Tuesday, January 03, 2012

[ePalestine] TWIP: Reality versus Image A Return to Galilee (By Fida Jiryis) - A MUST READ

Dear friends,

Happy New Year to you all.

My friend Walid Abu Rass, Finance and Administration Manager at the Health Work Committees (HWC) is still in an Israeli prison, being held without charge for 6-months. We anxiously await his appeal date in hopes that all the lobbying may get him home to his wife and two daughters sooner.

Also, we continue to raise funds for the Palestinian Circus School. Thanks a million to those who have already given and for those who would like to visit: http://www.indiegogo.com/Palestine-Circus-School . No gift is too small.

I can't think of a more appropiate topic to start off the 2012 posts than Palestinians inside Israel. The below article is from a writer colleague of mine, Fida Jiryis. She really touches on a deep topic in a way that deserves serious attention. She is one of 50 Palestinians who have been allowed to implement the "right of return" ...A MUST READ. Fida is currently writing a book on this topic and really welcomes any comments on this article. You may reach her at: fida_jiryis@hotmail.com . 


TO READ ONLINE: http://bit.ly/uKckmS

This Week in Palestine, Issue No. 165, January 2012 

Reality versus Image A Return to Galilee 
By Fida Jiryis 

As a Palestinian who was born and grew up in the diaspora, I always had a powerful notion of Palestine in my mind and emotions, yet it had no physical association. It was difficult to imagine a place I’d never seen but only heard of. The Oslo Accords in 1993 changed all that. A year later, I visited Palestine for the first time and, in June 1995, relocated with my family to my parents’ native village of Fassouta, in Galilee. 

We were the exception and not the rule: out of the entire Oslo process, fewer than fifty people were allowed to return to inside Israel, and they were all Palestinians who had been issued Israeli IDs when the state was formed, and subsequently left the country to join the resistance movement abroad. When they returned after the Oslo Accords, very few of their families came with them, so my case of coming to Israel for the first time in my early twenties was unique. 

Few words can express the magnitude of emotions of someone who grew up a Palestinian then found herself, overnight, an “Israeli citizen” who had to learn Hebrew, find a job, and integrate into Israeli society. To call this social schizophrenia would be an understatement. 

I floundered in this new, alien, hostile environment, wondering where I was, wondering, even more, how I could survive. To be face to face with those who had taken our country, to have to learn their language, to have to seek work in their institutions - and to have to do all this while somehow pretending that everything was fine and that I was just going through the process of a normal relocation - was too much. Again, Palestine had only been a fleeting concept to me before. I knew it was under occupation; I knew my village had become a part of “Israel,” but what that meant in concrete terms was, at best, cloudy and elusive until I experienced it. 

A close friend of mine felt the same when she returned with her family to Ramallah and shortly after, went to visit Jaffa, her father’s hometown. My friend was ecstatic: after a childhood and adolescence spent in one refugee domicile after another, she was finally making the return home. Her visit to Jaffa, though, hit her like a bullet in the stomach. With her own eyes, she was witnessing the foreign occupation of her city, her father’s birthright and her emotional anchor for so many years - the peg upon which she, like so many millions of other Palestinians, had hung her dreams and identity to maintain her sense of belonging and homeland when the rest of the world was just one large diaspora. 

It is heart-breaking to dream of a place for so long and then to find a reality that is so different, so wretchedly painful, that one almost wishes it had stayed as a dream. 

I fell back on my own culture, attempting to find belonging and security there and escape the daily aggression of Israeli society. It seemed not only natural to do that, but the physical location of my village, tucked away in the Galilean mountains, was a likely cocoon, a respite where I could go and forget about the outside world for a while. 

But the initial euphoria at meeting so many relatives and loving members of my extended family gave way to reality, as I tried to learn the ropes of my new society and find belonging and acceptance there. I had come from mellow, easy-going Cyprus, which had provided a safe, relaxed haven for my family after our difficult ordeals in Beirut in the early 1980s. We lived in Cyprus from 1983 till 1995, and I went to Britain for three of those years to study for my first degree. 

When the dust settled and we began living in Fassouta, I experienced a culture shock so profound that I could never get past it. To begin with, for Palestinians brought up in non-Arab countries, the return to live in Palestinian society is fraught with frustration. My brother and I were not used to the confines, behavioural norms, and restrictions of a traditional Arab society. It took months of initial, painful integration, followed by years of an on-going search for understanding, for us to attempt to integrate. 

The integration was never complete. To outsiders, to our family and other villagers, we seemed to roll along just fine; we settled in, found work, behaved more or less according to custom, and showed a willingness and desire to fit in. One of my cousins sourly remarked, a year after my arrival in the village, that she was surprised at how short a time it took for me to acclimatise. While I was basking in my newly found sense of community and belonging, she was expressing the frustrations and despair with our society that are so prevalent among the young population. 

Then the deeper problems emerged. I could find very few people to talk to who could relate to my world, and vice versa. Their world was alien to me; I had no concept of their context of growing up and living in Israel, and they, equally, could not begin to imagine what my life had been like before. Often, I would be in social situations and feel people’s looks of burning curiosity, hear them asking each other who I was, then nodding and dissecting me with their eyes. I had barely come out of my teen years and was still an awkward, shy girl in her early twenties, so these social situations were difficult and embarrassing. Notwithstanding, I did my best to fit in: I attended weddings and got a young cousin to teach me dabke; I showed up frequently at houses of uncles and aunts, who were thrilled to have me visit; and I quickly created a large social circle. 

But something was deeply wrong, and it took a long time before I could find my feet and figure it out: aside from our surface culture, another subculture existed, one which made me profoundly uncomfortable. We were all part of “Israel.” We consumed Israeli products; my cousins were all educated in the Israeli system; we depended on the state for employment, health care, social benefits; Hebrew was everywhere, including, to my horror, in our own dialect at times. Our identity was a warped mutation between Arab and Israeli, and we, collectively, seemed to be a hybrid that was neither - a minority struggling to survive in a hostile environment, yet intrinsically holding on to its own fabric, all the while becoming more and more ostracised. 

Sixty years of occupation had not stopped timeless traditions: strongly interdependent parent- child relationships; olive picking and numerous harvests of carob, thyme, mloukhiyyeh; traditional kubbeh, made with raw meat paste, with Arak on the side; the wedding season in the summer; people’s close-knit social relationships, and a thousand other norms and practices that had been there for centuries before this conflict brought yet another alien people to our land. 

But venture outside the village, and people were hit by the daily struggle for survival in an entire system designed to marginalise them, at best, to ethnically cleanse them, at worst. I heard countless ordeals of trying to be accepted to university, trying to find work, battling with the health system, constant discrimination. My experience of studying Hebrew and working in Israeli companies was a bitter one of alienation and depression. 

There was no escape. Buried so deep in my culture, I tried to reconcile my feelings of frustration at its constraints and shortcomings, with those of resentment against the larger, hostile state, and the yet deep feeling of attachment and wonder I felt at being in Palestine - this feeling that ultimately kept me here or brought me back no matter how many times I left and how far I went. 

No image could have prepared me for this reality, one that is so multi-layered and complex that I am writing a book about it, due to come out in a year. The euphoric, idealistic image of Palestine sustained by so many Palestinians in the diaspora is entirely fictional; ours is a country riddled with difficulty, one that needs hard work and perseverance to forge our path. Yet our sense of belonging and homeland here, impossible to feel anywhere else, makes the effort the most worthwhile, true undertaking we can embark on. 

- Fida Jiryis is a writer, editor, and author of Hayatuna Elsagheera (Our Small Life), 2011, a collection of Arabic short stories depicting village life in Galilee. She can be reached at fida_jiryis@hotmail.com.


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