(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.
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!