…And I became a Palestinian

By Greta Berlin

I wrote this on June 6, 1976. Forty-four years later, the world is in worse shape and the Palestinians still long for their homeland. I hesitated posting this story, because of everything that is happening in the US, but it’s important to remember what Israel has done and continues to do, especially now that it’s clear how their sticky fingers are all over US police departments.

June 6,1976
Where did the ten years go? And why has life become worse for the Palestinians? America is one month short of celebrating 200 years of independence and Palestinians are ten years into Israel occupying the rest of their land. I sit at my window seat in Chicago on a sunny June afternoon and remember the day I became a Palestinian.
It was 1967, the six-day war, begun on June 6 ended ignominiously for the Arabs on June l2. Of course, it took years for the truth to come out that one of the reasons they suffered such a terrible setback to their pride, their military might, and their dreams of a unified Arab world was because Israel struck first. To hear stories when it happened, Israel just reacted to the bullying Egyptians. Bullshit. No one defensively knocks out an entire air force in minutes. No, that’s an offensive move. Those damned Israelis struck first.

I went to bed the night of June 5 a middle-class, young, high-school English teacher, with a three-year-old and a six-month-old, happy to be married to the Arab myth of my childhood, a man who literally came out of nowhere on a white horse (OK, OK, so it was a Chicago city bus, but I thought he rode in on a white horse) and swept me away to his tent (OK, it wasn’t a tent either). I had been raised reading 1001 Nights and Scheherazade. Maybe I’ll become the Scheherazade for the Palestinians one day, telling his stories of fighting and being a Nakba survivor, because I know he won’t.

Ribhi had become my teacher, small-town girl that I was, correcting my ignorance about the Middle East with stories of the 1948 war with the Jews, where he fought as a 19-year-old kid, hopelessly trying to save his family’s home in Safad.

I listened carefully to his stories of that tragedy. After all, I had gone to see “Exodus”, and, like many Americans, thought that the noble European Jews were fighting these terrible people for a “Land without people for a people without land,” as Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism, spouted.

Boy, was I surprised to find out that there were a considerable number of people already there called Palestinians. I remember asking him during the first months we dated:
“Did you have running water? What about plumbing? And how about the camels, did you ever own any. Did you live in a tent?”

He used to laugh at me all the time and explain that he was a city Arab, born in Bethlehem during the Jewish riots of 1929. The family myth was that he was born in a cave because of the fighting, and I was never able to verify if that was true or not, but it made a great story. He had gone to all the best schools in Jerusalem, then moved back to his family’s property in Safad where his grandfather had bought a huge slice of the mountains around the Lake of Galilee after selling gold watches up and down the Americas back in the late 1800s.

He was amazed at the Israeli public relations machine that operated in this country. I used to say to him those first three years of our marriage, wide-eyed Midwestern girl that I was, that the Palestinians should go out and tell their story to the American public; the story of the massacre at Deir Yassien and Kfar Kacem, the bombing of the King David hotel in Jerusalem by European Jewish terrorists, and the raping and pillaging of Palestine.

But no….he said he’d go back to Palestine someday, he wouldn’t become an American, and he didn’t want to get involved, It wasn’t his responsibility to tell his story to a bunch of Americans who didn’t care. He was on a laissez-passer, had been since Eisenhower had designated a special dispensation for Palestinian refugees in 1952 so they could come to the US as students. He had gone to Michigan State to become an engineer along with his brothers.

The hope he would return someday to the land he loved was shattered in that six-day war. On June 5, we went to bed a family of four living in Chicago, one husband, one wife, one daughter, one son.

We woke up on June 6, and I became a Palestinian.

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Categories: History, Memoir, Palestine

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