“It was my 18th birthday. I had gone to get a haircut because we were expecting visitors. There was a bombing at Jaffa clock sq. and I stole my brother’s bike and cycled like never before. It was the area my father worked. I went and the bombing had turned my father into broken limbs.” My grandfather told me as he held tears back. Palestinian men don’t cry he used to say. “It was a Zionist bombing. And there was baba…one arm in a corner and the rest of his body in another. It was January 4th, so it was cold. I remember seeing a jacket. And I held my fathers dismembered body.” Now in his late 80’s, sido can still recall every gruesome detail.
“That, sweetheart, is the story of thousands of Palestinians. It is our story then, and it is or story now.”
I sat on my grandfather’s couch as he told and re-told me stories of Jaffa pre-1948. Always emphasizing the scent of the mountains, the air and the touch of the soil “Our sweat and blood is in the soil, we are its children, sido.” He would say.
As his memory slowly begins to fail, sometimes mixing up his grandchildren, he can still tell you the stories of Palestine in perfect detail. Explaining every flower prick and the scorching rays of the Summer heat in July. Such recollection acts as the burden and savior of Palestinians. The stories etched within our memories, sliding off the tongues of our forefathers. It is within that memory we find pain, and within that memory we implement our existence.
Al-Nakba, unites us as Palestinians, a divided people.
We remind ourselves and the world that it is not over, that the residue of al-Nakba extends to today and we are here. Disfigured and broken, our identity unites under the catastrophe that has sprinkled us across the globe, between the hostility of new countries and the nostalgia to a home some of us have never seen.
It is the time where we are not Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, we are not Gazan’s or West Bank ID holders. We are not the refugees tormented by the memory we’ve carried through tongues and old keys. We are Palestinians and our memory remains. It is the reminder that we will continue to dig our existence to reclaim our right to scream and echo this is home.
Al-Nakba commemoration transcends the lamentation of our exile and occupation. It is the standing monument that despite the bets, we have not forgotten. “You cannot forget something that is ongoing, and is in your face constantly” Sido would say.
As his body lays wrinkled and arced inwards, my grandfather always implored his grandchildren to write and remember the stories he would tell us. “Carry it in your heart, write and record it. This is what you have” he would whimper between sips of tea, always with extra sugar. “They have scattered us across the world but we are not ash, Sido. We are alive, and breathing. We are the collective memory, and you will hold on to it.”
Nostalgia for a disfigured identity
Palestinian identity is a fluid one. And the Nakba’s residue is not only the result of the Zionist movement, rather it precedes it with the occupation of Palestine by former empires.
However, as a result of the Zionist movement, Palestinian society has been dissected into sections: West Bank (Green ID holders) Palestinians, Gazans, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, Palestinians with Blue (Jerusalem ID’s), refugees and those in the Diaspora. We know the color of our documents before we can utter the word Palestinian. However, despite the institutionalized efforts and colonial narratives, a time in history unifies us and provides us with close affinity that otherwise may have been destroyed and scattered.
Our very existentialism is buried underneath documents, temporary residences, dual citizenships and homes in foreign countries that we have assimilated into or into states we were banned to integrate within.
Our collective memory is being butchered through the systematic efforts to mutilate our Palestinian consciousness.
This oral narrative passed on through generations acts as a compass for dispossessed Palestinians.
It means that despite the differences in geographical location and different experiences with the occupation, we are still able to construct a collaborative identity weaving within it our mutual narrative. That of our grandparents and parents.
We memorize roads that have been replaced with Hebrew names, now banned from us; and UN resolutions that have failed us; resistance fighters that have died in the name of Palestine and those that have been killed because of their Palestinianism. It is within that memory that we find our identity.