Today is the commemoration of the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” marking the displacement and disposession that has characterized the Palestinian experience since the founding of the state of Israel. As many of my Palestinian friends remind me, the Nakba was not just a one-time event back in 1948, it is ongoing. It continues today through expropriation of land, and homes. It continues through the destruction of property and olive groves. It continues through the killings, just today, of two Palestinian youth–15-year-old Muhammed Abu Thahr, and 17-year-old Nadim Nuwara, both shot in the chest by the Israeli military.
Nothing I write can take away the grief of those two boys’ families. And nothing I write can adequately express the scope and scale of the devestation of 66 years of ongoing Nakba.
Instead, I offer you a passage from Sami Al Jundi’s memoir The Hour of Sunlight, a book that I had the honor of co-authoring.
The passage attempts to give a sense of the emotional as well as material devestation that came with the destruction of one village’s olive orchard at the hands of violent settlers. Though this particular event took place in the mid-1990’s, what it describes is still happening today.
I hope you will take a moment to read, another moment to comment, and a further moment to circulate this post. And I hope you will take a moment to send thoughts/prayers of comfort to the families of Muhammed Abu Thahr and Nadim Nuwara.
In solidarity with all those struggling for peace with justice, that the Nakba may finally end, and equality with dignity for all Israelis and all Palestinians be achieved,
Passage from The Hour of Sunlight
We got a call from a group of Israelis from Peace Now. Settlers from Shiloh had spent the entire night cutting down 3,000 olive trees belonging to the village Turmus’aya. The villagers had discovered the trees in the morning.
The Israelis wanted to respond. “What do you think if together we raise money for the village to purchase new olive trees?” they asked me. I thought it was a fantastic idea. The people of Turmus’aya would feel supported and would know that some Israelis were against settler behavior. Most important, they would be able to replant new trees. Within a week, we had raised the money that we needed. Lucy contacted the village council in Turmus’aya to set up a visit. Five Israelis from Peace Now met me at the center and we drove there together.
The village council had prepared lunch for us, thanking us for coming. The food was delicious, but the atmosphere was heavy, like a home that had lost a shaheed. (Martyr)
After there was nothing but thick black mud left in our fanajeen, Bassem, the head of the village council, finally asked, “Now what can we do for you?”
One of the Israelis spoke for the group. “When settlers behave in these despicable ways, it also hurts Israelis who are committed to peace. We came today because we want to stand in solidarity with you. We came also because we want to help you buy and plant new olive trees.” She placed a large envelope in front of Bassem.
Bassem looked at the envelope, scratching his chin. Finally he said, “The only one who can accept this gift is Abu Kassab. Abu Kassab is the oldest man in Turmus’aya. He has spent his entire life tending his trees. He knows these trees like nobody else. He is sitting on the land now. We will respect whatever he decides.”
Bassem led us toward the olive tree groves on the mountain behind the village. Shiloh was visible as we walked, its red roofs perched on the next hilltop.
We rounded a corner. I stopped in my tracks. A soft moan escaped the lips of the Israeli woman next to me. “Those bastards,” she cursed under her breath.
The Deir Yassin massacre was in front of me. Trunks and branches were strewn everywhere, like torsos, arms, and legs. Three thousand young trees, old trees, trees in the prime of their lives. Three thousand murdered olive trees.
Bassem pointed to an old man sitting under one remaining olive tree at the edge of the destruction. “This is Abu Kassab,” he told us. “You can offer him your gift.”
We approached Abu Kassab tentatively. His head was covered with a white kuffiyeh and he wore the traditional qumbaz closed with a wide belt. The creases in his face were as deep as if they had been plowed by a tractor. The old man sat hunched over on a small rock, staring blankly where his orchard had been.
“Assalamu ‘alaikum, Grandfather,” I said hesitantly.
Only then did Abu Kassab look up, noticing our presence. “Wa ‘alaikum Assalaam,” he said to return my greeting, pushing himself to a standing position with the help of his walking stick. He began talking in Arabic, pausing so I could translate his words into Hebrew. “My father and I planted many of these trees. Others were planted by my grandfather or great-grandfather. I have a story about every single one.” He hobbled to a large gnarled tree, lying on its side. “This tree had my grandfather’s name. It was planted by my great-grandfather in honor of his son’s birth.” Abu Kassab tapped another tree gently with his stick. “This one was for me, when I was born.” Abu Kassab shuffled a few steps and bent down, touching the trunk of another smaller tree. “This tree carried the name of my youngest son. I planted it myself the day he was born.” He stroked the bark of his son’s tree as tears made their way down his weathered face, finding their path through the furrows and creases.
“Ya haj, there is hope to plant olive trees here again. We would like to offer you funds for 3,000 new trees. We would like to help you plant them on your land.”
Abu Kassab seemed not to have heard. “I hope you have been treated well here, my son. Did you and your friends have lunch? Were you served coffee?”
“Yes, ya haj, everyone has been very kind to us.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that.” The old man paused, his fingers pressing a rubbery green leaf. “Now, please, keep your money. I cannot accept this gift.”
“But why? You can use this to plant new trees…”
“We can plant trees again with our own money. Our problem is not money.” Abu Kassab carefully lowered himself back onto the rock. “The Israelis who are with you…please thank them for me, my son. Please tell them…this is not something personal.”
We understood it was time for us to leave. Bassem and the villagers guided us back to the Transit, leaving Abu Kassab alone with the remains of his trees.
 Plural of finjan, the small cup used to drink Turkish coffee.