Once when I was a much younger man (1992) I went back to my father’s village Nabi Saleh and was able to have an unbelievable conversation with my cousins who were born and raised into and under occupation. All they knew at that time was resistance and intifada! They spoke with pride and honor about Abu Ammar and how he was close to making Palestine and independent vibrant nation, with self determination and shedding the ilk of Israel once and for all! We sat on a hill that overlooked the land that was taken directly from my father and Uncle. Although we could see the land with our own eyes it was now considered a town in Israel called Halamish!
As we sat there many nights during zeitoon season, we fantasized that one day we would have our land returned to us. We imagined that we would be able to build our own houses and return to picking the olives that have been denied us since 1978. The olive’s that fed our family for centuries. We all imagined that this would be when Yaser Arafat finally secured a just and lasting peace for all the people who were living under this occupation.
I remember during this visit how we were still able to raise our own chickens and were not dependent on any markets or stores to feed our selves. Hummus was always made fresh and the protein we ate that night, usually was walking around shortly before it was on our plate! Grape leaves were picked right from the vine and stuffed that night with the most delicious combination of rice and lamb your taste buds would ever experience.
In 1992, I was young, idealistic and thought there was still hope for us to be a independent nation, fully realized, as the diaspora Palestinians would return from Chile, the United States and the rest of the world they had been calling home for the pass fifty plus years and build an amazingly diverse country.
Well life happened, United States Army Service. I later became a cop in Newark NJ and a family was built. During that time I was not able to make it back to Nabi Saleh for twenty years.
My first homecoming in twenty years was significantly different from 1992. Two decades of failed negotiations, a second intifada, the death of multiple cousins and the expansion and embolden of the citizens of Halamish aided by the IDF, provided completely different optics of Nabi Saleh. The occupation became very violent and oppressive with restriction on movement and a very heavy handiness by the IDF when dealing with the youth of Nabi Saleh. Now being a Soldier in the Army and a cop I was not a stranger to CS/CN (teargas), but nothing can prepare you for a two in the morning dose of it while you sleep.
Let me restate that, nothing can prepare a law abiding American Citizen for this! It goes against everything we stand for! You know Truth, Justice and the American way! We are not used to Army units rolling into a quiet village in the middle of night and begin to pepper its inhabitants with Tear Gas! Sure, we may see that on T.V. when reporters are covering full scale riots, but not a sleepy town while everyone slept, it would be an outrage!
Yet, this is what happened to me personally in Nabi Saleh during my stay in 2012. Most people would take this lightly, especially Palestinians who have known this scent and intrusive encounter with the IDF since they were babes in their cribs! Not me! I was really troubled by the whole thing and for the first time in my adult life I felt that I could get injured or killed! Now remember I am a cop in one of the toughest cities in New Jersey which is not for the faint of heart! I have stared down violent situations in the past and came away somewhat unscathed! But, this was different! This was a man trained to protect and serve, to fight and neutralize all threats against other humans, who felt as helpless as that babe in the crib.
That’s not all. As I sat there at night enjoying the summer breeze I was hit with a very unfamiliar and extremely nauseating smell! When I asked what the smell was, I was told Skunk Water! This was explained to me that the IDF would spray our fields with sewer water, close to the roads, in order for us not to have the ability to grow any produce or have animals graze.
This is when I realized we were slowly being placed on a reservation with the intent to make the Palestinian way of life disappear from the landscape. We were becoming the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians as the IDF took their charge and encroached closer and closer up the hill making the village more Halamish and less Nabi Saleh! I also observed we no longer made our own hummus and our chicken came prepackaged and cleaned from a store in Biet Rima! We were no longer self sufficient! We were dependent!
As I spoke to my cousins this time around there was no hope of Independence! As a matter of fact I heard more than once (from everyone I spoke with) that we should just be part of Israel! One State! My young cousins who were fiercely proud of their Palestinian heritage were ready to call themselves Israeli’s. They now imagined being able to live in Halamish with it’s swimming pools and guarded gates! It’s basketball courts and accessibility to the beaches of Tel Aviv! These young people wanted what every other young adult wanted, internet access and video games where the violence was virtual, not reality! I heard them say they would join the Israeli Army gladly! Their thought was that if we were part of Israel we would have full protection of the government as citizens. They were tired! That was 2012.
Fast forward to today and the next generation who now have been living under occupation for 70 years have a more bleak outlook of peace in Palestine. They watched as our family has been attacked by Michael Oren calling us (The Tamimi Family) actors because we have light eyes and light hair!
We watched the systematic targeting of our most beautiful and handsome children who were placed in prison! We screamed for help as we watched the IDF shoot one of our children in the head and then imprison one of our daughters for reacting like any other human being would after seeing such violence. We sat helpless as the IDF sprayed Skunk water on one of our children who has Down Syndrome! We sat in horror as we witnessed the IDF shot then let our son Izz Al Din bleed to death, in the back of an Army jeep, only to be discarded like trash once his life had ended.
So back on the reservation called Nabi Saleh, the natives are being painted, as savages who have no respect for or love of life, just as the Native Americans were described by the colonialist of the nineteenth century! The difference is the intellectuals who see this horrible and brutal occupation through the gaze of twenty-first century eyes! These eyes have the advantage of real time video and live stream horror! Your eyes do not tell lies, no matter how many times Bibi tells you not to believe them! These intellectuals will not allow the nihilistic regime of Netanyahu and his locomotive derail their humanity! He woke them up!
The result of this awakening is the Palestinians reality finally being seen. This is a hard reality and if it makes you uncomfortable to watch, good, this tells me that you still have your humanity where it supposed to be!