Tag Archives: Al-Nakba

Made in Deir Yassin

(Today marks the 68th anniversary of the Nakba. The Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the ongoing displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people, a process that was set into motion with the creation of the state of Israel. I offer here a segment of The Hour of Sunlight, the book I co-wrote with my dear colleague and brother, Sami Al Jundi. Sami’s origin on his father’s side is Deir Yassin, a village that was depopulated shortly before the creation of Israel, in which an infamous massacre took place. This passage took place when Sami was approximately 17 years old, in 1979.)

(Excerpt from The Hour of Sunlight by Sami Al Jundi & Jen Marlowe)

Now that I had dropped out of school, I needed work. Our neighbor Abu Ahmad had a job in a large Israeli factory making kitchen cabinets. They needed more workers. Abu Ahmad and I took an Egged bus to the factory to talk to the supervisor, Giora, about a job. The factory was in Givat Sha’ul. Givat Sha’ul had been built on the ruins of my father’s village, Deir Yassin.

deir yassin

The depopulated village of Deir Yassin

Giora, a big blond man with thick glasses and the knitted skullcap typical to settlers, looked at me disdainfully but hired me right away. My job was to deliver sections of cabinets to their next destination on the assembly line, shuttling back and forth with a small forklift. I also wrapped the finished cabinets in thick plastic, preparing them to be shipped to Europe.

Giora barked orders and shouted at us, even at workers older than his father. The word Arab was added to whatever other adjective he slung at us, whether dirty or lazy. There was only one non-Arab working with us—an old, balding Iranian Jew named Rahamim. Rahamim was quiet, gentle, and a bit peculiar; he combed his thinning hair over his bald spot with a toothbrush. Giora did not spare Rahamim his abuse; Rahamim was Mizrachi after all, only one step away from being Arab.

More than hating Giora, I hated working in an Israeli factory located in Deir Yassin.

“Where’s your job, Sami?” people in the Old City asked me.

“Deir Yassin,” I had to tell them.

“Deir Yassin? Aren’t you from Deir Yassin?”

I lowered my eyes and shrugged.

My grandmother visited from Jordan. Tears sprung to her eyes when I told her where I worked. “Is your Uncle Abu Ismail’s house still there?” I did not know how to tell her that only a few buildings from the original Deir Yassin remained, and the Israelis had turned them into an insane asylum.

My grandmother gripped my arm tightly before I left for work the next morning.

“Sami, please. Bring me a fig.”

During my lunch break, I walked to the heart of Deir Yassin. I watched the crazy people wandering in the yard between the homes of my people. When no one was watching, I plucked a fig and a lemon from nearby trees. I gave them to my grandmother that evening. She held the lemon to her nose, breathing deeply the fragrance of her village. Then she cradled the fig to her cheek. “The figs in Deir Yassin,” she said. “There are no figs in the world like those from Deir Yassin.”

The next day I wrapped the cabinets, staring out the large window overlooking the valley covered in fruit trees. All the workers here were nothing but traitors, and I was the worst of all. We were disrespecting the blood that had been spilled here. Maybe the souls of the massacred were still hovering in their demolished village. How could I possibly justify myself to them?

Before wrapping the next cabinet in the thick plastic, I carved words across its face with a screwdriver. I did it again the next day, and the next. The following week, I plugged the forklift backward into the charger, mixing the electric signals and blowing out its circuits. Each time shame overwhelmed me, I found some new way to sabotage the work.

Abu Ahmad figured out what I was up to. “Sami, you have to stop this. You’re going to cause problems for all of us.”

I looked straight into Abu Ahmad’s eyes. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

The manager began to receive phone calls from Europe about defective cabinets. It was obvious that I was the culprit; I was the only one with access to all stages of the assembling.

“You piece of rubbish, you disgusting Arab, I’m going to fire your ass! I’m calling the police!” Giora shouted at me.

I shouted right back, “You want to call the police, you fucking settler, fine! Call them! But you can’t fire me, because I quit!”

I stormed out of the factory and never returned. But I smiled each time I imagined customers in Belgium and Italy unwrapping their new kitchen cabinets, only to find the Arabic words I had carved deeply across their doors:

Made in Deir Yassin!

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Erasing Zakarriyeh

Yesterday, I came upon this blog post in 972mag, which had originally been published in the Hebrew-language Sikha Mekomit. The writer of the post (Ron Gerlitz) talks about the road sign he passes regularly when driving past the Israeli moshav Zecharia.

The Arabic letters on the sign had been scratched out–a manifestation of racism that Gerlitz felt he should–and could–do something about. Gerlitz contacted the proper authorities and got the sign–with the Arabic letters–restored.

Though I understand–and very much appreciate–the overall point of the article, and Gerlitz’s efforts to combat racism, there is another, insidious, form of racism at work in the example and photos that Gerlitz used for his blog post, a form of racism that Gerlitz failed to address.

Zecharia is built on the remains of the Palestinian village Zakarriyeh. The people of Zakarriyeh were forcibly displaced in 1950, many months after the 1948 War had ended. For those who enter Zakarriyah, rather than just driving by the road sign, you can find the village’s original mosque still standing–one of the few buildings that remain. And–even with the new sign up (thanks to Gerlitz’s efforts), with the Arabic on the sign “restored”–the Arabic on the sign is a transliteration of the Hebrewized “Zecharia.”

Arabic letters have been restored, but Zakarriyeh has still been erased. The “restored” sign itself is a marker, not only of racism, but of ongoing ethnic cleansing.

My colleague Sami Al Jundi wrote about Zakarriya (his mother’s native village) in his memoir that I had the honor of co-authoring, The Hour of Sunlight. In the book, Sami’s mother recalls her forced expulsion from Zakarriya as a 12 year old girl. Sami took me to Zakariyya a few years ago. We took photographs outside the mosque, now in a state of disrepair verging on crumbling. I saw the very sign that Gerlitz was responding to, with the Arabic letters scratched out.

The scratching out of the Arabic letters was an act of racism perpetrated by an individual. The replacement of the sign with the Arabic letters reading “Zecharia” rather than “Zakariyya” is an act of racism perpetrated by the state.

The deeper racism that undergirds both acts is the racism that permitted the destruction of Zakariyya, replacing it with Zecharia–the racism that continues to erase Zakariyya and its people today.

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