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Nothing to Lose but Your Life with Ms. Suad Amiry

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010



Edited Transcript of Remarks by Ms. Suad Amiry

Transcript No. 330 (29 June 2010)

To view the video of this briefing online, go to
http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/ht/display/ContentDetails/i/14105/pid/3584

The Palestine Center
Washington, D.C.
29 June 2010


Ms. Suad Amiry:

Good evening everybody. I am delighted to be here again in Washington. I would like to first really thank the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies [at Georgetown University] and Yousef Munayyer, [executive director of] The Jerusalem Fund, for having me here.  But also, special thanks also go to Maggie Daher who worked very, very hard -- she’s probably still working outside -- also to Nawal Atallah.

I am very happy to see many familiar faces here; it makes me very comfortable. I would like to thank you all for coming to hear about Palestine because I personally stopped going to anything that deals with Palestine or Iraq, for that matter. So I do appreciate [it] because I know [that] when we say the word hear Palestine, unfortunately, these days our stomachs [go] tight and we get quite depressed.  So I do appreciate that in a place like Washington, you take the time to come and hear [about] Palestine. But I will try to make it very light for you.

First of all, I would like to share with you how I became a writer because many of you who are sitting in this room probably know me as an architect. I became a writer by sheer accident. As a friend of mine, Yara Shareef, always says, ’tiji ma’ el umyal tabanja.’ Pure accident; sometimes success happens by accident.

Really, I would like to just divide the presentation today: one on just sharing with you how I became a writer. Because I say how I became a writer and I’m still not used to being a writer. If I close my eyes I can easily describe to you the architecture of this room. And being an architect is a state of mind or a state of being and I haven’t reached that [in writing]. And I don’t say that out of modesty but reality.  Because when you’re an architect you’re trained to see some things in a way.  Actually, one of the reasons I went into architecture is because I am dyslexic. So here you are.  You have a dyslexic writer who will not be able to read for you today. I get very nervous reading in front of an audience.  I will tell you the story. I will act more like a hakawati, telling the story, and that’s partly because of my dyslexia.

Thanks to Sharon – yes, Ariel Sharon, ex-prime minister of Israel – and my late mother-in-law.  It’s enough to have a mother-in-law, as I’m sure many of you share this feeling in this room, to become a writer, I think. But to have an occupation outside the room or outside, this happened in 2003 when Sharon occupied, reoccupied the Occupied Territories. We literally had the army outside our house. We could not go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, especially if you used the espresso machine you will be very worried about the Israeli army getting nervous with the noise and shooting at you. It was that tense.

My mother-in-law, at that time, was 91 and she was living opposite to [the late Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat’s headquarters, on her own. She was living on her own.  Thank God she was living on her own. Salim [Tamari] was away and I happened to be at home alone. And if you remember at that time the Israelis put us under curfew for 42 consecutive days. And when you’re put under occupation and under curfew, they will allow you to get out of your house three or two hours every three or four days. So the first time I tried to go and get my mother-in-law to join me, I failed, because the area around Arafat’s headquarters was very, very strict. Those of you who remember the bombardment, it was impossible to reach there. So I did not manage to get my mother-in-law the first time. I tried the second time and only the third time – which meant after twelve days – I managed to bring her from her house to come and stay with me. I wanted to be a good daughter-in-law but really she drove me crazy.  She did drive me crazy.

We fought about every little detail in our life. You know, the time we wanted to have breakfast, the time when we wanted to have lunch. It went on, and on, and on. And I remember [that] she had bought one kilo of escargot – halazone – and she had left it at home. The Israelis were bombarding, we couldn’t sleep, there was no electricity and water and my mother-in-law was worried about the halazone.

She used buy the escargot, put it in a container and feed it apples and carrots for a few days before it’s cooked. So, we spent the whole week trying to imagine whether the escargot had made it to the walls, to the ceilings and so it went.  And I kept telling my mother in law, ‘think of people in Jenin, what’s happening in Jenin. People are being killed in Nablus.’ And here we are, my mother-in-law, talking about the escargot [and] what happened to it.

Believe me that kind of pressure eventually made me sit down every time she went to sleep at night – and thank God she went to bed at seven o’clock in the evening. That gave me some time to sit down and reflect. And I started writing emails for my friends and my relatives and my niece and I said “Please don’t share it with anybody.”  Little I knew I would be in Australia, Washington and everywhere discussing this with you.

I sent these emails and they just got into the hands of a woman called Luisa Morgantini. She’s Italian; part of the parliament. She used to be the vice president of the European parliament. The next thing I know, Luisa is sending me an email asking me, “Can I make copies and give them to every single member in the European parliament?”  I said, “Are you crazy? Do you want me to get a divorce? No way.”  And actually, probably, maybe I wanted to get a divorce so I said, “Yes, just do it.”  And the next thing I know, it was published by Feltrinelli, the Italian publisher.  And my publisher came to me, “Suad, we need another book from you.”

I started reflecting about that book. Why is it that somehow people liked it? And what is it that really caught people’s attention in it? Because again, I say, not out of modesty, it just happened. And then I decided that really, Palestine as an issue was just such a just cause. Such a heavy [one]. It’s a conflict that has been going on for such a long period of time and people are sick and tired of listening to us and to the Israelis, of course. I just felt that perhaps it was the irony and the lightness and the humor that got people’s interest in the book. And then later on, I started reflecting because most of the time, the media, whether it’s television or newspaper or magazines, are interested in Palestinians as dead people. Media is interested in death, basically. As a result, people convey the Palestinians as a nation of death or a nation that wants to die or a nation that is related to misery. The book was about the less important things. It was about my mother-in-law, it was about myself, it was about my colleagues, it was about my dog. I tell you, no one did more publicity for this book than Nura, my dog.

I would like to share with you the one story of Nura which I wrote in Sharon and My Mother-in-Law, when I started using Nura’s passport.  This is a health certificate that I got for Nura from Jerusalem. I was given this document. And as I was leaving the clinic, the Israeli doctor, Dr. Tamar, tells me, “Suad, make sure that when you travel, take the passport with you.”  I said, “Travel where?”  She says, “From Tel Aviv Airport.”   She was filling out all sorts of information about the dog; where she was born, how old she was, the type of vaccine. Then she asked me if I had a photograph for Nura and I jokingly asked her, “My photograph or Nura’s?”  And Tamar, of course, didn’t get the joke.  So she told me,” Nura’s.” I said okay and gave her Nura’s. But then as I was driving back to Ramallah, I started talking to Nura.  “Nura, do you know what kind of a document you have? You have a Jerusalem passport.  A quarter of a million Palestinians are trying very hard to keep that identity in Jerusalem and three and a half million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank will kill to have your document!”  For most of you, I take it, realize that none of us Palestinians can make it to Jerusalem or to Jaffa or to historic Palestine or to Arab [East] Jerusalem. We need all sorts of permits.

So, as I was coming down I decided that it is time for me to use Nura’s documents. So I was explaining to Nura – if I went right, I would be hitting the Qalandia checkpoint. If I go left, I go to Jerusalem. Then I said,” Nura, how about going right?”

So I took the car, and you have to realize that it’s a yellow plate car.  It’s a Ramallah plate car. So when you get to Qalandia, they would realize that you are not a Jerusalemite or a settler, for that matter, and they would ask me for my documents.  So I stood in line and when my turn came, I went there and the Israeli soldier was a bit alarmed by this car coming because none of these cars are allowed into Jerusalem.  So I opened the window, and he said, “Where are you going?”  I said, “Jerusalem.”  He said, “Can you show me your permit?”  I said, “My permit? I don’t have a permit.”   He says, “Does your car have a permit?”  I said, “No, my car does’t have a permit.”  “How do you expect to go to Jerusalem?”  I said, “Ah! You haven’t met Nura! Come, come Nura!”  And Nura came and she sat in my lap and stuck her head out the window. And she was moving her head, she has big ears. And then I told him, “This is Nura.”  And he said, “Yes” and I said “Nura is from Jerusalem, as you can see.”   He says, “Yes…”  I say, “I am her driver. As you know, Nura doesn’t know how to drive to Jerusalem.”  He said, “Yes..?” and looked at me.  I said, “You heard it. I am her driver.”   He told me, “Okay” and allowed me in.

Why am I telling you this story? This book was published in America, Sharon and My Mother- in- Law.   Actually, it didn’t do very well. The only part that did well is my publisher writing to me and telling me the Nura story is wanted to be published in a magazine called Bark in America. Bark distributes 100,000 copies every month and they want to have this story in Bark. The only one who is going to give publicity for Jerusalem and the miserable conditions of the Palestinians was this story.   I realized how crazy this world is. And really, I always say, ‘nothing makes sense, why should I?’ This has become my motto in writing. Just being as crazy as this world and dealing with issues in a crazy way.

I have written so far three books. The first one is Sharon and My Mother-in-Law and, as I told you, it was Sharon and my mother-in-law who were the mottos behind that. The second book I wrote was something called Menopausal Palestine or Palestine in Menopause. This book hasn’t been published in the western world yet. It was published in India; it was published in Italy. This book was triggered by the election of Hamas, actually. I felt extremely, extremely depressed after the election of Hamas, being a secular person; a secular woman who has been sort of active. I don’t call myself a political activist, but I am a generation of the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization]. We never thought of the PLO as a secular movement until Hamas was elected. And to me that was really an eye-opener.

We took it for granted that you had the Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine] and the Democratic Front [for the Liberation of Palestine] and really, really, really I never thought [of] or knew who people are when it comes to their religion, let alone their nationality because, as you know, in Beirut, the PLO, as a cause, attracted all sorts of nationalities and religions and it was beside the point. Being pro-Palestinian and Palestine was a cause. I was extremely taken or sad by the fact that the Palestinians did vote, and it was a correct vote, and Hamas won. I got depressed.  I wouldn’t come out of the house for three or four days trying to process that decision and that vote that people went and voted for Hamas. For 30 years of my life, I have been trying to convince the world that Palestinians are normal human beings. There has been a process of dehumanizing the Palestinians. I remember when I was a student in Ann Arbor, with Muna over there, starting a chapter about Palestine human rights campaign. Really, we worked so hard to just make the world realize that we are the victims and not the terrorists and not the attackers.
 
And when Hamas was elected I said, oh my God I’m going to spend the other thirty years of my life, which are not there anymore, just trying to go around the world, convincing the world that Arabs and Muslims are human beings. There will be so much stereotyping of Arabs. There will be so much stereotyping of Islam. Really, it’s just like I did not have the energy, let alone that I just want to make something very, very, very clear:  I am anti-Hamas, strongly. Not for their political program, I don’t care, because for the West, Europe, the U.S., tomorrow Hamas recognizes Israel then Hamas will be accepted. Particularly for me, I am against Hamas for their social program, as a social movement. Nothing less, nothing more. I belong to the PLO, who recognized Israel, and nothing happened. So, it’s time for the Israelis to really recognize us. That’s why it doesn’t matter really because the Popular Front also had a similar program; never really wanted to recognize Israel. But they had a progressive political program and that’s why we were for it even if we disagreed on their political program.  So, I just want to make that very clear. That Hamas, for me, is a reactionary social movement, as a woman – I don’t know why religions always take us women as their topic – and I don’t want to be the topic of any religious movement.

Anyway, this book was called No Sex in the City in the Italian version, for one reason: because my Italian publisher didn’t want to have menopause on his title. He told me, “Suad, it will never pick up.”  So, the alternative was No Sex in the City.  And why No Sex in the City? That city is not New York, of course, it is Ramallah. It was a play on the political situation. Basically, this book is about my woman friends. It’s an interview I did with many – actually in Ramallah we go out as a group of friends – menopausal group, we call ourselves – we go out every month .We go to restaurants and start talking about everything. And, of course, many of our husbands don’t like that.  “Why don’t you take me with you? What is there to talk about without us?” And all the rest.

This was about PLO women. Not in a political way.  I just interviewed all my women friends who were active with the PLO with the different factions. To my surprise, none of them, except for one – it has twelve stories – is Palestinian. That was an eye-opening for me. One of them was American, one of them was Italian, one was from Aleppo; one of them was Armenian from Cyprus; one of them Tunisian; one of them is Egyptian; one of them is half Syrian and one of them half Lebanese. And so it went.

I realized that we lived in an era that doesn’t exist anymore in the Middle East. And it’s very sad. That’s why Iraq, for me, is such a sad story. Not because of the war, not because of the Gulf -because it changed the terrain where we grew up in a society, where religion and ethnicity – if any area in the world could teach the world about tolerance it was the Middle East. But unfortunately not anymore. They have worked very hard not to do so, so Israel will look like a normal place.  All religious states – Islamic state, Muslim state, Christian state - so Israel becomes the norm. What’s wrong with an Islamic state?

Having said that, I know you came here to hear about the book Nothing to Lose But Your Life. I am going to share with you my experience with this book. In Italian it is called Murad Murad.  Murad is a Palestinian laborer.  He is 21 years old.  He is the brother of Mohammad who is the office boy in Riwaq [Centre]. Murad has been working in Israel since he was thirteen years old. One third of his life was spent as a laborer in Israel. I don’t know if you’re aware, in the year 2000, Sharon decided he doesn’t want to have any Palestinian workers. Overnight, 150,000 Palestinian workers found themselves without a job. Meaning, one million Palestinians lost their livelihood. And that was a result of building the wall.

I don’t know how many of you have seen that wall, but if you ask a Palestinian or at least you ask me about the most dramatic, traumatic experiences, it would be 1948 and the building of that wall. I don’t know what it is about the building of that wall but it really gets to all of us. It is such a mad, mad action because what kind of a wall – you know they declare that it is a defense or a security wall. You have half a million Israelis in our side. In other words, you have a quarter of a million settlers in the West Bank and you have another quarter of a million Israelis in Jerusalem. Maybe my numbers aren’t so accurate, but let’s say 400,000 Israelis are on our side of the wall, at least in the West Bank, if I want to be accurate, because we can’t get to Jerusalem.  On the other hand, you have a quarter of a million Arabs, on the other side, which is Jerusalem of the wall, in addition to the million and what have you Arabs in Israel. So really the wall does not separate Arabs from Jews in any way.  So how could it be security?

I really wanted to write about that wall, but I really wanted to write about that wall from an animal’s point of view, from an environmentalist point of view. I contemplated writing a book from a gazelle point of view from a turtle’s point of view or from a wild boar’s point of view.


When Murad came, he came to help me – he’s a laborer – he came to help me in Ramallah, in the garden. And he is such a hard-working person. You know he kept working, whenever I gave him coffee or tea, he would not have it. And then I wondered, I said “Murad, shoo ostak? [What’s your story?] Just have a cup of coffee, have a break.” And he said “You don’t know me?” I said “No I know you” He said “My nickname is bulldozer.” And he was literally a bulldozer. Really I was so taken by that character, a boy who is 21 years-old is such a hard working person, and it broke my heart to see. He has told me so many stories, what it means for him and his colleagues to get to Israel today, after the building of the wall, to find a job. He told me stories that I could not believe, that someone like myself, who follows the news, really has no idea what happens to the 150,000 Palestinian workers every day. He told me so many stories that I decided I am going to join Murad and the workers on their trip trying to find a job in Israel. I told him “Murad, can I come with you?” He looked at me; he said “Are you crazy?” I said “Yes, I am crazy.” He said “I don’t think you can make the trip.” So anyway, I left it at that, and every other day when I opened the newspaper I would find out that the Israelis had shot, injured, sometimes killed, a Palestinian laborer going into Israel, so I would be scared. Eventually it was in my mind, and eventually I decided I’m going to do it.

So one day – and they go on a Saturday, that’s because of Shabbat and what have you – so I decided one Saturday I am going to join. So I picked up the phone and I called Muhammad and I told him “Let’s go.” So, I took my car, and it was ten thirty in the evening, of a Saturday. Salim wasn’t around so I went to his dresser and took all sorts of men’s clothes. Thank you for introducing me as Saud, but I am Suad, but on that trip I was a Saud. And I became a Saud that evening. I put, I took up my hair, and I put the cap, and I just wore all sorts of things, to make me look like a man. And joined. Then we went, I had Muhammad with me. And the book is divided into two parts, when you read it you’ll find out. The book is divided into two parts, and the wall is in the middle. This part is the harassment on the West Bank, then, crossing the wall, what it means to go across the wall, and this side, is in Israel.  So, I joined Muhammad and went to his village, Mezari’ al-Nubani. So I joined Muhammad and his family, and we arrived there. And we got to Atara check point. Those of you who know Atara check point. Muhammad made sure I had my hawweya [ID] out and he had his hawweya out, and we were ready for that check point, it was 11:30, and we just had the same story, Muhammad and I, what we were doing. When we got to Atara check point, we looked out for the soldiers, we looked out of the window. And there were no soldier. You don’t know how scary it is to get to a checkpoint and not find those Israelis Soldiers. We were afraid that if we drive, maybe they will see us, maybe they will shoot at us. That was the first scary part, just to go through a check point that had no soldiers.

Then we got to Murad’s house, and we got there around 11:30. And I being a writer woke up the whole family at the middle of the night because I want material for my book, it doesn’t matter. So there was Murad and Mazin and Maher and Majid and Muhammad, and the mother and the sister, whose name I don’t know for why. And of course, we spent the whole evening talking. Then they realized, the mother realized, what it was that I was up to. She said “Are you crazy? You can’t do it.” Anyway, at the end of the day, the bus came to take us, the Ford, at 2:30 midnight. I got on the bus, and that was the loveliest part of the trip, I must tell you. To have all the Palestinian workers, I was with 24 workers on that bus. To have me sit there and each one of them gets on the bus, and trying to figure out what this crazy woman is doing with us. At the very beginning they all acted; they were all telling me their stories and they acted very macho and everybody had a hero story, and slowly, slowly, slowly, the discussion becomes very normal and very nice, and I learned a lot of their stories.

The bus took us, in the middle of the night, and threw us somewhere, in the dark. It was a moonless night. We were thrown, and then all of the sudden, I was like, “What do we do?” We start walking. We walk between the olive trees. We are walking in the dark, and I can hardly keep up with these young boys, and I realize how much weight I should lose and how much exercise I should be doing, just to be able to make this kind of trip. We walked almost, in the darkness for two hours in the Zawyia area.  As we were walking, all of the sudden, I hear Murad. And I was very close to Murad, because Murad is very small, very energetic, and he moves very quickly. So I was close to him as much as possible, whenever I succeeded, then all of a sudden I hear them, you know “Yil’an abukom ‘ars!” You start hearing curses, “What is it? What is it?” We look around, and there are the Israeli soldiers, right there. So what do we do now? They said we just sit down.

We sat waiting, waiting, waiting. And I couldn’t see any Israeli soldiers. Eventually they show me. And there was actually a jeep, and inside the jeep there was a computer with a yellow [light]. It looked like a spaceship to me. So I said “What do we do now?” They said we had to wait till the jeep goes away. Of course, we waited, waited.  Meanwhile, there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of laborers from other villages all coming to Al Zawiyia neighborhood. And why was that? Because the wall at that time, the concrete wall was not built completely and there were parts which were made out of barbed wire. They had made a slit in the barbed wire, and they’d hold it apart. And we start going through it.

So we sat there; we kept waiting, waiting, waiting. We must have been 500, 600 workers by that time. [And Murad said] “Let’s just go. I said “Murad, go where?” “Just go, let’s go” “And go toward the soldiers?” He said “Yes, because it’s not possible that they can hold 500 of us or shoot 500 of us. At the end of the day they might shoot one or arrest five. And that is how we will make it.” Sure enough, I mean, you have to have the courage just to go. And sure you start hearing shooting, at that time someone like myself, starts running back. Some of them keep going. And they keep saying “Mazato.” You know what mazato is? It’s slipped away. Some of them made it. They just used that number, that volume, by just going. And the Israelis cannot get a hold of everybody.

At the end of the day, we just kept going and coming, going and coming. With each attack, we would be losing a few workers. Fine, some will be arrested, and some will just go. At the end of the day, we had to go through ditches. One time Murad said “Okay Suad, we are going to go through a tunnel, this water ‘abbara” It’s like Les Miserable in Palestine. I said “What do you mean, ‘abbara?” he said “Just follow me.” And the ‘abbara goes to the Israeli soldiers, again. I said “What kind of strategy is that?” He said “Suad, you don’t know. Just follow me.” Since you are going to read that book, I hope, I don’t want to spoil it, I don’t want to tell you everything. I just want to tell you something: all the harassment happened on the West Bank. The minute we crossed to the other side, it was a completely different game. You get to the other side. What they have done, as I described to you, they opened that slit, and we went through it. It was very scary, because Murad, who I trust totally, told me “Suad, be careful, this is the place where they shoot.” It was so scary to go through that very moment. I must tell you, I look very brave here, but there was twice I collapsed and decided I can’t do it. And it was only because they were caught, and came back, that I was able to catch up with them. When we got to the other side, from the 24 workers, we were only 4, from our group. So twenty, meanwhile, would be running and coming back, running, and while coming back were arrested. There was Muhammad, Saad, Murad, and myself. That was it. All the rest were arrested.

When you go to the other side it was a completely new emotion. First, for me as Suad, because I do come from Jaffa, originally, and we are going to Petah Tikva, a town [that] is very close to Jaffa, supposedly. But I had no clue where I was. Second, they wanted to get on a bus, with the Israelis. It’s like “What?! Murad, we have been running away from the Israelis all this time and now we [are] getting on a bus, with the Israelis?!” He said “Yes, just come.” So, I went with them. And I was looking around, all of the sudden there was no Sa’ad, there was only Muhammad and I. I looked around and was like “Where is  Sa’ad?” I look behind me and I noticed that Sa’ad and Murad, and Abu Yousef, they were changing clothes. I don’t know if any one of you [has] seen the film Chic Points. How the Palestinians wear to pass though a checkpoint. It is really a wonderful little film done by Sharif Waked.

I saw how the Palestinians, these workers, are trying to change from looking Palestinian, into looking Israeli. So all of the sudden, I find that first of all they have eye glasses [sunglasses], everybody’s in eyeglass. Second, everybody had their hair in a ponytail, like this. Then if they had a jacket, they took off the jacket just went like this[and rolled up their sleeves]. It was amazing, because there were other workers, other Palestinian workers, and if they had long pants they would go like this [they would even roll up their pants]. They though they looked Israeli. That is what I loved about the Palestinians because they looked very Arab and very Palestinian, in spite of all they did, actually.

So anyway, we go on that bus, we were waiting on bus 84, I still remember because when bus 84 came I was so scared. Murad got on first, then Sa’ad, then Muhammad, then I. And Murad was speaking in Hebrew, with the guy, and I could see that it wasn’t going very well.  And I could see Murad going like this with his hand. [And Murad motioned to go back] So I understood and I went back, then Muhammad went back, then the rest, we came down. And he came “Yil’an abu ‘ars!” “Murad, what happen?” He said “He asked me for my permit, he asked me for my documents.” Now you have to realize that the Palestinians from the West Bank go to Israel hoping they would be thought of as Arabs from Israel. So they don’t carry their West Bank ID; they leave it at home. Little I knew, because I had carried my ID that day. We wait for another bus, and that was the settler’s bus. Ok, so Murad comes and “Suad, you get in first,” he says. “I get in first?” He said “Yes, I think it will work better.” “Okay.” So I got in first, and with my English I said “Four tickets, please.” He gave me four tickets and we walked in and I was very proud that my English really worked and I didn’t look exactly Palestinian [to] the driver.

There were seats spread here and there on the bus. I sat on the bus, and I was hoping that Muhammad or Murad or somebody would be sitting next to me. No, I was sitting actually next to a soldier and his rifle was coming just next to me. The trip must have been like 40 minutes or a half hour, no, less maybe. Fifteen minutes. I wanted to say something to Muhammad just to ask him where we are. And I was thinking: “What language would I speak to Muhammad, on this bus? Would I speak English? But he doesn’t speak English. Would I speak Italian? But I don’t speak it very well. Would I speak Arabic?” Really, this is the one thing that gets me when I go to Israel. I am so conscious of who I am, how I look, what language I speak. If there is anything I hate [about] going to Israel, it [is] that reason. Because you become so aware of who you are.

And I was thinking all the thoughts when I heard Murad saying, in Arabic of course, “Suad, Suad, Suad!  Al-tala’eh barra! Tala’eh!  Shayfeh houneek hathe? Al buyarrah! Al jeyesh al ‘arsaat!” Murad was just speaking in Arabic! In the bus, very out loud! He looked like he was a tourist guide on that settlers’ bus. Really, it was amazing! Murad was so comfortable speaking Arabic. And he was telling me “Look, look! Look out of the window. The bloody Israeli army has knocked down all the orange trees! This is where Maher, my brother, used to sleep here. Actually Maher had built…” He went on and on, and I was about to clap for Murad, just for speaking Arabic. Murad was explaining, and all the Israelis were following Murad, looking out of the window, and listening to Murad. All of the sudden, it hit me. Supposedly Murad is from the West Bank, and I am from Jaffa, and all of the sudden it is the other way around. It really is the other way around.  And what I mean by that [is] these workers feel so [at] home is Israel, so comfortable. He knows the area, he goes to the sea. I realized that for us, first diaspora people, Israel had virtual Israel. And for the workers it is a reality – a bitter reality – but it is a reality. They just deal with the situation in the most interesting way. It dawned on me, if there is any bridge in the future for any peace in the area, not only in Palestine, but in the world, it is the workers. They are the ones who know the music, who know the culture. He shifts between Arabic and Hebrew in such an easy way. He knows the place.

Eventually, we got to the place where he wants to work. And we went [he said] “Come come let me show you, let me introduce you to the owner of this restaurant.” Meanwhile, I forgot to tell you there was a love story going on. Murad has this Lily woman, who works in a restaurant. All along he tells me that he is in love with Lily. And Muhammad tells me, “Don’t listen to him. Lily is in love with Sa’ad.” And I could see it. Sa’ad was so handsome. All through the trip I was sort of stealing glances at Sa’ad, so I could believe that Lily was really in love with Sa’ad and not with Murad, because Murad was very thin.

[This] Book [has] changed my life. Sometimes you start with something not realizing the impact of that trip on your life. Why do I say that? First of all, I had become very sympathetic to all workers, in the world. All these young people that normally we middle class women are a little bit scared [of], even if we don’t admit it, when we pass by a Senegalese, or an African, or a Mexican, or a Palestinian or what have you. And that trip, being with them 18 hours – I must tell you, it took us 18 hours to go between Mezari’ al-Nubani and Petah Tikva, a trip that should take normally a half hour by car. Eighteen hours of walking, of coming back, walking, and coming back. Also, I realized how much historic Palestine has changed for me. It is such a place where I feel [like] a stranger.

When we left Murad and Sa’ad in Petah Tikva, after they have found work, Muhammad insisted that we wanted to go to Jaffa to swim. I was so tired. I was not in a position emotionally and physically, but then I said Muhammad had accompanied me in all of this trip, so I might as well go with him to Jaffa. We asked Murad, “How do you go to Jaffa?” He said “Get on bus 35. Make sure not to get to the central station, because that’s where they catch all the Palestinians. Get off the central station.” Sure enough, Muhammad and I go, and we go to the central station. At the end of the day, we don’t know how to make it to Jaffa, believe me or not. And we end up going back to Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Before I finish I just want to share with you some of the stories. Because [in] these 18 hours, they told me all sorts of stories, these workers. The one I liked most was Abu Yousef. All of these workers are, average 23, 24, 25, they are all young. And there was Abu Yousef, for them he was the older guy, [he] was only 42, but really he looked very old. So I made friends with Abu Yousef. We were talking all the time. And there were moments when we just couldn’t make it. We felt we could not make it for that day, because it was three o’clock, four o’clock in the afternoon and they had not made it to Petah Tikva. Many of them would say “I want to give up, I want to go back to my village.” And the others say “What would I go back to the village for? I can’t face my wife or my children without money, without making it.” Many of them just [hung] around, and in hanging around there were a lot of nice stories that they told me. I would like to share one of them.

Abu Yousef [told] me, “I have a permit to work in the settlements. If we don’t succeed in going to Israel, then I could go and work in a settlement.” I said “Abu Yousef, how does it feel, really how does it feel for a Palestinian to go and work in a settlement building an Israeli house? How does it feel?” He was so annoyed with my question. He said “Doctora, you can’t tell me that because you have a job. I don’t know why when the Palestinian Authority employees didn’t have a job, the whole world was talking about it. Here we are Palestinian workers we don’t have a job since 2000, and nobody seems to bother about us. Not only that, you are making it hard for me, ideologically.” I said “La’, la’, Abu Yousef. Wa’allah, believe me, it was just a simple question. Ideologically, I have something, but I will not tell you not to work, if you do not have an alternative.” Abu Yousef had eleven or twelve kids. So he told me “You know? You want to know how I feel, Doctora?” I said “Yes, I would love to know how you feel, Abu Yousef.” He said “Listen, when I am in a bad mood, and I am sitting on that construction site I said, “Al ‘arsaat! This occupation will never end. They keep taking more land and building more settlements. We will never have a peace with these ‘arsaat.” These bastards. So in a day like that, when I am in a bad mood, I decide “Okay, I’m gonna put less portion of cement in the concrete mixture.” But sometimes, when I’m in a good mood, I think “All occupations in this world ended, and Palestine cannot be any different. And these settlements will become Arab’s, and most probably will become for the refugees and poor people like me.” And that day I said, “Y’allah ya walad! Put more cement!”

Thank you very much.


Ms. Suad Amiry is a Palestinian writer and architect. She is the director of the Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation..  

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker's views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund. 

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