Tell the truth… (about sectarianism)

(This short story was initially published in the Haifa Arabic weekly Al-Madina on September 14, 2018. You can find the original Arabic text in Haifa Al-Hura.)

May 22, 2017 was a special day. We attended another session of the detention court for poet Dareen Tatour. The Court again rejected the request for the abolition of the house arrest imposed on Dareen, which lasted more than two and a half years until she was sentenced to imprisonment for 5 months and was returned to prison. On this special day, however, the court allowed Dareen to leave her family home in Reineh, the location of her house arrest, for several hours each day, provided she was accompanied by “qualified guards” from her family. On this occasion, to make use of the new crack in the wall for breathing freedom, Dareen and her companions did not return home after the hearing. But, for the first time since her arrest more than a year and a half before, she started wandering the streets of her beloved city, Nazareth, and we were wandering with her.

In this short passage, written more than a year later, I do not want to write another chapter in the famous story of the trial of the poet Tatour. But I want to touch on a passing conversation that took place during our tour of the streets of Nazareth. It touched an exposed nerve and its complex meaning is still echoing within my head even today.

We walked through the alleyways of the old market towards the Church of the Annunciation when we met, by coincidence, a group of foreigners, accompanied by a local activist. We learned that they are active in minority rights movements in the United States, especially Black Lives Matter. They came to Palestine as an act of solidarity on an educational tour, and our friend guided them on their trip to Nazareth.

We were pleased with this opportunity to get acquainted, and we requested the guide to tell the respectable foreigners about Dareen’s case as well. He began to explain, but was not familiar with the details. With his permission I explained all the issue of the trial from Dareen’s arrest until the last court hearing on the same day. My explanation was brief but it was ample, and I felt that the guests were delighted to have the opportunity to meet in person one of the conflict stories.

But, when I stopped talking, it seemed that our guide friend was not satisfied. He told me, “Tell them the truth.”

I thought I had explained the details of the case accurately and honestly and did not understand what truth he wanted me to tell, so I did not respond.

However, it seemed that this truth that I couldn’t grasp was clear to other members of our small group, except for the foreigners. Some of them, Arabs, Jews and foreigners, urged me: “Yes, tell them the truth!”

I was confused. I was, as they say in Arabic, like “a deaf in a wedding”. I didn’t understand. “I have told the truth as I know it,” I said. “If I made any mistake, please correct me.”

“No, you were not mistaken. But tell them you are a Jew!”Dancing Monkey

At this point I lost my nerve. Some of my beloved friends felt that the foreigners, who were of different races and ethnicities, and who heard my balanced and objective words, could miss the main “attraction” – that the person who spoke this was someone of Jewish origin… Seeing such a scene should be regarded like seeing a dancing monkey in a street show.

“OK, OK, I will tell the truth,” I laughed.

“You have to know that we live in a society steeped in sectarianism,” I explained to the guests. “Zionism has taken control of all our thinking and we have stopped dealing with people as human beings. We are dealing with them first and foremost according to their sectarian affiliation. But even our concept of sectarian affiliation is wrong, distorted by Zionist misconceptions. Judaism, as I know it, is a religion. And any religion is based on faith and a set of convictions. As of me, as a person, I do not believe in this religion and have nothing to do with it. But Zionism wants to convince us that religion is transmitted by heredity through our genes… and that the son of a Jewish mother is definitely Jewish. I regret to tell you that, but my friends have requested me to introduce myself to you as a Jew.”

Thus I spoke the truth, as I found it in my heart, to the respected guests, to my beloved friends and to you, my dear readers.


Why I didn’t celebrate my birthday?

Why I didn’t celebrate my birthday?

Any new technology has its merits and its drawbacks… Before Facebook spread all over the place, I could celebrate or not celebrate my birthday and nobody would even notice. Since I was eleven or twelve, and surely before accepting the obligations of the Jewish religion in Bar Mitzvah, I stopped celebrating birthdays and everything went just fine.

With the new wave of the Arab Spring, Facebook was revealed as an indispensable platform for connecting and struggle, crossing all borders and army blocks and not stopping at any regime. I opened the “Yoav Haifawi” page on Facebook and faithfully filled in my personal details, DOB included. Congratulations started to pour in on the eve of the date and continued all along the day. As I have no good manners, and I don’t follow up on my friends’ birthdays, I was ashamed not to return the kindness and last year I invited all those that sent congratulations to join a festive gathering…

But this year the apartheid state decided to celebrate its racism and its successful ethnic cleansing of Palestine on the 6th of May. We, naturally, gathered in our masses for the 17th march of return in the destroyed village of Lubiya. (For a video in Arabic…) These were no conditions for a celebration. This is clear and simple and requires no explanation.

What is not known to many people, and I wanted to make it clear here, is that May 6th is not a well known cursed date in the history of this country. The Zionist state, after 66 years, still doesn’t have borders, neither does it play by any rules, and it doesn’t even have a well defined date for its celebrations… This time, without prior notice, it belligerently occupied the date of my birthday and prevented me from celebrating… Fortunately this occupation is shorter lived than many others… I want the people that came to congratulate me for my birthday today to know that when we will meet again next year in the 18th march of return it will be, most probably, some other people that were robbed of their birthdays.

As I was unjustly deprived of my birthday, I still can ask for my birthday present… First and foremost people need security and stability. I wish, for the sake of all of us, that we will soon see an end to the celebrations of Nakba and ethnic cleansing and that we will all celebrate instead liberation, freedom, the return of the refugees and the establishment of one democratic state in all of Palestine… Only then all people will be able to celebrate – or not celebrate – their birthdays the way the want and at any time they like.

This post was originally published in Arabic