This Holy Land II: Once upon a lifetime ago…

Palestine Update 337

This Holy Land II: Once upon a lifetime ago…

Poetic reflections by Marisa de Silva*

Marisa de Silva visited Palestine as part of a Sri Lankan group of activists invited to participate in an annual conference organized by Kairos Palestine. This piece is the second in a series of reflections on some of the stark ground realities there, that impacted her most. It focuses mostly on the relationship that the Palestine people have with their homes and land, and how that has been forced to change – physically and otherwise – over time.

Israeli settlements in the outskirts of the Palestinian village, Hebron. Palestinian
homes have overhead water tanks as the Israeli govt. limits their water supply.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago…
This was a beautiful little village.

Always, always bustling with people.

If you close your eyes and listen really hard…

You can hear the sound of children laughing…

And the gurgle of our mother river that gave life to us all.

It truly was an idyllic place.

 

I looked forward to holidays.

It was routine for families to come and sit in my shade.

They would bring picnic lunches of freshly-made falafel.

Elders would start reminiscing about their childhood days,

to wide-eyed kids, who could never get enough of listening to them.

They spoke with fond respect of their forefathers and mothers,

Who worked the land until their hands would blister and bleed.

Who cooked together.

Who had food and water in abundance to share,

with the multiple unannounced guests that would frequent their homes.

They even spoke about us olive trees, and how precious we were to their people.

How they would make use of every part of us.

And that the children would always have plentiful,

as long as we were standing.

I would always feel so proud.

 

As years went by…

I started seeing less and less of these families.

It seemed as if they had all left.

Different people had moved in.

They started clearing lands and building large houses all close together.

They called them settlements.

Though there was something very unsettling about them.

They even built electric wire fences around their houses.

But, they too seemed to know my value, so I remained standing.

 

Soon I began to see some of the old families.

But, they didn’t seem happy.

And there were no children.

At the crack of dawn I would see,

men and women standing in long lines.

No one was smiling.

No one was chatting.

They just walked with their heads and eyes cast down.

But the unmistakable glint in their eyes remained.

Unflinching.

Some carried their lunch in a basket made of my twigs.

Then they would each disappear through a turnstile,

And I wouldn’t see them again till the end of the day.

This had become the new routine.

Palestinians line up from dawn to cross the Israeli ‘Checkpoint 300’in Bethlehem, to
enter Jerusalem on work daily.

 

Then one day I saw this big vehicle with a gun,

Some youth in uniform, with guns jumped out of it.

Then more big vehicles drove up.

More men with guns jumped out.

More time went on.

More and more settlements and wire fences and

More young uniformed men and women with guns arrived.

They just kept coming and coming….

 

Then one day, they started building something.

I overheard a mother tell her child living behind the wires,

“This will keep us safe.”

They seemed happy.

I let out a sigh of relief.

Something good at last.

 

Today, something was different.

Today was silent.

No more construction.

Finally some peace and quiet.

But, wait, there’s something else different,

Where are the olive fields?

Where are the trees?

What is this blocking my view?

It’s all I can see.

Miles and miles of cold, grey concrete.

What is this thing?

 

I heard them call it ‘the wall’.

It must be very famous.

For people come from all over the world to take pictures of it.

But, do they really know what they’re “snapping” at?

The Israeli-built Wall (referred to as the Apartheid Wall by the
Palestinians and the Separation Wall by the Israelis), running through a Palestinian field of olive trees.

 

That it is of a wall that segregates me from the people I grew up with?

That it is a wall that runs between me and our precious water?

Do they wonder why I am being shunned this way –

Ghettoized in my own lands?

 

Who are you that tries to break us?

You will fail.

We will not break.

We stand.

Proud. Angry. Unyielding.

You will not defeat us.

We will never leave.

Until we are free…

From the river to the sea.

Political art work on the Palestinian side of the Wall.