After a 20 year absence from my ancestral home, I am here in the heart of Ramallah, Palestine a few minutes walk from the Manara, the town center. Though I lived in America for 48 years, leaving Ramallah, Palestine at the age of 6, I feel I am at home. Belladdi! My land! Though I physically left, my heart and mind stayed here in Ramallah where I grew up next to the old City Hall, the Baba coffee house and the old Dukan (store) Isheeni.
I returned (should I say visited?) to Palestine in 1995 as a member of the Palestinian American Congress Executive Committee delegation. We spent our 10 days in Palestine going to several meetings per day vising political, social, religious, educational and business leaders, so I didn't have the opportunity to visit relatives or to get the flavor of Palestine in general and Ramallah in particular. In retrospect, I should have stayed longer.
I am here now and as I frequently and fervently write about the political aspects from abroad, I longed to feel for myself the richness of my culture in Palestine. While sitting in the Nile Restaurant on 87th Street in Bridgeview, Illinois one gets a very small sampling of our culture but one does not really taste or feel or see or touch or hear the beauty of the language or smells the falafel cooked every 20 feet by street vendors or smiles as one street vendor shouts "Kaaik (round shaped toasted bread with seseme seeds) for one shakel (Israeli currency)" or appreciates the succulent figs and the yellish-green plums that simply fills your tastebuds with our culture. That is what I want to see, feel, hear, touch and taste and smell.
I have been here in Ramallah for two days now. The falafel sandwich made for me by Mahmoud whose restaurant is just a few doors from the Manara Square evoked my tastebuds beyond any sensation I have ever experienced. Maybe it was the mental anticipation, maybe it was the atmospheric surroundings, maybe it was being among my people, maybe it was my eyes that ate before I took my first bite or maybe it was my heart that reveled in the moment that enhanced the flavors of the falafel sandwich. Whatever it was, that sandwich was so good, I bought another and I devoured both.
Still I have not filled my stomach. There is so much more to see and taste. Palestine is a rich country, not by wealth from oil fiends but by the beauty of its hills and valleys; by its traditions and its culture; and by its people young and old. The olive groves are beauty to the eyes as the mind knows that our culture deeply appreciates the oil that comes from them. Yes the culture has been influenced by the political constraints imposed by the merciless Israeli occupation and indeed our music and our theatrical plays have that political element deeply embedded in them.
Rocks are also enmbedded in the landscape. Rock fences are a pleny and rocks, the symbol of our strenght, are everywhere along the roads. Roads are forever winding in Ramallah and its suburbs. Around every curve is another breathtaking sight. One's eyes are filled by the beauty of the land and the people.
I am seeing and describing a beautiful picture. I have yet to see, however, the refugee camps, I have yet to be stopped by a checkpoint. I have not been confronted by an Israeli Occupation Force soldier and I have yet to see the Apartheid wall.
In Ramallah, one can lose sense of the occupation. Businesses are flurishing, construction abounds and people are generally happy. Israeli occupational forces are no where to be seen. Life seems to be normal.
I feel engulfed by the beauty around me yet I know deep inside that that beauty is a camouflage as the human spirit is not free. The ugliness of the brutal Israeli occupation remains.
A cousin showed me his haweeya (ID pappers that every Palestian is required to carry) and then laamented that Israel allows him to go to Jerusalem only during holidays. The people, my people are in a prison.
Yet, the people are happy as they go about their daily lives. As I was walking around the Manara on Sunday, I noticed a vibrant happy people, though I wondered whether the many young men standing around were working or not.
As the per capita of PHds among Palestinians is the highest in the world, I wonder whether the talents of these young men were being wasted under the ugly occupation. How much more talent can Palestine give to the world under a free and democratic State of Palestine?
I wonder as I see and taste the beauty of Watanni (an Arabic word for nationalism not easily translatable)?