“We lived in a paradise”. My grandmother used to say about Jrash; her village to the west of occupied Jerusalem, her home and only home. “We had lots and lots of trees, countless trees, so many trees that stretched as far as the eyesight would reach, planted by my father, his father and his grandfather and all those before them. The olive trees, the carob trees and the fig trees stood guard at our door steps, marked our homes and our lands, were our playgrounds and our workshops. These trees gave us joy and gave us nourishment, gave us protection and were our home, our shelter and our wealth”. She lived in paradise until she was expelled from it, expelled from her home and lands by the Zionists during the Nakba, and made a refugee in her own country. And in the over-crowded refugee camp near Bethlehem, the refugee camp in which she and her family and thousand other Palestinian refugees were forced to live, she tried to recreate a piece of that paradise. She planted an olive tree, an apple tree, a fig tree, a lemon tree, an orange tree, an apricot tree, a mulberry tree and a couple of vineyards. She used to care for them and sit underneath their leaves and close her eyes. I suppose, she used to try and imagine, even for a few seconds, that she was back in Jrash, sitting underneath her olive, apple and fig trees. She was trying maybe to recall a time when she was the queen over her home and land, when she had a place she could call home, a part of Palestine that was hers and hers alone. I often saw her touch the soil in that tiny makeshift garden squeezed in between the small tin-roofed rooms built by the UNRWA. She would rub the soil in her hand and watch it slip from between her fingers and rush back to its origin, the land. She looked so sad, so far away. Maybe she too wished she could escape her exile and return back to her origin, to Jrash. Maybe she was trying to recall the touch of the soil in her dear Jrash, trying to recall the smell of the earth, the feel of it and for a few second, trying to relive home, relive Jrash and relive Palestine as it was, as it will always be: one and only one, complete. I remember how she used to buy carob whenever possible and how happy she was on the days she did. She used to give each of us children some carob sticks and while we chewed them, she would talk and talk of better days, of days when Palestine was free of Zionists, when Jerusalem was the throbbing heart of Palestine, when Palestine was one from the river to the sea, as it will always be no matter what Zionists and collaborators say and do. She used to tell us of one Palestine, one home for all Palestinians where everyone was brother and sister, parent and child, neighbour and friend; one home for all Palestinians where Muslims, Christians and Jews were one family; the Palestinian family, until the Zionists came and destroyed that home, and destroyed the Palestinian paradise on earth, her paradise on earth. Ya sitti, you never ceased to think and talk of Jrash, of the home you were blessed to know before the Zionists destroyed it. I remember once, when my eldest uncle was about to enlarge the family house and said that one room will be for you, you replied: I don’t want a room, this is not my home, I have only one home. Every time I visit your grave in the vicinity of Rachel’s tomb, surrounded from one side by a refugee camp and by an apartheid wall from the other, occupied by faceless Israeli occupation soldiers hiding in towers and behind dark glass with only the tips of their machine guns visible, I try to find consolation in the fact that you lie near an olive tree, that maybe, just maybe, the olive tree has spread its roots to touch the soil of all of Palestine, that maybe, just maybe, the roots will take your heart back to where it belongs; back to your home, because I know one thing for sure; your soul is already back home; in Jrash.
“It was a paradise”. My father often tells us about Sawahreh; his birthplace, his village to the east of Jerusalem, his part of Jerusalem that was rich with fertile lands reaching as far as Jericho. He would tell us about the vast lands his family owned and of their thousands of heads of cattle that grazed these lands. He often describes the fields extending to the east, the west, the north and the south. As children, he used to take us to the fields, the ones close by and the ones far away. We called it, and still do, the prairies: the land was so fertile, the wheat and barley as tall as us children, changing the whole area into a sea of green in spring and a sea of yellow in autumn. We used to swim to our necks in the waves of wheat and barley, imagine that it was the sea and we were the fishes. And while we played, my father would wander around the trees, touch them, remove the stones and the weeds from around their stems. And then, when he was done checking on his trees, he would sit on a rock, and we around him, and would point to that tree or that hill and tell us stories of his childhood, of running along these fields as a child, just like us years later, of herding the little goats in the very early hours of the morning, when it was still dark and everyone else was asleep, before walking all the way to Jerusalem to attend school, of hunting for bird eggs or little snails to sell to hotels in the Old City of Jerusalem. Sometimes we would pass an olive field and he would point at it and say: that piece of land used to belong to us. Now, we drive along the illegal Zionist colony Maale Adumim and watch the barren land, the dead land, the desert, and my father would say: we used to live here as well, this land was ours, the land was alive, we had everything, we used to herd the cattle from one side of this area to the other, and it used to take us months to cross the whole area. It was green, now it’s yellow and dying. As I pass the lands usurped by illegal aliens coming from Europe and the States, I watch the empty hills and the scattered stumps of the murdered olive trees and other trees and try to imagine the paradise my father grew up in. I only see ugly grey houses with red roofs that are alien to Palestine and that are occupied by aliens. And when the Zionists confiscated our lands and destroyed our olive fields, my father started buying olive seedlings every couple of months and would plant them randomly in what is left of our land. He and my mother would wake up early in the morning and check on them, like they were children, would water them, clean around them and talk about planting more and more olive trees. They planted all sorts of trees, not only olive trees, in the small piece of land left to us. My siblings and I would joke about it and tell them they’re changing our land into a jungle. Bu I suppose, deep down, they wanted to compensate for the trees they lost, the ones the Zionists confiscated and destroyed. Maybe my father wants to recreate his childhood paradise, the paradise the Zionists destroyed, and maybe my mother wants to recreate the paradise her mother often talked of, the paradise that is her heritage, her home, the Jrash she was robbed of. “The olive tree will never die”. We give them love and they love us back. We spend the whole year caring for these olive trees, protecting them and in October every year, like tens of thousands of Palestinians, we celebrate Palestine’s trees; the olive trees. We fear no fully-armed Zionist settler militias nor fully-armed Israeli occupation soldiers, because we ourselves are fully-armed; fully-armed with the belief in our just cause, fully-armed with our thirst for freedom, fully-armed with the love of the land. And when you love the land, protect it, care for it, it loves you back and holds on to you and embraces you, and you and the land become one: undividable, unbreakable and invincible.
“It’s our paradise!” As children, we were surrounded by olive fields. We used to go to the olive fields and play among the trees. They belonged to the family; our trees, those of aunts, uncles and cousins. We used to race each other along the fields, run from one end to the other. We would hide among the strange-shaped rocks and collect the red, pink, yellow and blue wild flowers that grew underneath the ancient olive trees. We used to climb the trees, imagine we were pirates on a ship seeking a treasure island. We used to hide behind the huge trees, larger than life and older than every Zionist claiming a right to land that isn’t theirs. As a child, I used to sit underneath my favourite olive tree. It was one of the few childhood places where I felt free, safe and happy; it was a refuge. I used to sit underneath the huge tree, surrounded by other trees, no houses in sight. I would sit on the ground, feel the soil, touch it. Sometimes I would climb the huge tree, sit on one of its strong branches and watch the fields in front of me; there were so many trees, hugging each other, their branches twinning and their leaves dancing to the breeze. You would see their beginning, but not their end; one row following the other, one field connecting to the other. I used to sit there, listen to the talk coming from the distance; the murmur of the neighbours, maybe my aunts or was it maybe the murmur of the trees surrounding me? I used to sit there and imagine what lies behind these fields, what mysteries, what natural beauties, what wonders await me at the end of these fields. And when I finally did go beyond these fields, I found more and more fields, a blanket of olive trees extending to infinity. Yes, we love the olive tree and the olive tree loves us. When I went abroad to study, I searched in vain for a scene similar to that of my own paradise back home, a refuge in the unfamiliarity, a home away from home. But found none. I roamed and drowned in the beauty and mystique of the Swiss Alps, the German Black Forest and the English northern moors. I stood on Greek hilltops and wondered at the enormous olive fields stretching like green seas, reaching way back to unite with the blue see, a mixture so beautiful you wouldn’t know there the olive fields end and where the sea begins. I sat under Cypresses and olive trees in ancient Italian towns, listened to the birds singing among the trees and the grasshoppers making music among the ruins. I searched in vain for a trace of my paradise, but found none. My only refuge was the sky; for no matter where you are, the sky looks the same. I would look at the sky, clear and blue, cloudy and grey, sunny or rainy and would imagine my birthplace underneath that same sky, would imagine my home underneath that same sky, would imagine my parents and siblings underneath that same sky, would imagine my paradise underneath that same sky, and yes, for a few seconds I would be back home again. I watched the blue sky and thought of Palestine, for no place, no matter how beautiful, no matter how enchanting, no matter how mysterious, equals the beauty, the charm and the air of Palestine. And one time, while away from home, I saw a huge olive tree, one single olive tree, implanted in a German neighbourhood, a stranger to the neighbourhood, a sad lonely olive tree, and wondered whether the tree was Spanish or Italian, uprooted from its home and replanted in an alien environment. I touched the stem of the tree in solidarity, wanted to hug her and comfort her. And I hoped, and wished that it may not be a Palestinian tree, so far away from the warm sun, from the cloudless sky, from the fresh breeze, so far away from home, so lonely, in a cold German neighbourhood.
And today, the olive fields are dying slowly, gradually, one after one confiscated to build more alien homes to the illegal aliens come to colonize our land. Olive fields are gradually burned down to ashes, and the paradise that once was is slowly being wiped out and the once green and throbbing Palestine is slowly acquiring the colour of a permanent harsh winter. Every day, more and more Palestinian olive trees are uprooted, torched in the name of a “chosen people”. Every day, more and more Palestinian land is bulldozed, polluted with chemicals, dried off, destroyed to build “Herrenstrassen” for illegal aliens massacring our paradise while claiming to have made “the desert bloom”. Every day, more and more beautiful ancient Palestinian homes with their herb gardens are demolished, erased off the face of the earth, to make place for illegal aliens who have no roots in the land, who have a home in a faraway land but have come to steal our home and claim it theirs. But we will never tire of talking to the land, listening to it, touching it, watering it with our sweat and blood and giving it our love. They who come from everywhere to tread on the land, our land, to stamp on it and to kill it will never own the land. The land will spit on them and free itself from them. And despite the destruction these aliens are causing, and despite the bulldozers coming to uproot us from our homes and our land, we cling to our lands, we cling to our fields, we cling to our olive trees, because they are our roots in this land, the link that connects us with the rest of the land, they are the veins that keep us alive. Let everyone know, we are steadfast in this land, our land, like the olive tree and the olive tree is steadfast within us. We will protect our olive trees with our bodies and our hearts. They are our identity and our roots in this land. And for every olive tree the Zionists burn, we plant a thousand one, and a thousand Palestinian lives flourish and a thousand Palestinian lives carry on the struggle to liberate our paradise from the River to the Sea.