For years now, I have scanned Haaretz every morning to assess the public opinion in Israel. The selective English version is delivered daily to my door with the international New York Times.
This morning [last week], a photo of a dozen masked (as in COVID-19) Jewish Orthodox male students in a classroom occupies the center of the paper’s first page. A portrait of Golda Meir hangs above the group and next to the portrait in the photo is the highlighted Hebrew quote:
“If it were not for the study of Judaism, we would have been like all goys who were once but no more …”
That puts me in my right place. As if to reconfirm my irrelevance in the Middle East arena, the main headline of the day announces:
“Kushner: Israel won’t annex without our okay, and that won’t be for ‘some time’”
Nobody seems to take my Palestinian presence into consideration. I guess I am included under the genre of ‘all goys who were once but no more.’
My throat feels parched. I walk to the kitchen for fresh water. For reassurance, I glance at the top of the buffet table with the photo display of various combinations of my five grandchildren. What impurity! Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Caucasian, Jewish and who-knows-what-more. Just my own amalgam of all the historical invaders of Palestine over the millennia depositing their odd genes in my family tree should suffice. They have left some of my siblings with the occasional honey-colored eyes, or light hair to embellish the dominant olive skin and prominent or hooked nose that may belie the goy accusation flung against us Palestinians.
Or was that just a religious insult? I am even further away from being religious than race conscious. Could that be because of my telltale last name, the Arabic form of Canaanite. Go figure!
Two other first-page headlines are about the main current Israeli headaches, COVID-19 and the diplomatic breakthrough with the United Arab Emirates. A third headline seems less familiar and I read on:
“IDF has big plans …”
To me it sounds futuristic, a science fiction exploration of what the Israeli army will be marketing next based on its field tests of weapons in Gaza: drones with the next level of AI to maim and kill disposable human irritants. A quick glance confirms my suspicion with the added mention of Beirut and Hezbollah as additional possible targets.
That is it for the day, I think. Till I stop for coffee at a friend’s home. Not to worry! We both practice social distancing, wear masks and sip our coffee in the breeze of an open veranda.
He happens to be scanning Haaretz as well. Except that he subscribes to the original Hebrew version. This extends over 12 pages whereas my English copy has only eight. I am fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English. A quick glance reveals the fact that the English version skips several items that the publisher must deem of little interest to non-Hebrew speakers. I persist in my exploration and find a most interesting article on page 8 with the heading (my translation):
“Without coordination the IDF turned an ancient olive grove in Upper Galilee into a firing range.”
Olives in Galilee! They obviously are talking about me. I take my time and read on. The report starts with the romantic description of the “vandalized” olive grove as “a pastoral dream of ancient olives that have grown on the steep incline next to almond trees and pomegranates [with a stream] from a spring that refuses to dry up.”
My sources date the establishment of the Jewish-only settlement of Amuka to 1949 on the lands of the Palestinian village of A’mka (see remains of mosque above), apparently from the Hebrew or Aramaic for ‘valley’, obviously from the same root as the Arabic word for ‘deep’. The locale is mentioned by historians for centuries and even rated a school built by the Ottoman system in 1887.
But the Haaretz article for Israeli consumption dates the settlement of seven families in the Jewish village to around 1980.
Despite this shallow historical perspective, the concerned Jewish family in the article displays ‘deep’ attachment to the field the Israel Land Authority had assigned to it on renewable annual lease basis: “This is a livelihood but also a lifestyle,” says the wife, “a lifestyle that they are about to cut off.” The husband adds: “There are wild pigs and porcupines and bible students run around here … I have worked here 38 years. I am connected to the place with my legs and all my body. I am in love with this place. This is action therapy. We know every stone here …”
As a Palestinian, reading the article leaves me with a sense of surrealism. I want to shout at the guy: “You may ‘know every stone here’. Question is, do the stones know you? Go ahead! Throw some of them at me. I bet you stones will veer away from my body! We know each other much better than you think! Just don’t blame me if they mysteriously turn around and smack you in the head.”
I was born and grew up with olives and stones all around me. Within shouting distance from where this argument is taking place are others, no less human, believe me, who are the current link in the broken long chain of inheritance of those olive fields for only-God-knows-how-long and who now survive on donations as refugees across the border or on pay for menial labor in Jewish settlements like Amuka. They were disinherited as internally displaced ‘present absentees’ at the hands of the same IDF that now awards their olives at will to its Israeli veterans.
I have cousins in Refugee camps in South Lebanon from this very same area. They still entertain a vivid “pastoral dream of ancient olives” and streams that refuse to dry up.