“Ya Abu Nidal, lahhiq ibnak, lahhiq darak, hurry up, the soldiers are raiding your home and want to take your son Nidal.” A neighbour came running to tell Canaan who was ploughing the land and tending the olive and almond trees. In a matter of seconds, Abu Nidal was running all the way down the hill towards the village and his home. Neighbours, relatives and other villagers were standing outside his home, some trying to talk to the Israeli occupation soldiers, others just standing and shaking their heads and talking about the occupation and what almost 20 years of useless negotiations had brought them. “Where is the Palestinian police they keep telling us about?! Where are they when we need them? Don’t they keep telling us they are there to protect us?!” One neighbour said in anger. “Where is that president of ours who keeps appearing on TV from Amman, Cairo, Washington and some Russian place we’ve never heard of before and talks about our steadfastness in the homeland while he himself is never here?!” Another said. “Our prime minister comes surrounded by tens of cameras to pick olives but when we are attacked by settlers or Israeli soldiers he is never to be seen or found!” Another said sarcastically with a voice that shook with anger and disdain. Abu Nidal made his way through the crowd towards were the soldiers stood holding his 17 year old son. It was only last week that Nidal finished his Tawjihi exams and the family had celebrated the achievement of their eldest and the first of their children to be going to university. Canaan always told his children that education is a weapon, a mighty weapon. His parents and siblings were proud of him. Nidal had always wanted to go to university and study to become an engineer. And although he found a part-time job at a local building site, his father promised to do his best to finance his son’s university education, even if it meant working 24 hours a day. And now, the Israeli occupation soldiers have come to kidnap Nidal, to lock him in a dark over-crowded cell. Abu Nidal struggled with the Israeli occupation soldiers, and despite knowing its useless, he even tried talking sense to those who don’t have sense, he tried pleading with those who know no mercy. The soldiers had come to arrest his son, he participated in a protest and threw stones at the soldiers, they claimed. “You shoot and kill our children for no reason, and when some of your soldiers claim that Palestinian youth threw stones at them you raid our homes and kidnap our children? What proof do you have? Why don’t you arrest the settlers who attacked the village last week and shot live ammunition at our homes and families?” he knew it was useless. It was useless talking to fully-armed occupation soldiers who attack Palestinian towns and villages and refugee camps with tanks and F-16s and later claim that the Palestinian unarmed population is the “threat”. It was useless talking to fully-armed occupation soldiers who raid Palestinian homes and schools, kidnap and torture children and later claim that Palestinian children are the “terrorists”. It had been useless trying to talk to these Zionist terror militias for over 60 years. It is useless talking to those who only know to insult, humiliate, shout, kick, beat, torture, kidnap, kill and collectively punish an unarmed occupied population.
As he watched the Israeli military jeeps drive away with his handcuffed and blindfolded son and disappear in the distance, Canaan thought of his child and the beating he was getting at that very moment, he thought of the torture he will be receiving during the interrogation and the torture he will be subjected do inside the dungeons of Zion. He knew what awaited his child, he knew it too well, for he himself was detained by the Israeli occupation forces a number of times for no reason other than protecting his land and that of his father and grandfather and his ancestors against Zionist colonists. And as he stood there, his wife Leila beside him, watching her child being kidnapped by monsters, being snatched away from her side, standing there and refusing to cry, Canaan could feel her tears fall silently down her cheeks, for he himself wanted so much to cry, he could feel her pain, for it was his. “He will be alright ya Im Nidal … this is Nidal … you know how strong and brave he is … No need to worry, he will be alright … he will be alright” He wanted to comfort her, he wanted to comfort himself. But no matter how much you prepare yourself for this day, it still remains hard to see your child being snatched away from your midst by criminals, and because you know Israeli dungeons, you know what it’s like being held captive by these monsters, it makes it harder for you not to worry, not to be afraid of what might happen in these torture cells. And because you know what awaits your child inside the interrogation cells, you know what awaits your child inside Zionist dungeons, you know and you feel the physical and psychological pain your child will be subjected to. Suddenly, Canaan felt a stark pain in his chest, he leant and held his wife’s shoulder. “Canaan! What’s wrong? Tell me! Canaan!!” His wife screamed as she held him, looked into his weary eyes and screamed: don’t leave us alone! We need you! Your children need you! Nidal needs you! Don’t leave me!” Around her, the villagers had come rushing, and while she still held his hand and looked into his eyes, the villagers carried Canaan to the main road to wait for the ambulance. She clung to him, wouldn’t leave him, even as he was stretched on the stretcher in the ambulance, she refused to let go of his hand. His eyes were open, he wasn’t talking, but he was just looking at one thing: he was looking at her face, at her eyes, speaking to her in a silent language, an unspoken language.
Im Nidal held her husband’s hand during the journey to the hospital. She said nothing, only repeated one sentence: “You are going to be alright, everything will be alright.” He saw how courageous she tried to look, but the tears that went down her checks betrayed her. He watched her and saw his wife’s smile, saw her eyes, saw her soul. She was the most beautiful women he had ever seen; as beautiful as the hilltops of Al-Jalil, as steadfast as the walls of Jerusalem, as patient as the villages that await the return of their children, as fearless as the sea of Gaza, as courageous as every Palestinians from the River to the Sea; beautiful as Palestine for she was a daughter of Palestine. He looked in her eyes and saw that day. He had been standing in a line at the checkpoint waiting for his turn to be checked and humiliated before he is allowed to pass and go to the school where he taught. The soldiers were as usual harassing and insulting everyone. They waved to one elderly man to come closer for the check. But the old man’s walking stick was no compensation for the weak legs, nonetheless, out of fear of abuse and humiliation from the soldiers, he tried to walk faster and fell. He slowly stood up and walked on, slowly, obvious to everyone he was in pain from the fall. Halfway to where the soldiers stood, which isn’t much, a soldier came rushing and dragged the elderly by the collar “When I say come, you come, you dog, understand?!” “I am too weak to walk! I am sick, I am sick! Can’t you see? Are you blind!! Your day will come, Wallahi your day will come!!” the elderly shouted back at the soldier, his voice not as loud as that of the soldier, shaky, but full of so much pain and so much pride and dignity. “Ikhras! Shut up you filthy Arab!! Ruh irja’, go back, yalla, go back you filthy dog! This will teach you to talk back, you dog!” The soldier continued insulting the old man, kicking him and pushing him back. As murmurs from the Palestinians standing in line grew louder, Canaan made a step forward in the direction of the elderly when he heard a voice shouting: “Why don’t you leave him alone, don’t you see he can’t walk.” The voice was loud and clear and like that of the old man, was full of dignity. At that same moment he was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see a young woman “let me go, they might detain you or beat you”. She was the one who just shouted at the soldiers. She walked towards the elderly, held his arm and as he leant on her shoulder, he murmured something to her and they both smiled. And while a number of women argued with the soldiers to let the sick elderly pass, others walked the elderly back and helped him sit on a rock nearby. The elderly was not allowed to pass the checkpoint that day to go to hospital. But for Canaan, that day was special, for at that checkpoint her fell in love, and as he watched that young woman help the elderly and console him, he knew that she was going to be his life partner and the mother of his children.
Canaan was an orphan; his mother died in childbirth and his father, who despite the nagging and pleads of others, refused to bring a stepmother to his children. His father’s reply to people was always the same: “These are my children, no one will love them as much as me. No mother will replace their mother. I will dedicate my life to them.” He had two treasures in this world: his children and the piece of land he inherited from his father. They were his one and only. He taught his children to love the land, for she was the mother they never knew. And to his beloved land, he spoke of his beloved children. He made the land their home, their refuge and their playground. The children would accompany their father to the fields, help him with the ploughing and the harvesting. In winter or in summer, in the cold and in the heat, their father would work the land and they would help him in any way possible. While he did the hard work, often it was small, easy tasks their father would give them, and with time, these tasks would increase along with their bond with the land. And from their father, Canaan and his siblings learned to cherish the land, to love her, for she was the mother they didn’t have, the mother of all Palestinians. And on his deathbed, this Palestinian father whispered to his children gathered around him: “Take care of each other. Take care of the land. You are one with the land, and don’t allow anyone to rob you of your right, of your land, Your land is you and you are the land.”
And from his father, Canaan learned to love the land, his mother. He often took his children and his pupils to the fields, showed them the beauty of Palestine: the beauty the Zionists are destroying, the beauty many Palestinians are denied because their lands were stolen from them by foreign colonists. He taught his children how to plant olive seedlings, taught them how to care for the trees, taught them to listen to the land, talk to the land, for the land was their treasure, he told them.
He taught them the love of the land. He would walk around the almond and the fig trees, and pick the ripe fruits and give them to his children to eat. He would tell them the names of the flowers and the herbs that decorated Palestine. He would tell them stories of the land and the people who sacrificed their lives for the land. And while his children ran around and played among the trees, he would sit below an olive tree or an almond tree or a fig tree, would eat what fruits he had picked and would talk to the trees of his children; he would whisper to them of who much Basil loves playing football, how Farah wants to become a doctor, how little Amal painted their home surrounded by olive trees, birds and butterflies, how Amjad dreamt of visiting Haifa and swimming in the sea of Yafa, how he saw Nidal in a demonstration confronting the armed Israeli soldiers. Nidal’s face was covered with a kufiyyeh but he would recognize his son no matter what mask he wore.
As if in a dream, Canaan could hear the siren of the ambulance as it rushed him to hospital. It was as if he was there and not there. He felt Leila’s hand squeezing his, holding tight to it. He saw her face and saw the face of his children, saw his land and saw Palestine. He remembered the time when he was in jail and Leila was left with the burden of caring for their family and land. She would visit him in jail and tell him that everything was alright and that the children send their love. She didn’t tell him that their son Amjad was wounded by an Israeli bullet, nor did she tell him that their youngest Amal and many of her classmates had to spend a night at hospital after Israeli occupation soldiers shot poisonous gas inside their classroom, nor did she tell him that the Zionist settlers attacked the villagers during the olive harvest, burnt and uprooted many of his beloved olive trees and beat her and two of his sisters. He remembered how she never complained, how she always smiled and said that everything was alright. He remembered that day at the checkpoint when Leila stopped him and went to help the elderly, he remembered her courage and he smiled.
Canaan wanted his children to live in freedom, to live in dignity and to have the life he never had; a life free of occupation, free of oppression, free of fear, free of pain, free of tears, free of injustice. But how could they when they were still living under occupation. He often wanted to hug his children, shield them from the occupation and suffering, spare them the pain of humiliation at the military checkpoint, spare them the fear at every army or settler raid. He wished he could protect them from everything, from being harassed, beaten or shot by armed occupation soldiers or settler militias. He wished he could protect them from everything, that they might live a normal childhood, have a normal life, but there is nothing normal under occupation. And as the days passed, and when he noticed his children going to the streets with their comrades to protest the occupation of their beloved homeland he wanted so much to stop them, he wanted so much to hug them, lock them up in the house and protect them from the occupier and from the bullets, the tanks and the F-16. He tried talking to them, telling them to concentrate on their studies, for that is the most effective weapon, but he knew it was useless, for he himself went through this very same process: you can tell your children as much as you want, you can warn them, threaten them, but in the end they leave the house and witness Israeli oppression everywhere: on the way to school, in their classrooms, in the fields, in the playground. They see the checkpoints, see their friends shot by soldiers, witness the daily raids, the settler violence. They see all this and want to revolt against it, want to free themselves of the occupation, want to stand up and face the oppression. They dream of freedom and they want freedom and they will be free one day. And one generation after the other we will keep the flame of resistance alive until total liberation.
Canaan felt tired and sleepy, he looked in his wife’s eyes and said in a very faint voice: the children, the land. Laila looked into the eyes of her husband, the eyes of a Palestinian, and knew what his final thoughts were:
Oh mother Palestine, please take care of my family, take care of my wife and my children, they are your children, they have no one but you.