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Second episode

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second episode of years of no decision

second episode of years of no decision

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  • 1. 3There was a time when I had difficulty in spelling the name “Massachusetts”;amusing that I should end up at the University of Suffolk in that State. It was early1948. And I had little money. Behind me was the determination of a tightly-knitPalestinian family to pool their resources and see the “baby” of the familyeducated. My adventure as a Palestinian-in—exile was about to begin. My passage to the United States was from Haifa on the Marine carp a navalvessel converted into a civilian passenger vessel. The journey from Jaffa was risky.Fighting between Palestinians and Jews in Palestine had started. My brother AbdulSalam hired a taxi. At a high price, in order to take me to Haifa. He and my otherbrother,Qassim. Insisted on coming all the way, a three hours’ ride. To go to Haifaone had to pass through many Jewish settlements. A friend of mine, FareedKhoursheed was also coming with me on this hazardous journey to America. Hisfather, aware of the risks, cut the paper carrying a phrase from the Quran into twoparts. He kept one and gave Fareed the other. This was based on the belief that theson would return home after that long trip carrying his part of the phrase to rejoin itwith the scrap held by his father. Abdul Salam
  • 2. Years of No decisiontook a different view and believed that, if god willed, the trip would he safe. We set out. After half an hour. The Jews residing in settlements to the cast ofthe road started shooting at our passing taxi. One bullet hit a tyre. The taxi driverstopped in order to change it. The four of us rushed to hide behind some rocks untilthe driver finished. I started to worry about my brothers. What would happen whenthe got hack to Jaffa after seeing me off’? The driver finished and asked us to takeour seats as the car set off. Firing could still he heard from different directions, butwe got through all the various fusillades as the Jewish settlers took pot shots at us. Despite this, the journey from Jaffa to Haifa was lovely. The scent of orangeblossoms coming from the groves surrounding Jaffa was out of this world. I canstill remember how at sunrise all the Palestinian farmers were greeting the day withnational Arab songs while cultivating the land and watering the orange trees. It wasthe kind of Palestinian labour and care in cultivation that had rightly made the Jaffaorange famous. Those farmers had acquired this experience long before Jewishimmigration to the I for I .and. These memories are still vivid in my mind althoughI have not been to that part of Palestine since that day. We stayed in Haifa for two nights. It was extremely dangerous in the cityitself, with Jewish terrorists firing at both Palestinian Arabs and British soldiersthroughout the night. We had to confirm my ticket for the voyage. But the offices of the shippingcompany were in the Jewish sector of Haifa. My brother Qassim asked my elderbrother and I to stay in the hotel while he fetched my ticket. I said: “I should do itby myself. You should all stay in the hotel.” Each of us wanted to make a sacrifice for his brothers. Finally the three of usand Fareed went together to the shipping offices. Crossing through the very unsafeparts of Haifa simply because we had no alternative. My eldest brother waswearing a red tarbouch. We asked him to take it off in order not to be a target forJewish bullets. He refused. He said:”God will protect us. Don’t worry. I amconfident that everything will be all right.” We arrived safely at the shipping officeto collect my ticket and the other necessary information. The Marine Carp set sail on 17th December 1947. My brothers came withmc to the port. The ship was anchored offshore and we had to take a small boat outto it. My two brothers insisted on coming with me all the way. We hugged andkissed as we parted. It was a very sentimental occasion. All was iii a state ofconfusion. The
  • 3. Boy with a hornbullets were all over, for me at least, hut the future was vague. What would happento Palestine was anybody’s guess. Would we meet again? And in Palestine? Suchdoubts made our farewell unusual and my passage troubled as I spent a lot of timeworrying about my brothers’ return to Jaffa. I carried with me a semi-circular piece of marble given me by my sister-in-law. Qassim’s wife Layla, engraved with the words: “Never despair.” I put it on asmall table next to my bed in the cabin. It gave me hope and a kind of comfort. I reached New York at the end of the first week of January 1948. It wassomething of a shock to me, full of surprises and new experiences. It was my firstexperience of the varied life-stream that floods the streets of a great modern city!Raucous Italian taxi- drivers, hard-living Irish cops, the sleazy side-streets ofBroadway as well as the excitement of Times Square. It was a revelation to onewho had never in his life tasted a hot dog.Two days later I took the train to Boston where I stayed at the Y.M.C.A. When Iarrived I remembered that I had forgotten my marble “never despair” which Iplaced near my bed. The same night I travelled all the way back to New York. Thehotel manager was astonished and asked why I had not phoned him to ask for it tohe sent “special delivery”. He did not know that I was a newcomer who lackedsuch experience. The following morning I returned to Boston carrying my precious hit ofmarble and registered at Suffolk University Law School. My college life hadstarted. My happiness increased when, a week later, I received a cable from mytwo brothers saying that they had reached Jaffa safely.4My first few weeks in Boston were puzzling. Here I was, a stranger “in paradise”,trying to adjust to my new life. I found many things that were different. Everymorning I bought all the Boston newspapers to read the news about Palestine. Iexamined every one of them column by column, so that I could subscribe to thebest. I settled on the Christian Science Monitor. It was objective and it had a finephilosophical and religious article every morning about the beauty of life and howto enjoy it. I sensed that the other newspapers did not print correct information about theArabs. There was a false image of the Arab in the U.S., which I picked up fromArab friends I met as well as from the press reports I read. The presentation of ourcase vis-à-vis the
  • 4. Years of No DecisionJews in Palestine was much distorted. In my inexperience I thought that this wasdue to lack of information, and felt it my duty to correct these errors. One day Iwrote a letter to an editor. It was never published. I tried another newspaper withthe same result. I decided finally to go myself to the (Christian Science Monitor. Iasked to see the man in charge of the Middle East section. I was then introduced toa Mr Reuben Markham. Mr Markham was very pleasant and took mc to one of the paper’sconference rooms. lie asked me to tell him about myself. 1 explained mydisappointment about the American papers, and about the letters I had writtenasking for the correction of published distortions. They had not been published.Yet, I said, “we are told that freedom of expression is a constitutional right. Atleast this was what we were taught in school.” Mr Markham laughed and then explained to me the influence of the Zionistsin the United States. lie asked what I had written and I took from my pocket a letterI had prepared for possible publication in the Monitor. lie read it and then promisedme to publish it. on the understanding. however that he would have a Jew publishhis version on the matter. Both contributions, from Arab and Jew. would hepublished On the day and on the same page. I kept a copy of that page in myspecial file. Mr Markham invited me to his home along with some of his friends for meto meet. I formed the impression that the Americans are a good-hearted friendlypeople and I was beginning to understand something of American psychology andattitudes. That meeting also reinforced my conviction that the Americans werevery scared about Communism and wanted to know about the Arab stand on thatissue.5In the early summer of that year, 1948, the Jewish settlers in Palestine occupiedmost of Palestine with the help of the American President Larry S. Truman. (in anelection year) and the Zionist movement abroad. The war continued. I lost allcontact with my family. The money I had would hardly cover my expenses for theyear and I did not know anybody well enough to ask for a loan. This, I realised. Must he the problem of every Palestinian student in theUnited States. I started wondering how to solve it and discussed the matter withtwo fellow students. One was a classmate and a good friend, Salam Dajani. We hadbeen brought up together, had planned to come to the States about the same time,
  • 5. Boy with a Hornand were now in the same law school. I suggested to Salam that we shouldestablish an Arab student organisation. At that first meeting, amongst a good dealof bravado, we formed the organisation. One of us was “elected” president. Asecond was “elected “vice- president and a third became treasurer! We collected a list of Palestinian students and wrote asking that they informus if they had any financial difficulty, and that they contact their colleagues andfriends and urge them to write to us too. In a short time, we received scores ofletters requesting membership and asking for help in obtaining postponement ofpayment of university fees. One letter was sent by my old friend Fareed. Everyoneexplained his financial situation. We built up a big file which we took on behalf ofthe “Organisation” to the Arab ambassadors at the United Nations in New York. A few agreed to meet us, amongst them Faris Bey El-Khouri of Syria. Oneof my fellow students was very undiplomatic with this diplomat. He angrilyproclaimed that the Arab governments were responsible for the Palestinian tragedyand were consequently responsible for the students’ difficulty. The governmentsshould help students financially so that they could finish their studies. Faris Beywas patient. He realised our agony and did not take my colleague’s outburst thewrong way. He asked whether we could join him for lunch. The others could notmake it since they had to go back to Boston; But 1 accepted his kind invitation. He offered to take me to the United Nations Security Council to attend ameeting On Palestine and hear a speech he was about to make. I was thrilled for Ihad heard a great deal about the U.N., hut this was my first opportunity to visit it.After lunch a big black Cadillac took us to the U.N. Faris Bey said to me that hewas not happy about the Arabs accepting the 1948 cease-fire in the area and that hehad advised various governments not to do so. He said:“The Israelis will not abide by it. They always adopt a fait accompli policy.” He then asked me what I was studying at university. He did not like the ideaof my studying law. Instead he wanted more agricultural and other engineerstogether with geologists and people who would learn more about the land. Heclearly felt the Arab nation needed students concerned with such subjects asirrigation and farming rather than law. In the Security Council before the meeting, Faris Bey introduced me tomembers of his delegation — the Syrians. He asked me to sit behind him. I heardhis speech, all on Palestine, Then and there I resolved to finish my collegeeducation and work at the United
  • 6. Years of No DecisionNations, thinking this to he my way to serve my homeland. But I did not knowhow to do it. The U.N. was, after all, for delegates from member states and I was aman without a country.6Until that day of my visit to Faris Bey and the Security Council I had known littleabout Zionism; what I heard about it then was an eye-opener. I decided to chase upthese ideas and find out all I could. The Boston Public Library gave me the help Ineeded and in a hook called European Ideologies, I read about the first ZionistCongress which had taken place in Basic in 1897.’ The programme accepted at thisCongress had been decisive. The words were precise: “the aim of Zionism is tocreate for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law.” The partexplaining the means of attaining the objectives of Zionism attracted my attentionin particular. It read as follows: “1. The systematic promotion of the settlement of Palestine with Jewish agriculturists, artisans and craftsmen. 2. The Organisation and federation of all Jewry by means of local and general institutions in conformity with the local laws. 3. The strengthening of Jewish sentiments and national cons sciousness. 4. Preparatory steps for procuring of such government assents as are necessary for achieving the object of Zionism.” I also learned that the critical period in the growth of Zionism had coincidedwith the tremendous growth of revolutionary trends in Russia. I read: “The Jews were strongly attracted by the Russian Revolution. I lopes for political emancipation and even for broader national rights became so widespread that even extreme Zionist circles embraced this blinding illusion. The Socialist-Zionist parties actively participated in the revolution itself. The Russian General Zionist Organisation was then the strongest and most influential of the parties within the World Zionist Organisation1. European Ideologies, a .survey of twentieth century political ideas. ed. Feliks Gross. New York. 1948. Chapter XV.
  • 7. Boy with a Hornand initiated a broad national programme of activity in the Diaspora.”

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