Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Coming Home

Tonight I sleep in the home of two feisty Israelis. Their water runs hot. Their electricity powers the television, computer, fridge, phones, lights, clock, heat, stereo. There are thick walls and big glass sliding doors that look out onto a green veranda and I can see stars in the clear Yaffa sky. This is one home I have visited today.

Earlier this afternoon I found myself in a different home, a ghost of a home. This house did not have running water or electricity. It's walls were drafty and instead of a ceiling above my head I saw nothing but tops of trees. My guide Mr. A, a resident of the town Al-Lajjun in the north of Israel lead our group into what appeared to be a beautiful wooded area with yellow dandelions and blood red tissue paper poppies studding the florescent green grass. Without my guide I would have stopped to enjoy the fresh smell of the air and the tall trees, removed from the busy highway and congested city of Ramallah, Nablus, Yaffa, but Mr. A painted another picture of this land. "We built a meeting room here. I remember it well because it was beautifully decorated". Prior to 1948, on this site stood the village Al-Lajjun with 480 plots owned by 480 Palestinians. There were schools, a mosque, a cemetery, animals, families, and homes. In 1948, the townspeople of Al-Lajjun were violently driven from their houses and took refuge in the fields surrounding the village with plans to return to their homes as soon as it was safe. They took very little with them, only what they could carry, and they fled. Despite Palestinian legal ownership of the land, Israel has confiscated all 480 plots, bulldozed every single building and used the cemetery as a dump, an action denied by the Jewish Israeli authorities. Megiddo kibbutz was built on the land and the kibbutzim plow and sow the fields. There is a fence around the mosque and no Palestinian Israeli is permitted to enter. Finally, to cover up the scars of this demolished village, the Jewish National Fund has planted hundreds of non-native fast growing evergreens to create a man-made forest that erases the recent history of this farming town.

The residents of Al-Lajjun were granted Israeli citizenship after 1948, and fled to the neighboring city of Um il Fahm. They have been subjected to countless home demolitions (11 in 2009 alone), lack of infrastructure, curfews leading to the subsequent loss of jobs and land, and general harassment by the Jewish Israeli authorities. They have been continually denied the right to return to their land and compensation for the loss of property, despite aggressive court cases. Tonight they do not sleep at home.

This morning I crossed the border between the West Bank and Israel with our fearless and unstoppable Palestinian guide. Mr. M has West Bank residency and travel outside of the Israeli controlled boarders requires a permit which is very difficult to acquire. Mr M's permit was granted the night before our departure; however, the travel dates were wrong making the permit useless.

This morning Mr M pulled a hat over his face, pretended to sleep, and chose a seat in the far corner of the bus. Half of our group left their passports in the trunk. After intense anxiety, we smuggled him across the border. As the Israeli soldier checked my passport and waved us through, I fumed over the ludicrous injustice; me, a tourist moving freely at my whim, my peaceful guide who has committed no crime is restricted from coming and going from his own country, a prisoner in his own home.

Tonight as you drift off to sleep take a moment to appreciate your house and consider those here who are struggling for their right to go home.

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