It began with the thought that this may be it. Yesterday morning I rolled out of bed, put on my boots, and hoped that I would be scarred by the day's trip. That a branch would rip through my skin, that I would grate my knees upon rocks, that some insect would sting me. I wanted something permanent to take with me when I would leave Palestine in a few weeks.
It was the harsh beginning of a goodbye. I trekked two mountains, between the spot where it is said a man took out a few Zionist soldiers encroaching on homeland during the days of resistance to the home of Suleiman Mansour’s family, an artist who painted “The Bearer of Burden.”
The hills we climbed were steep. Understanding homeland, protecting it, and teaching it certainly was a burden, more so than the hills and packs we carried on our backs yesterday. This hike was a reminder of the body’s capacity to withstand, the strength it gains in being challenged, and the stability of nature when it is preserved despite the dozens of occupiers this land has faced. All of them have died—but the land always remains.
The sun burned me a harsh red, and my skin blushed from the sun’s glare at the thought that my days here were numbered. The wind blew, and I heard the love songs of birds.
I crawled away into hills, away from the sound of music and chatter. I wanted to be alone and hold the dirt in my hands. I would not be those who just came back to be buried in it.
But the birds sang louder—all varieties of birds hidden in the trees. I envied their freedom to fly and meet and return to these trees. Were they taunting me or reassuring that trust in nature would ensure my return?
The freedom of love is something withheld from Palestinians by the oppressors- or so they think. Many families are scattered throughout the world because of refugee status, those from historical Palestine unable to marry those from the West Bank or Gaza, those who are blacklisted for no apparent crime, those who have been exiled simply for falling in love.
With a marriage awaiting me, the bride of Palestine, to a refugee of homeland, I became a part of the Palestinian experience I always thought I would avoid. And yet love gives one the hope that anything can happen, and so, when I leave as a “tourist whose visa has expired” I pray that those who rape nature with borders will desist from their stamping of passports and simply disappear. And it will still be my duty, no matter where the wind scatters our people, to see to it that the Zionist entity completely collapses.
Love makes one stupid, right?
The wind blew the story of homeland to me just as my grandmother whispered to me today. She constantly tells me, “I am afraid you will never be able to come back.”
She and the wind blow dirt and dust into my eyes because they are hurt. But my grandmother’s stories were more hopeful than what the wind said yesterday as it crashed against me. I was taken aback by the insult. I do not remember dust or sand getting into my eyes and sticking to my flesh in my three years of being here. This was the feeling of being buried alive in remorse, one grain falling into my eyes as I tried to look at the valley below me. I could not look Palestine in the eye.
I am leaving Palestine and am buried in fear at the prospects of exile. I am leaving the mounds of my grandmother and uncle and ancestors buried in our village. I am leaving the dust of people still marching. I get lost watching my mother cook, at my sisters playing on my grandfather’s land. I cannot look Palestine in the eye. As cousins laugh over cups of tea I stare into the clouds of sugar and wonder if I will taste this sweetness again.
These thoughts bombarded me just as the sun did when I climbed steep terraces in the hills near Yabroud. Imagine how steep the pursuit of independence can be, especially at a time when my people have seemingly collectively settled for the valley of normalization and charity politics.
We climb despite the obstacles.
We found two tortoises as we stumbled through the thorns and piles of rocks. We took them home to Ramallah. Now they sit behind invisible glass in a portion allocated to them, as if they do not feel the difference between homeland and a bubble. When my cousins picked them up and laughed, I cried out, “You have created refugees!” They laughed but I looked at the tortoise and thought how similar we were, pets of people who did not know what they were doing as they tampered with nature’s stability.
Much like myself returning from my hike, I thought about how hard the Palestinian Authority tried to make this glass bubble seem like the valleys and hills so many have left due to a violent enemy the PA seemed to only encourage.
Ramallah has become a giant fish tank of people.
Being “relocated” by the millions will create only centuries of struggle. And so, being on the outside will only mean Zionists have one more to worry about. And whether or not the globe is ready for that, they should know, Palestinians will constantly crawl towards the valleys and trees of homeland just as this tortoise was crawling on a rock held by its capture. Our rock today is Ramallah, it is the US, it is Jordan. We have forgotten at some points that the Rock is in Jerusalem, which is disappearing from Judiazation and colonialism.
We are the tortoises. Hard shells, such fragile limbs blown away by US funded weaponry, and yet timelessly present and patient. Crawling slowly, blinking with caution. Ancient.
In 15 days I leave homeland. And it is not in my hands to determine if I will be allowed in again. This is a means of ethnically cleansing Palestine of its indigenous population by Zionists.
As I trekked the hills I passed a Bedioun encampment. I passed farmers. I passed my nation goodbye.
Do the war tourists, the Israeli journalists and so called activists, the loud commentators on politics, the ones who make a career of this sort of pain, the social media junkies, know what it is to risk homeland? Do they know the taste of fresh bread on the taboun or the tea on an open fire that carries the taste of ancient tradition passed through the sewn tapestry that I will wear on my wedding day?
That I must thrive here anonymously, one whose parents lost their Palestinian IDs at the change of authority and politics, do the privileged know what they speak of when they know how fragile homeland is? Can they speak about Palestine in the language of smell, sight, and touch?
Do they know that these memories are not worth the reckless reactionary, Western, manipulative, idealistic, naive pursuits of non Palestinians pressuring us to take risks that are poorly calculated because people cannot check their privilege —or those who dare to challenge I, one whose descendants fought the crowns of not just this colonizer, but those prior, dare to tell me what is best for the Palestinian people?
Do you know what tear gas tastes like, or what the sound of bullets does to a person?
Israeli military passed the Nablus road, and I could see them from the hills. A soldier shouted from the jeep.
This was my path that I painted on these hills, that I reached them and would return to this path--and that when I do, it would be upon my terms, not the terms of internationals influencing the politics of Palestine, or Zionists or their so called peaceful descendants encouraging the glass bubble of Ramallah.
This was my pastoral retreat from the scum Ramallah has poured into my village. And this was my act of resistance all at once. And now that I have experienced it, none can deny that I existed. For if I have influenced the dirt that shifted under the press of my foot, or given the worms some crumbs from my meal that spilled on the earthen floor, or caused a bird to flee-- I do not only exist, but I have impacted a land and its nature much like my ancestors have. If I had not struggled up the terraces, or caused a mule to scurry, or dented the grass as I shuffled through thorn bushes, how could I say that I resisted ethnic cleansing?
My resistance is nature.
It was a challenge to survey the steepness of loyalty upon the hills we climbed that day, but what would homeland be if it did not challenge me? And how could I call this home if I did not tire in my embrace with it?
The hike leader saw me often during our breaks lost in thought and said, “What is wrong? What are you thinking now?”
I told him, I just want to enjoy this one last time. He said, “Yes, you will miss this. But when you come back, I will take you on an extra special hike.”
I did not bother telling him that I may never be back. I crawled behind the house of Suleiman Mansour and found that someone had laid out broad rocks to create 4 chairs and a table. I laid down in the dirt. I stared at the trees that dropped berries and pinecones on me. I saw centipedes and ants crawl past me. Birds ate the bread I threw . Thorns were in my hair. I blended into the earth one last time. I submitted to the burning sun. I could not stop my tears but I gave them to Palestine for three years of being blessed to live here—I gave the land my soul and emotions.
I grabbed fistfuls of brown dirt and looked at the wild sage growing around me. I wanted to be buried in it forever. I would die for this land, not to be a politicized martyr, but to become a part of nature’s ultimate victory over mankind’s disgusting atrocities against it. I wanted to become the wild flowers that bloomed, the rocks that made Palestine’s terraces, the sky that would only crash when God willed it to.
From a balcony that has since disintegrated from the burden of the sun and rain, I looked at a portrait of burden. This was a painting I would carry with me into diaspora.
I walked out of the home of the painter to become a part of this art. I intersected colors and was drawn in the air. I cast shadows on plants and then my shadow left them and fell upon other bushes. The wind spoke and the portrait was rearranged, with my hair flying or the leaves shivering. We are always being painted. Thousands of paintings a second. Too many for any artist to capture.
If we did not walk these paths, who would except colonizing soldiers?
I spotted a red flower. I laughed to myself at the irony. When I first came here it was the Intifada. Cousins were in prison, and I was just a kindergartener ready to experience homeland. I told my mother I wanted to pick flowers. And red flowers like this one were blossoming everywhere. I remember my mother holding my hand and leading me carefully on paths through thorns to a red flower. I picked it and others, but this red flower was so beautiful to me.
I was five. I stuck it in a book about ponies, my favorite book, and dried it there.
Now my mom was letting me go, my father was giving my hand away to a man I love. And this red flower is now drying between the pages of a journal I keep for my children to read—in the event they never are blessed to live here.
The red flower of Palestine is the blossom of blood. It is the red that poured from the veins of my descendants as they were executed by British imperialists. It is the red that poured from the children as they innocently lived in the shadows of occupation.
This is the red that any Zionist thrives for but fears—the red blood that ensures that more resistance will bloom and remain to any who invade the land of prophets and faith.