The Arab world is alive. It’s alive and breathing on the rhythm of the Lute. Its heart is located between Libanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, connecting our hearts and making us one. Its soil is filled with the seeds of olive plants and jaffa oranges, being watered by nobody else than Palestinian farmers. With care, with love, with protection.
“When people speak about Palestine, they automatically think about the current Palestinian territories that have been shedding blood and tears for decennia. Most people only know about Gaza, that is indeed targeted the most, and the West Bank, where Palestinians live under Israeli occupation and settlement.”
Mohammed Abu al-Heja made me miss Palestine, even though I’ve never been there. From Jerusalem, the holy site for Muslims, Christians and Jews, to Nablus, Jenin, Jericho, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Akka, Nahariyya and Galilea. He saw it all. The birthplace of Jesus, the landscapes of the Golan Heights and the Dome of the Rock in al-Quds.
Mohammed on his way to Palestine
“When people speak about Palestine, they automatically think about the current Palestinian territories that have been shedding blood and tears for decennia. Most people only know about Gaza, that is indeed targeted the most, and the West Bank, where Palestinians live under Israeli occupation and settlement. But Palestine is more than that. Palestine is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, to where Moses led his people for safety and where Jesus grew up, preaching about ‘loving one another’.”
In Palestine, people wake up by the sound of the –perhaps irritating, but beloved- megaphones of the watermelon sellers and fall asleep with the sound of music and enthusiasm of marriages nearby.
As for prayers, clocks and time tables are not required there. Before every prayer, the silence gets broken by the call for prayer and you get invited to the local mosque to pray together, side by side.
Both the houses and hearts are wide open there. The Arab culture is permeated by hospitality and generosity and every moment is being cherished. I receive unconditional love from my family over and over again.
My mother was born in Nazareth, the biggest Arab city, with 65,000 inhabitants. We still refer to Palestine when speaking about these places, even though they became a part of Israel after its war of independence.
In fact, I will always call this country Palestine. When we are packing our suitcases and get on the plane, our direction is Palestine. When we are being hugged and kissed at our arrival, we are being welcomed in Palestine. When we are driving on the roads to Tamra and arrive with the sound of enthusiastic honking at the beautifully decorated house of my grandfather, when we hear the kids yelling “They’ve arrived!”, it will always be in Palestine. Never anything else.
The moments with my grandfather are something I will always carry in my heart. Every time I visit him, he guides me through his olive groves and orchards. The hot midday sun above us does not shine nearly as much as his eyes when he proudly shows me his accomplishments. This land, this soil, he is the one caring for it. When he is watering the veins of his plants and caring for them, when he is picking the ripe sweet fruit and when he is feeding his visitors with the jewels of nature.
Nazareth, birthplace of Jesus
Many people don’t know about the so-called “Arab Israelis”, which are the Palestinian inhabitants that still live in Israel. In Galilea, North Israel, they form the largest population group. They live in Arab cities like Akka, Um al-Fahm, Shefa’Amr and Tamra.
Among the Palestinian population there is also a significant number of Christians. It’s beautiful to see how Muslims and Christians live in peace amongst each other. In Nazareth, I was able to experience the Friday prayer, that is located on a church yard. The conflict in Palestine is therefore not a religious conflict, in contrast to what the media often claims.
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The ruins and cultural heritage in Akka and Jaffa clearly illustrate this interreligious atmosphere. During the Ottoman Empire, houses of worship of different religions were built next to each other.”
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is the assurance of safety which the servant of God, Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, has given to the people of Jerusalem. He has given them an assurance of safety for themselves for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted. “Assurance of Umar” by Umar ibn al-Khattab during the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem, 7th century AD.
Palestine lies close to the hearts of many people. Some are directly related to it, some feel a connection because of their being Arab, and others have discovered the uniqueness of this place and just can’t shake off its hypnotic beauty.
Resistance, occupation and injustice have dominated our image of Palestine. And even though it isn’t completely inaccurate, it’s still wrong to define Palestine by these three words. Knowing about the beauty of a country is as important as knowing about its occupation. To protect its inhabitants, we need to know about them. And its inhabitants are a warm-hearted, lovely people. To speak about them, we need to know their language. Palestinians speak in the language of poetry, the language of Darwish, the language of religion and holy books. To defend this country, we need to know about its ancient history, its folklore and its cultural heritage.
Let us be taken away by Nizar Qabbani’s hopeful words and wish with him to meet Palestine in Salaam, in Hobb, in Jamal.
Oh Jerusalem my love
Tomorrow the lemon trees will blossom
And the olive trees will rejoice
Your eyes will dance
The migrant pigeons will return
To your sacred roofs
Old city of Akka
And your children will play again
And fathers and sons will meet
On your rosy hills
The town of peace and olives.