Mahmoud Nabhan | 12-11-2020
This remembrance is dedicated to Rachel Corrie, who was killed when trying to stop a bulldozer from destroying the home in Rafah in which she was living on March 16, 2003.
My story begins in 2005 when I was 9. Back then, I had many things to do with my leisure time. I was lucky: My grandmother owned a prosperous piece of land at the eastern edge of Jabalya town, in the north of the Gaza Strip. Many kinds of trees grew on the land: orange, lemon, olive, palm. I had a lot of fun, eating fresh fruit, climbing trees playing hide and seek amongst the trees with my cousins. My uncle added more entertainment for us when he built swings in the big trees.
We also visited our kind-hearted neighbor, Abo Ahmed, who always sported a warm smile. He was one of many local beekeepers and had beehives in his orchard. They produced huge amounts of pure honey and shared some with us every time we visited.
There were many kinds of wild birds too: bulbuls, rose-ringed parakeets, pigeons, Palestinian sunbirds and goldfinches. They piped and sang happily in the trees and amidst the flowers. Gaza has a history of exporting luxurious flowers to Europe.
But on January 26 of that year, everything changed. Claiming the presence of “armed groups,” Israeli forces drove dozens of tanks and bulldozers across the border into Gaza and levelled the land around my grandparents' home. Everything—the trees, flowers and vegetables—was flattened within a couple of days. The whole area was reduced to a wasteland! The destruction extended for more than hundreds of football fields.
For the farmers, the sweat of years of work now was in vain. Most farmers, including my grandfather, depended entirely on selling crops to support their families. In just a couple of days, hundreds of families lost their primary source of livelihood and happiness. And I lost the place I adored.
We only recognized the land by the rubble of the small house my grandfather had built so he could rest after working all day and my grandmother could cook for family gatherings. The orchard and beehives were razed, and the wells used to irrigate the plants and trees were crushed.
It was as if the bulldozers embodied all of the anger and vengeance of the Israeli government, which claims to act merely to protect Israeli land but goes out of its way to destroy Palestinian livelihoods and homes. Even the birds abandoned the place. The bulldozers left them no place to nest.
Meanwhile, the Israeli settlers on the other side of the fence had plenty of fertile land and citrus trees.
This was not the first time my grandfather had lost everything: Between 2000 and 2005, Israeli bulldozers razed 31,699 dunams (7,833 acres) of Gaza land, including 536,719 citrus trees. Each time, my grandfather and the other farmers reacted to their loss by repeatedly reminding themselves, "Allah alone is sufficient for us and he is the best manager of our affairs! Allah is stronger than them." Muslims say this whenever we have been grievously wronged.
We were all apprehensive that my grandfather might suffer a heart attack from the stress. But he remained strong. The trademarks of Palestinians are resilience, patience and samoud (solidarity).
Still, I wondered how many years it would take to for those huge citrus trees to rise up once again. And how much time and effort it would take for the farmers to have trees as productive as those that were razed. When would I inhale the sweet fragrance of orange and lemon blossoms, I questioned when trying to sleep.
My grandfather replanted his land with citrus trees in the same year, but it was razed again in the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza. Then, he was forced to plant most of the land with olive trees, since they grow faster than citrus, and Israel continues to systematically and repeatedly target farmlands.
Still, my family never gave up on planting the land over and over, and now, 15 years later, we have beautiful trees once again, but without the house. I am sure Gaza could become an exporter of citrus fruit again, once Israel stops destroying our land.
However, Abo Ahmed is no longer a beehive keeper. He never felt safe again and lost that segment of his business. Meanwhile, the sea has become my favorite place when I want to be near nature. When I see the blue expanse of the sea, I feel like I am safe and free. I cannot see armed Israeli soldiers on the fence around our stolen Palestinian homeland, just 100 meters away—yet so out of reach.
In fact, my grandfather still has official documents that prove he owns 150 dunums of land on the other side, which his father bought pre-1948. He wishes to return there someday. So do I.
Posted: November 12, 2020
Mentor: Louisa Waugh