When my friend migrated to Israel! - An Arab in Diaspora - Part 1.
Make sure you empty your mind from any estranged thought….. make sure you use the deepest routes of your brain and the warmest veins of your heart to let my words pass through them, maybe you can help me, maybe you can guide me out of my diaspora…. Yes… diaspora…. And not just a physical one…. But a mental one as well…. A diaspora that was capable of provoking my thoughts all around me just like the Cairo March winds provoke the yellow dust and colors the sky with this light orange canopy that soaks the water out of your throat and leaves you in need of a single drop of water. So will you be my single drop of water?
I was not intending to tell this story until I find myself capable of doing something about it as it was totally occupying my existence and I was wholeheartedly sparked to defy my diaspora, the diaspora that Emilia helped me discover.
During one of those periods when a certain thought or mood completely controls you and shapes you inner self that you lose contact with the time dimension and leave the thoughtful dimension to rein your life for a while I experienced two incidents that changed how my soul sits within my body.
The first stroke…..
It all started back in Berlin when we were all gathered together to study philosophy, literature, and arts. From all around the world were our origins and thus were our dreams, hopes, and imaginations. it was eighty of us or maybe a bit more confined together in the largest of mindscapes and the smallest of landscapes. Two weeks into our experience the eighty started dividing into smaller and smaller groups until I ended with a nice but challenging group that never stopped asking, wondering, and comparing. It was my very first time to deal with a Jew on a personal level. Emilia was an American Jew who came for the very same reason that we all came for (or maybe we pretended to come for). Our talks took us from politics to religion to arts to philosophy to sports to jokes and for every story there was always a Spanish, an American, an Arab, and a German version. It was like the very first time I saw a white beam of light splitting itself into seven harmonious colors in our dark wooden school lab, the same excitement and the same anticipation with each one of us looking at the beam of light and trying to understand the works of nature and the wonders of God. I suddenly realized I was not the white light I believed I was, I turned out to be just one color of the spectrum and the world around me the rest of the spectrum. Our conversations were like the spectrum making a full turn and penetrating the prism from the opposite side to form a one strong beam of white light again. Only then that I saw the real white light.
Emilia and myself, two colors of the spectrums who I thought would be full of repulsive charges pushing them away from each other got closer and closer like any other friend I would have had back in Cairo. My interaction with her helped me understand the striking fact that I discovered before my travel to Berlin that a major Arab philosopher who lived in Arabic Spain called Moses Maimonides (Moussa Ibn Maimoon) was Jewish. It made me understand how it was possible for him to contribute to the “Islamic Philosophy” though by definition he was not a Muslim and when I say “understand” I’m just referring to the “feeling” associated and not the “thoughts” as our relationship was not that deep, it was a mere casual friendship at that point in time. We frequently talked about politics and of course it did include the Arab – Israeli conflict but it never reached the stage of opposition or extreme conflict as she never mentioned Zionism and I never mentioned my Arabism. Those discussions were hovering around the political situation at that time, certain events and misfortunes but it never went into the ideology. I always perceived our relationship as the healthy relationship that should exist between a Moslem and a Jew, and “healthy” in my mind meant a relationship between two human beings who enjoy mutual respect and always keen on extending bridges between their minds and wisdom between their hearts. It was my very first time to discover and enjoy the separation between Jewish and Zionist.
At the end of our studying program which lasted for around two months we became a close group and we vowed to meet again. Six months later it became possible for a brief reunion in Cairo that lasted for around a week as we were all attending a conference. I invited them to stay at my family’s place in Cairo as I thought it would be an outstanding chance for my family to meet my friends and particularly what I thought my precious discovery of the American Jewish friend. Our outings and tours of Cairo included lots of my Egyptian friends as well and it felt satisfying to expose them to what I was exposed to in Berlin.
Emilia stayed at our place for an extra three days after my other friends left and she spent lots of quality time talking to my parents (especially my father) and some other relatives. She integrated easily both inside the house and in the street to the extent that she knew where and when to bargain and she showed an outstanding capability of negotiating really low prices. My family enjoyed her stay and she left a nice memory.
During those three days it was the very first time that ideology came into the picture and it was the very first time that she realizes the Arab nationalist tendencies of my family and myself, she discovered that my father fought with the Egyptian Air Force in Yom Kippur (1973). I sometimes noticed the hidden shock on her face that she tried to hide and I sometimes wondered if her continuous questions were a reaction to the shocks she was getting from what she heard. She maintained a consistent silence however about her ideologies and I did not really bother to uncover anything she did not want to unravel.
After Emilia left we all stayed in touch through an e-group that gathered us together and sometimes through personal emails. We shared our thoughts, our stories, our development, our comments… etc. This e-group witnessed our enthusiastic reactions to what happened around us, sometimes it was a venue for action proposals, sometimes venue for projects, sometimes for the mere sharing of thoughts and ideas. It witnessed our travels as well from one country to the other and I was lucky to stay in touch though I changed countries 3 times during that period. The e-group maintained its role for around three whole years until a day that I would never forget.
It was a usual morning when I checked my email to find the usual messages from the different e-groups I’m subscribing to, I skimmed through the titles as I always do to see which one had a “no subject” title to check them first as I always think they carry surprises and because they provoke my curiosity to uncover their sender’s intentions and thoughts. Afterwards I skimmed through the senders and I found an email from Emilia to the group titled as I remember “Hello Hello”. The email seemed like a boring one with the usual beginnings of the “hellos” …. “kisses”.. etc. then there was a very brief paragraph that nearly read as follows:
“I decided to migrate to Israel, I’ll be working with the government on a social development project, I’ll be living in Jerusalem and will be waiting for all of you to visit… Shalom”
Up till this moment I failed in describing to others how I felt at that point in time because I couldn’t find the right words to draw the exact image of the feeling that were stirring within the inside of me. It was a very disturbing moment in terms of my sudden realization of a hidden aspect of a person I thought I knew well enough (or maybe a hidden development in the life of this person that I failed to notice). The other source of confusion was my sudden bombardment with “this is unfair” “what will I do” “do I tell others?” “do I tell my family?” “is the line I drew between what is Jewish and what is Zionist imaginary? Does it exist only in my mind?”
There was a feeling of “shame” a feeling of “helplessness” a feeling of “idiocy” a feeling of “weakness”….. but I never found the word to describe the combination of all of them together…. Maybe it’s “frustration” but frustration does not really reflect shame… maybe it’s “disgrace” but it does not really reflect weakness….. I’m just trying to find the word to convey it well to both your hearts and your minds……
How come a person I thought I knew so well is suddenly “on the other side?”
How come she has the right to go to the land I always dreamt of stepping my foot on and I can’t?
How come she gets to actively contribute to her cause and I can’t?
How come I’m left alone?
How come I feel so weak?
What will I do?
I then realized my defeat, I then realized my ignorance, I then realized I know nothing about myself when I claimed to know all about my enemies and my friends.
I’m an Arab in diaspora……. A diaspora of thoughts, a diaspora of will, a diaspora of imagination…… with no control over my present nor over my future…..
Emilia (my friend) is there right now adding value to the cause that I dreamt all my life of facing, challenging, and defying. I did not even get a chance yet to face the ideology but how can I do the same? Am I just reacting to her migration? Am I just reacting to this evident betrayal? So what!!!! Maybe it’s just a reaction but maybe I can build on it….. (how can I build on it when I don’t even know enough about myself, my history, my existence?)
Can I go there? I don’t think I can…
But have I tried….??? I never did…
Can I help without going?... I don’t know…..
This is not fair….. this is not right…… .
The second stroke…
And in the midst of my confusion and in the midst of my tension and as if I was doomed to be punished for my ignorance, indifference, and diaspora another arrow came straight across my existence. As I was watching the doomed “Al Jazeera” and during one of their reports from the holy sacred city of evil and dreams, the city of nightmares, the forbidden city by the laws of the cowards and the powers of the filthy….. Jerusalem…… they interviewed an Israeli academic who was commenting on the political aspect of the conflict (a mid fifties white man with light grey hair shining under the studio lights and a double chin slightly coming off his chemise as if to warn him of an expected fatness. He was wearing a metallic pair of glasses that further highlighted his apparent sophistication and a beige suit with a dark tie and a light blue chemise). As the anchor finished the question and during the usual silence between the question and the answer that reflects the usual “time difference” I was anticipating him to take a while until the translator finishes his job of pouring the words into his ears in Hebrew….. instead…… my whole existence was entirely shocked to find the respected expert replying in perfect Egyptian Accent Arabic….. a perfect colloquial Egyptian that reflects something further more than a shrewd student caring for the tiny details of a foreign language…… it reflected a perfected knowledge of a native….. yes …. A native….. oh my God…. This man is Egyptian….. no sorry… this man is Israeli…… no no… sorry…. This man is !!! is what?
Who is this man? One explanation arises from the bottom of my messy brain….. then it knocked on my head with a heavy hand…..
this man used to be with “us”… among “us” …. Then suddenly he’s “on the other side”….. The side we knew so little about until we developed the fear of knowledge then the fear of knowledge ignited the fear of power….. then the fear of power expelled our brains into the diaspora….. and here I am an Arab in diaspora…..
Ooh my God.... I feel so weak… I feel so helpless….. I feel so alone….. I feel like I’m sliding off the slope of a magnificent mountain and I’m approaching the edge….. here it is coming…. Here it is coming…… there is nowhere to hold to the mountain…. Not a single crack to capture with my hands…. Not a single protrusion to hold to….. sliding strongly against the rocky slope and feeling the pain of each and every friction with the sharp stones….. with the provoked dust all around me… all inside me…. All within me…. No alternative to the free fall at the end of the slide….. no alternative to the deadly end of my diaspora….. until suddenly …..
A stick….. a wooden stick….. my hands caught a wooden stick hammered to the steep slope…. The wooden stick started shaking but it was strong enough to hold me ……. (where did it come from?) …….. it’s Salman Abo Setta….. he hammered the wooden stick to the sliding slope…. (will it hold me long enough)….. it is holding me strong enough…… at the very least up till this moment…….
Salman Abo Setta….. a magnificent man….. a shrewd geographer…. He offered me the very first hint to find my way out of my diaspora…… it took him ten years….. ten years to end his diaspora…. (But how long will it take me?)…. It is true he is still in physical diaspora outside of his own land… but at the very least he ended his mental diaspora….
“The Atlas of Palestine in 1948” was his route to salvation. He froze history, he gave me the very first hint to where I should go…. He unraveled all the misleading covers of reality.. he faced all the molesting of history… he showed us the place we left …. The place we left both mentally and physically…. He gave us the right name of the place to go back to… with all its villages, its towns, its tiny alleys, even its description….. Salman abo Setta was strong enough to endure ten years of extensive research.. his loyalty to the cause fed his stamina until he provided us with a map to where we want to go… until her provided us with a photograph that once seen nobody can take from us….. he provided us with “knowledge” and knowledge provided us with “Ownership”……
I met him in the House of Commons while he was talking about the ten years journey and he pulled me off the sliding slope (I still feel it won’t handle me for too long)… I came out of the lecture with one aim in mind….. to get a copy of the atlas of the truth… the atlas of the real Palestine as we left it…. (is it enough to sustain me? Do I just need the atlas?)….. I managed in getting one of the last two copies in London at that time…. I opened it and on the very first page it said:
“To the people of Palestine…. Past, Present and Future.”
Salman abo Setta, a mid sixties Palestinian whose face never complained from carrying this modest calm smile. A smile that inspired me to strive to end my diaspora… I look at the elegantly presented and comprehensive atlas and wonder….. what next? What will I do? Now I have the atlas in hand, I have the reality in hand, I know where I want to go back to…. But how will I go? Then…. A new realization came to mind….
It’s all about the starting points…… when “the other” actions always starting with a full thorough knowledge of those who happen to be “us” …. A full detailed knowledge stemming from the fact that many of them were once among “us” and stemming from the fact that the rest came from the “audience” of “us” and “them”….. whereas our starting point is always…… “observations”… “analysis” …. “studies” …… but never a direct exposure…. Never an “experience” ….. never a “certainty”…….
I will not give up to the myths and restrictions….. I will go to the land…. I will learn the language….. I will acquire the “knowledge”….. the Arab Nationalist guides did not help me… the Islamists promises did not satisfy me….. the Amr Khaleds of this world did not end my misery……
I will end my diaspora with my own hand…… and will tell you very soon about it…..
An Arab in Diaspora