashioned presumption, my grandmother always had the highest expectations of us. She was after all an elementary school principal in a stricter time.
Al Shate’ B, or Beach B Elementary School, operated by UNRWA, its name would soon change in everyday parlance to “The School of Lady Sura” as its reputation spread across the camps.
Many Palestinians of my parents’ generation who grew up in Gaza will remember Lady Sura, a woman who witnessed the influx of refugees into her hometown from cities Zionist forces were busy depopulating during the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe).
While others took up arms to resist the Israeli occupation of Gaza after 1967, Lady Sura picked up her principal’s yardstick and taught a generation of refugees their basic self-respect in the face of a military government hellbent on bulldozing their dignity.
And as we broke the 9:00 p.m. curfew to tiptoe back home at the height of the first intifada, I questioned whether it was worse getting caught by the army or having to answer to Lady Sura for our tardiness.
“He was seven years old!” She shouted about the latest victim, sending shivers down my own seven-year-old spine. “And the soldiers shot him for defying the curfew.”
That was one of the earliest moments that spurred my political consciousness and instilled the realization of the depth and emotional charge that my identity as a Palestinian held in the world.
But what really gets at my consciousness is the crime in my grandmother’s passing. And what I mean here is the crime (and anxiety) of separation.
We didn’t choose to not visit her for 10, 15, and 20+ years. It was fated. Like the Palestinian geographical landscape itself, Palestinians were fated to be torn apart and to endure a cruel, forcible estrangement غربة.
Every time my immediate family and I left Palestine, the trauma of goodbye, not knowing whether we’d be able to return, the intense embracing and weeping—as if it was the last time—was just as hard as the one before it.
But the last time we were there, we had managed to see them for four consecutive summers. So, I naively assumed, “till next summer.” That was a month before the second intifada broke out and Gaza’s borders would be sealed.
I haven’t been back since.
The Israeli state is an enemy that has no respect for human dignity, let alone for human rights. We commonly hear about the physical abuse that Israeli soldiers inflict on Palestinians of all ages, and the torture that Palestinian minors like Ahed Tamimi experience in Israeli jails. But the psychological torture is inflicted on all of us, chasing us down wherever we wind up in the world, down through the generations, millions of us having to endure living as Palestinians in exile and yet tormented by all that remains.
All I can do for the moment is ponder in silence and allow myself to pour my thoughts and feelings onto this page, to put my colonized anger into words and images, to imagine the crumbling of every wall, checkpoint, roadblock and watchtower. And to allow myself to enjoy the thought of torched Israeli army installations lying beneath the sweet flames of intifada victory.
Here, I write my grief with ink and blood.
It’s what my beloved grandmother would have taught us to do. From her principal’s office. In the UNRWA school. In the Palestinian refugee camp.
So, for the last time, this time for real, I say goodbye. Goodbye, teita. Goodbye, Lady Sura.
It will be easier to see you in the afterlife than it has been in Gaza.