April 28 is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today’s article, that was originally published in Bridges magazine in their Spring 1991 issue, is as timely today as it was then for, while the Holocaust was an unfathomable human tragedy, the Israeli government, whose people suffered immeasurably through it, are still perpetrating unfathomable and immeasurable tragic crimes on Palestinians. The high hopes of Peace that we had during the Nineties when this article was written were, of course, never realized. That Peace is still as elusive today as it ever was! And, while age has tempered my vehemence, the essence of what I said almost a quarter of a century ago is still fundamentally the same.
Our Shared Land and Destiny . . .
I was born in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1943. This seems to have become my standard introduction in life. I say it both as a confirmation of my historical birthright as well as in defiance. Somehow, I am challenging my listener to ask: “where?” so that I may score one more point in anger at those who had obliterated “Palestine” from world maps, history books, the media and the world’s short-memoried consciousness . . . until the Intifada, that is, until our children’s broken bones cracked the world’s clogged ears open.
Uprooted. Insecure. Stateless. Identiless. Angry. Bewildered. A refugee . . . a woman. A woman?
A woman, yes, a woman. Always uprooted from the very feelings of my womanhood. Insecure in a world of threatening and marauding men who controlled . . . oh! always controlled my very deepest expressions and thoughts, my actions, behaviors and words. Stateless in a world that belonged to them who ruled over my very sinews.
A woman. Yes! A woman!
A woman who only read and dreamt about Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug. Oh, yes! And Nawal el-Saadawi. An Egyptian. An Arab woman. Bold for the sixties, certainly . . . A boldness I yearned to emulate . . . but then . . . feminism had no part in my life. No. Not for me. A Palestinian. A refugee. Uprooted. Stateless. I had a political expression and a life of struggle to burden my shoulders, to demand my sacrifices, my acquiescence, my obedience, my being second class “for the cause.” Womanhood was not on my agenda. It had no place but in my secret fantasies, in my tomorrows which were “maybes” anyway, never guaranteed beyond the hour for, being a Palestinian could mean being annihilated by Israel, by my Arab brothers (my Arab sisters didn’t have a say in the matter) by anyone and anything who stood to gain one advance in a political maneuver, in an economic trade-off, in a social context. I was just a pawn, a chip in the game of men and nations.
The Seventies. My Thirties. A time of reckoning. Another uprooting. This time from Lebanon. This time “Western” bound. To the West which I abhorred for being the culprit in my political life and, yet, which I yearned for in order to free my sublimated expressions of feminism.
The Eighties. The IDF are in Beirut. Israel withdraws leaving a bill: the expulsion of the Palestinians from Lebanon. More uprooting. Massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Palestinian blood and intestines fertilizing the sewers once again. Once . . . the bloody hell . . . again!
Across the laundered green of my lonely kitchen window in the affluent suburbs of the United States I reached out to her. At first she was faceless and nameless. No, we don’t say “Israel” or “Israelis.” We do not pronounce such profanity. I pounce on her and demolish her arguments and reasoning. You have none, I shout! Because of you I missed out on everything, including feminism! Including a battle that would have pitted us both against a long-standing archaic formula rammed down both of our throats!
You and me, woman, we have nothing in common! I hate you. Simply. Concisely. A fact of my life. Forty years of it. Forty tormented, turbulent years of it. You can’t know. You don’t have the capability. You can’t understand. You are Jewish. You understand nothing but your fucking Jewishness! Trust you? That must be a joke, right? Me? Trust you? Woman, you’ve screwed me a hundred times over. What more do you want? No. No, I am simply never going to disappear from your life or from this world. You wish! But I won’t. I am not going to. Understand? I am a Palestinian, and I will always be. Yes, and so will my children and their children. Yes. Believe me. This is not a threat, neither is it a promise. It is a simple fact.
Peace? Never! I’ll drink your blood yet. You wait and see. I’ll make putty out of you and Israel. Just wait . . .
. . . wait for what? It’s the Nineties damn it! Wait for your men and mine to control, dictate, dismember, kill and obliterate people and earth for chauvinism. For your hawks and mine to send both our children to their death. Wait? There is no time to wait . . . to waste . . .
Forty-five waiting years . . . wasted on my abdicating the solution to them . . . to those for whom solutions have historically been just another act of violence . . .
Perhaps, that’s when I became a woman. Yes. That’s when it happened. Only then. Only when I enfolded you . . . yes, you, Jew, Israeli, you . . . into my life, incorporated you into my existence and validated you with my feminism. Then . . . and only then . . . did you become human. You and I, together, as one, are the only ones capable of filling the chasm of hates and suspicions which govern our lives. You and I, together, as one, are the only ones who have the genes, the hormones, the ingredients for remaking clean rivers and oceans, a fresh-smelling environment, an ozone-filtered sun! This is where our children will play, cleansed from enmity and hatred, anointed by our understanding, and blessed with our grief.
And, yes! It is possible! I feel it when I embrace Ellen Siegal, leave a meeting before it ends and ask Hilda Silverman to speak for me knowing that she would, see the understanding in Reena Bernards’ eyes as I hotly say: It’s not Occupied Territories, Reena. It is Occupied Palestine! Yes, it’s possible when Letty Cottin Pogrebin and I can discuss aspects of feminism in a cozy lounge and when I look up with respect and admiration at Esther-Leah Ritz. And there are others. Others who wish to be known and those who don’t. Certainly, we come from very different poles. I come to re-instate Palestine. They come to preserve Israel. I bring all of Palestine on my shoulders and they bring all of Israel on theirs. No matter. We did meet. We did proceed in a process that is so fragile we all know anything could abort it . . . but then, as women, we know that after an abortion another pregnancy is possible, a life can be born. Men of cold politics hardly ever experience the depth of such emotional realities.
I was born in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1943. This seems to be my standard mode of introduction. A confirmation of my historical birthright. An act of defiance which I once shared only with those of my kin and which I share today with a growing number of Jewish and Israeli women . . . women in black, women in grief . . . women reflecting on their sad yesterdays, hesitantly embracing their fearful todays and, yes, women reaching out to their doubtful, although possible, tomorrows!