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In the absence of absence: A Palestinian family endures, and resists, the Israeli occupation

A photo of AbdulRazeq Farraj taken days before his current arrest.

A photo of Abdul-Razeq Farraj taken days before his current arrest.

“Some stories are better left untold,” many would say. I couldn’t agree more. Especially when pain, suffering and loss are invoked with the very act of remembering these “untold” stories. In Palestine, remembrance is not only a mental process; it is constituted and reflected by the present context that categorizes the pain, suffering and loss invoked by remembrance. Some stories are, possibly, left untold because they need not be told; they are continuously occurring and reoccurring. Some stories are, possibly, left untold because they are the life of many Palestinians; they are not “stories” but realities.

Stories are also a reflection of the love; care and hope that persists under an apartheid regime working to not only occupy the physical but also the mental.

Stories in Palestine are weapons inspiring hope and imagination.

The Israeli Occupation and its government fear our stories.

Our stories reveal the inhumanity, cruelty and ugliness of an occupation that continuously attempts to whitewash its crimes with a distorted image of democracy and tolerance; an image that is rapidly being dismantled by the growth and effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the resilience of the Palestinian people.

The occupation and its government fear stories because they hint, with every act of narration, the near fall of the apartheid state and its complete isolation.

Some stories are better left untold however; others deserve to be told despite the discomfort, pain and vulnerability that could come with their narration. Stories are vital to our life and if left untold, hope could vanish. Stories (and their narration) under apartheid are as vital to our lives as oxygen is to our blood.

I am sharing with you one of my family’s many stories with the hope of sharing what I have learned, and continue to learn, from them. I share this story with the acknowledgment that it is not an isolated one nor is the only one– it is a story amongst many others emerging from a particular historical and political moment, and which continuously remind us of the resilience of the Palestinian people and their immense love of life.

One month left, two weeks, 1 week, 1 day, 2 hours, 1 hour. Our hearts start beating faster. The family gathers. The room is full with anxiety and hope. We sit on the couch waiting to hear the news. “Your father’s imprisonment has been extended for yet another six months,” the lawyer says. He adds, “It is administrative detention, you know?”

As with every other administrative detention, this process of waiting repeats itself. Six more months. Four more. Six more. Four more. Three more. Finally, freedom. Hugs. Tears. We hold tight. Once again, another late night raid and arrest. We wait again.

My father, Abdul-Razeq Farraj, the administrative and financial director of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, has spent nearly 14 years of his life in Israeli prisons. On the 25th of February of this year, the Israeli Occupation Forces raided our house and arrested him again.

My father, along with almost all the other administrative detainees, is on a hunger strike demanding an end for the use of administrative detention – which allows the Israeli occupation to arrest any Palestinian without charge and without trial because of a “secret file” that neither lawyers nor prisoners are allowed to see. My father is entering his twenty ninth day and is currently held in isolation in Ramleh Prison with no means of accessing the outside world. The hunger strikers have recently decided to stop taking nonfood supplements as a measure to pressure the Israeli authorities to grant them their demands.

If you’d like to learn more about administrative detention and my father’s previous imprisonment, please watch this video which is an interview with my father:

This is not the first time my father participates in a hunger strike – he had participated in the 2012 hunger strike for a period of twenty four days. On May 8th, 2012 he managed to send a letter from prison to my family through the International Committee of the Red Cross – I was in Northern Ireland at the time. In his letter, which I carry everywhere with me, he writes:

My love Lamis (my mother), the most beautiful Wadea (my brother) and Basil:

Greeting filled with love to you all. I use this opportunity given to me today to write to you. I hope that you all doing great and are in good health especially Basil – I haven’t heard about his news in a while. Wadea, I hope university is going well and that you are doing great in your exams… Lamis, I hope you are taking care of your health and that you are, as I have always known you to be.

As for me, I’m doing good. Today, is the fourteenth day of the hunger strike and I am facing my body’s weakness with a determination and strength that reaches the furthest point of the sky. Don’t worry about me – what is important is your health and news. Please let me know how Basil is doing and send my love to my mother and all.

You are always in my heart. No, but, my heart beats because of you.

Warm hugs,

Abdul-Razeq Farraj

Throughout his numerous arrests, my father has always put us in front of him. He always puts his family, principles and hopes for a better future in front of anything else – he puts his dream of justice in the forefront. He, like the other Palestinian prisoners, is fighting for a better day and to ensure that my brother and I, and other Palestinian youth, don’t have to go through what he has gone through.

These are people who face weakness of their bodies with an unshakable strength and determination. They sacrifice for others, for thoughts and dreams to remain alive, for the unknown.

I have always known my father as such; through the limited time I have spent with him but mainly through the stories of others about him. People used to always tell me: “your father is a rock,” “your father is a school,” “your father never gives in.” The funny thing is, however, that he has never told my brother or I stories about his life, imprisonment, months in solitarily confinement and interrogation.

My father’s determination and resilience indeed reaches the furthest point of the sky, and further. His willingness to sacrifice is unwavering. In his eyes you will see hope, determination, resilience, strength, motivation and love.  You will see passion for more and more knowledge – passion to know about a world he is denied to visit: a world he has never seen.

He once told me, “Basil, it is true that you have visited a number of countries but believe me, through my readings I feel like I have travelled all over the world and visited them all.” In my father’s eyes, as in those imprisoned in the ever-expanding prison of freedom, you will see a genuine love for life – its trees, birds, peoples and the unknown it hides. This love breaks the strongest of all fortified prison walls and firmly stands in opposition to injustice, oppression and occupation. This love is a force that triumphs and firmly stands over the Israeli Occupation. It is a love that inspires us all.

Despite the bulletproof glass, my father would always manage to lift our spirits whenever we visit him – visits which we are currently denied as a mean to pressure the prisoners to end the hunger strike by the Israeli occupation authorities. His smiles would break the walls separating us and have us feel his presence and warmth. I have always been amazed by his ability to not only live life within oppressive and unjust prison walls but to also create and nurture life.

My father doesn’t speak much. In those rare times when my family is unified, my father would sit in the living room and silently enjoy these brief moments of unification as if he knows they are about to be violently interrupted shortly. His silence is full of love, memory, belonging, passion, and an attempt to recollect lost stories and memories.

My father: you are free despite the chains.

She saw my father being taken away more than seven times. She saw our house getting stormed and bombed by the Israeli Occupation. For many, many years she raised my brother and I by herself. She nurtured our lives in the midst of late night raids and long hours of anxious waiting for news regarding my father’s imprisonment. She is continuously sacrificing for my brother and I, for a better future and for us to keep dreaming and imagining.

My mother, Lamis, is my mother, my father, my friend, my mother and keeper. She always manages to create life especially when life is being assaulted and forcibly taken away.

In my mother’s eyes, you’ll see an immense amount of love, an unshakable strength and determination. In her eyes you’ll see the pain she had endured – and is enduring- raising my brother and I by herself. In her eyes you’ll see her strength in front of lifeless Israeli soldiers. In her eyes, you’ll witness the passion of her job as an elementary school teacher.

In my mother’s eyes you will see a love for life and the life of others.

It is this love for life that categorizes most of our stories. It is a love for life that I have seen in the eyes of my mother, my father and my brother, Wadea, despite all the hardships they are going through. It is a love for life that triumphs over the occupation and its apartheid tools. It is a love for life that keeps us, Palestinians, going. It is a love for life that allows us to imagine and fight for a just future.

This love for life inspires. It transmits hope. It is a Palestinian woman hugging a tree to prevent it from being uprooted by Israeli soldiers. It is the graduation of a Palestinian student. It is a dinner with a, finally, fully united family. It is the witnessing of next day’s sun. It is the freedom of a free prisoner. It is an early morning kiss from a mother and her continuous blessings.

Upon sharing an early draft of this piece with my brother, Wadea, he commented, “Basil, I have only reservation: your piece is still missing something.” He then added, “Maybe we can never fully account for our parents love, their continuous struggles and sacrifice. Maybe it is difficult to express everything or we might want to keep some stories for ourselves.” My brother is right. Despite how much we try, there always will remain numerous untold stories and moments – possibly because we need something that is ours to hold on to in the midst of chaos.

I have learned, and continue to learn, from my family to love and fight for life.

We love life despite the occupation’s continuous attempts to have us hate it. We love life because we deserve life. We love life because we will get life.

To my father and his empty stomach.

Basil AbdulRazeq Farraj

Basil Farraj is a Thomas J. Watson Fellow from Jerusalem who has recently graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana with a B.A. in Peace and Global Studies. Basil is the founder of "a Path to Peace"; a summer project connecting Palestinian with Northern Irish youth which will take place in June, 2014 in the city of Derry and Belfast.

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2 Responses

  1. just on May 28, 2014, 10:43 am

    This is one of the most beautiful compositions from the heart that I have ever read in my life.

    Thank you, Basil Farraj. May your family soon be reunited in peace and the warm love that you write so eloquently of. How cruel that your family has been robbed of freedom & justice– both elemental and essential parts of life.

    Once again, I am in awe of Palestinian resilience and grace.

  2. ritzl on May 28, 2014, 11:34 am

    I’m not very well read and most of what I do read I forget all too quickly, but one book I do remember reading was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” back when it first came out. I remember his description of “Black Mariahs” particularly vividly. How they would roll up in the middle of the night and take people away, some never to be heard from again. How people lived in abject fear of the 2AM knock on the door. He wrote well enough that I remember actually feeling the crushing personal conflict between self-preservation and morality as helpless people prayed it was their neighbor’s door.

    At the time (70s, Kent State) this fear was the iconic symbol of life in the totalitarian police state that we all thought the US was quickly becoming. The Soviet “Black Mariahs” were the symbol of every soul-crushing thing wrong with the world. A world to be resisted, always.

    As your article shows the Soviet police state Solzhenitsyn had nothing on the 60-year+ police state that is Israel.

    Even with that obvious similarity, I didn’t make the connection until just a few years ago as more and more descriptions about the Palestinian version of life under Israeli Occupation filtered out. The good news is that more and more descriptions about life under Israel’s despicable Occupation are filtering out. People like me will respond.

    You write well. Perhaps you will be to the disassembling of the Israeli police state what Solzhenitsyn was to the Soviet version.

    Thanks for sharing your family’s struggle. I wish you and your family well. I hope this ends soon. And, weak as it may sound coming from someone you don’t know, Sumud!

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