Friday, January 28, 2011

A Tale of a Tremendous Uprising

When I’m old, I will be the aunt who lived in another age and my nephews and nieces will sit around me and ask me to tell them stories about the how the world was when I was young.

It will be like a couple of years ago when I went to visit my aunt in New York, and we sat together one evening and looked through old photo albums. There were pictures of my dad as a baby, of aunts and uncles I’ve never met, and of my grandfather who died long before I was born, when my dad and aunt were still teenagers.

From one of the photo albums, an old passport fell out. It was my grandfather’s. I opened it and for a moment it was as if I finally got to meet him. It wasn’t the old black and white photograph; it was the stamps. His visas. My grandfather had been a little like me, I thought. Like me, he had also been drawn to the Middle East when he was young.

There was an Iranian visa. An Iraqi visa. And something I had never seen before; a visa from the United Arab Republic.

The United Arab Republic?

I had to google it. Yes, of course. It was the short-lived Egyptian-Syrian union at the end of the 1950s. His visa was from 1959; one year after the creation of the unsteady union and two years before it fell apart.

My grandfather died before I got to ask him what the Middle East was like back then, but insha Allah, I will be alive to tell my nephews and nieces what I have seen.

They will sit around me and ask,

“Please tell us a story from when you were young.”

And I will tell them. About how I lived in a land known to the world as the occupied Palestinian territories when I was in my late twenties. About how we, if we wanted to go anywhere, had to pass through military checkpoints with Israeli boy and girl soldiers acting as if it were their country, and we were intruders.

“Who were the Israelis?” they will ask.

“Mostly European, American and Russian Jews who drove out the Palestinians from their homes, and occupied their land.”


I will continue and tell them about how Palestinians were arrested at night; killed in their beds. About how Israel stole our water and sold it back to us; how the Jewish settlers were allowed to burn olive fields and throw rocks at school children on their way to school, with soldiers standing by, only watching. And how Israel then put 12-year-old Palestinian boys in jail for months and years for throwing rocks at the Jewish settlers who were stealing their land.

Then I will tell them about the bombings in Gaza; about the house demolitions and about how Jewish settlers used to spit at us when they walked past us in the Palestinian city Al-Khalil.

Finally, I will tell them about the roads. The good roads were for Jews only, I will say. The bumpy roads for Palestinians, who weren’t allowed to fix them.

“And the world leaders,” I will add, “the world leaders mostly stood by and let Israel do what they wanted because they were the only democracy in the region, they said, and they had a right to defend themselves. Sometimes they would come with creative ideas such as ‘Instead of having separate roads, let’s make separate lanes!’ or ‘I know, since we don’t want to force Israel to allow the Palestinians to return, let’s move them to South America!’”

Then my nephew will ask me,

“Then what happened?”

And I will reply,

“Then something tremendous happened. A few years before, I had lived in Egypt where I would see people so poor that they would eat from the garbage and sleep on dirty blankets on the side walks.”

“In Egypt?!” they will hardly believe me.

“Yes, Egypt was different back then.”

I will tell them about how Egypt was also under occupation; but a different kind of occupation.

“Egypt was ruled by a despot who thought he could fool time with enough plastic surgery,” I will say. “This despot, called Mubarak, employed his own people as soldiers and set them up at checkpoints, hired secret police to spy on their neighbors. If a taxi driver questioned the legitimacy of his regime, he would be thrown into jail. If a man would dare to run against Mubarak in one of his charade elections, he would be thrown into jail. If a blogger would publish photos that proved the wide-spread corruption in the police? He would be brutally beaten to death.”

Then my nice will say that I’m exaggerating, because Mubarak surely couldn’t afford having that many police officers it would take to control everybody at all times.

And I will say,

“You’re right, he couldn’t afford it. That’s why the then-world power the United States of America paid him billions and billions of dollars.”


“Yes, billions,” I will say. “Billions and billions of dollars to keep Mubarak in place.”

“But why did they like Mubarak so much?”

“Because he promised not to attack Israel even though Israel was literally killing his brothers and sisters. The United States really liked Israel. And he promised to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in jail and out of the government, and the United States really didn’t like the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“So what happened?”

“Then something tremendous happen,” I will say again, because I got sidetracked and forgot to tell them about the tremendous thing that happened. “Then the people of the Arab world had suddenly had enough.”

“What did they do?”

“It started with a spark in North Africa, that ignited a full-blown, country-wide fire in Tunisia. Then the fire spread to Jordan, to Egypt and to Yemen. The people of all Arab lands took to the streets armed only with placards demanding their rights.

“Only placards?”

“Well, some had rocks. The people marched. Day and night. They shouted slogans and they used their mobile phones to get the news about what was going on in their lands out to the rest of the world. I would sit glued to Twitter and Facebook. And the Arab dictators – because there were more than just Mubarak – sent out all of their police forces on the streets, but they themselves stayed inside, shivering in their palaces.”

“Not before long,” I will continue, “they fled. First, the Tunisian president fled; then Mubarak. It was as if the whole Arab world had joined in one massive uprising and finally shook themselves free.”

“So what about the Palestinians?”

“Their lives changed too, of course. But it’s getting late and I will tell you what happened tomorrow.” 

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