From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019.
July 5, 2019, Friday, West Bank, Jenin, Freedom Theater guest house
The conventional names should be replaced by new ones … since, in an anticipation of renewing our days as of old and living the life of a healthy people that is rooted in the soil of our country, we must begin in the fundamental Hebraicization of our country’s map.
—from a 1948 letter sent to first Israeli Interior Minister Yitzhak Gruenbaum
What next? Today [July 5, 2019] drive from Jenin in the West Bank north to the Jalamah checkpoint (which I’d always heard as first the Jeffery and then the Jeremy checkpoint) into Israel and then west, consider either try again to find the village site of Ijzim or head to the Mediterranean coast and my first new village site, Miska.
Yesterday, waiting for word from M, my colleague in Jenin (he’s rarely clear about who we’re to photograph, in large part because the availability of people we hope to photograph is rarely clear), turned up one woman who had cancer and couldn’t speak. A primary challenge of this project is that the people I wish to meet are rapidly dying. So I concentrated on planning the last two weeks of my two-month journey. On maps, I’ve located (tentatively) most of the destroyed village sites, reordered my route sequence to go from north to south along the coast and then southwest of Jerusalem. I doubt I’ll be able to find all these places in my remaining time. But there is always the next trip, when hopefully, I’ll have an able in-country colleague with me. Or the equivalent.
I’ve begun marking on my paper map of destroyed villages the sites I need to find. This will help as I’m harried with the needs of driving and my shrinking time—plus where to reside overnight. I hope to explore Lifta, even tho I’ve unearthed no one from there. As I explored on my last trip Deir Yassin, I have yet to meet someone from there who survived the expulsion and massacre.
As often happens on my travels, I have no idea where I’ll be tonight, where I’ll rest my perplexed body. So I’ll “just put out the fire and call the dog” and be off, as Lynn and I used to say when departing, especially when camping or otherwise packing light.
Being Friday, the Muslim holy day, the Freedom Theater is quiet. Few people if any are using the Internet so it is at its most robust, about 10 Mb/s download and 13 Mb/s upload, even while uploading my photos. Despite its little traffic, this morning my Gmail drops periodically and begins again.
July 6, 2019, Saturday, Israel, Ramla, Sadot Hotel in the Assaf Center complex
Last evening I ended up in the same mall-hospital-hotel complex I’d resorted to in the fall, the Assaf Center, just outside Ramla. Earlier for the first time ever I tried Airbnb, located a room in an apartment in the Ramla city center, paid in advance ($34), and then tried to find it. All seemed fine as I opened one of my two map apps. Straight away I landed at the designated site—a parking lot and industrial complex. I had no address, no other info to help. So I tried the second map app. This led me about 1 mile further to a small residential area. I went up to an old man sitting slurping watermelon on his porch and said, Airbnb? Hiba (the owner of the B and B)? Room for the night?
He was deaf, I shouted into his ear. No reaction. Eventually, a short dark-skinned woman came out, equally confused about my request. Neither spoke English. I’m not sure if they were Israelis or Palestinians. I tried in a building across the street. An older Jewish man taking his grandchild out in a stroller and a young Jewish woman also did not understand my question. I found another building that might be Hiba’s home, my residence for the night. No one answered. I tried the map again and found it merely returned me to the first site, the parking lot.
Because my phone service vexingly does not allow me to phone out (only receive calls), I used my Google voice service on the computer. Which meant, because the computer did not connect with the Internet, I had to set up my hot spot, all in my overheated car. Soon a young man angrily told me to move my car, can’t park here! I moved, phoned the Airbnb host, no answer, multiple times.
I’ve applied to Hiba for a refund:
i request a refund. i could not find your home. google maps and apple maps gave different directions. neither brought me to your home. i tried to phone and message. your phone was busy or would not answer. later i found a text message in hebrew which i do not understand. i am frustrated. please refund my money.
Extremely frustrated, tired, hungry—I’d been driving all day, searching for village sites (usually futilely, very little payback compared with what I recall last fall), navigating traffic, names of places I do not recognize, avoiding a crash—I decided to try to find the mall complex I‘d used last October. Again to sleep overnight in my car. Since I carry the laptop I found my journal entry (Oct. 14, 2018) and got the name. With maps, I found the mall. Closed. Shabbat. No easy refuge as I had last time to eat and do my toilet duties.
Let’s check out the hotel, I know it’s expensive and possibly filled. (As was true last year during a Jewish holiday). 650 shekels, $185, yikes and holy shit! I’ve never paid this much for a room in my life; it’s the equivalent of 1/3 my month’s rent at home.
Inquiring, they had a room. I’ll think about it, I told the hotel clerk, a large affable man. So I strolled around outside, scouted the hospital, knowing it would not close on Shabbat. The mall won’t open until 8:30 pm Saturday. Ok, I have 2 possibilities: sleep in my car again and use the hospital for toilet or stay in the hotel.
Hotel! So here I am with shower, hot water for coffee, good view, fast Wi-Fi, wash my hankie, big double bed, write and read and plan.
What I do feel much more than I did last year is the presence of the historic people, namely the expelled, as if ghosts, as if wisps of memory, lightly curling smoke. Their presence is more palpable to me than last year. In fact, during my HOW (Hour of the Wolf, an intense period of non-serial thinking, often nightmarish) last night I thought I might retitle my project: Expulsion, Return (or The Right of Return). With a subtitle that specifies more precisely what the project is, a plea for the right of return. Add the word “home” to lend it more currency with an audience. The right of return home.
Perhaps because of my present and hopefully short-lived homelessness—I worry about where I will find housing tonight—I might be better attuned to the situation of refugees. Not only the Palestinians, but millions of others without homes. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, by the end of 2018, 70.8 million human beings were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. And according to Help Refugees, 1 in every 113 people around the world is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee, What those millions might give for a night in the Sadot hotel? And the right to return safely to their homes.
Big question of the morning: should I recharge my phone account so I can use it, assuming it needs recharging even tho I’d bought an unlimited voice package?
Bigger question: route, where next, which sites to try to find? And related, where to stay tonight? I’m near Jaffa so maybe the hostel there which I know and like. Phone now with my computer?
In Search of Fatima, a Palestinian Memoir, by Ghada Karmi
Remapping of Palestine: Why Israel’s erasure of Palestinian culture will not succeed, by Ramzy Baroud (2019)
TO BE CONTINUED