The week after I sat down to write my post on the death of Ebtisam’s mother in a Bethlehem refugee camp, Linah al-Saafin’s much-loved grandfather passed away in the Khan Younis camp in Gaza. As a Palestinian issued with West Bank ID and facing the maze of bureaucratic procedures imposed by the occupation authorities, Linah was barred from travelling to Gaza to see her grandfather in the final years of his life. She has written a touching and humorous essay in his memory:
“Linah, I’m not satisfied with how you look,” his voice carried over half of Gaza’s beach. “You’re nothing but skin and bones. At your age, you should be bursting with life! A long time ago, young women used to be like this —” he made curvy shapes with his large hands — “and like this!” Another curvy motion. “You don’t eat enough. You have the body of a child.” He was really getting into his stride now, as I sank lower and lower in my seat, my cheeks flaming, highly aware of the stares from other people on nearby tables. “You should eat meat! Lots of meat! And fruits! Meat and fruit! And an assorted variety of nuts!” I wondered if the pilot in the F-16 plane above could see Sido’s wild gesticulations or possibly hear his voice. “Eat! Eat meat, fruits and nuts! Eat, so your breasts can grow! But smoking? NEVER!”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry from sheer embarrassment. He just used the b-word, more common sounding in Arabic.
“But you smoke,” I said in a tiny voice, desperate to gloss over my public humiliation.
“I smoke because I’ve been doing it for years now, decades! Since I was a young man. It’s an addiction, I can’t stop it.”
I really wanted a recent memory of Sido and I. A photograph, a conversation, a touch.
Sido died. A memory flitted in my mind’s eye. One summer, years ago, the electricity was off for hours. When it came back on again it was past midnight. Sido turned on the TV and leaned forward from his mattress, chuckling as he watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Occupation has denied us of so much. The right to visit family. The right to be a family…I can’t accept that, and I can’t do anything about it, and who cares anyway? My last name is not Levy or Goldberg or Schliemann. What are basic human rights to a Palestinian when you’ve become so dehumanized in the world’s eyes?
You can read the whole thing here.
I have high regard for Linah. Although I am a pacifist and she is quite definitely not, she is still one of the activists whom I respect most. The depth of my regard once led me to suggest that she and I set up home together in an anti-settlement on a hilltop near Nabi Saleh, on condition that she changes her underwear on a daily basis. She accepted, on condition that I make her a proposal of marriage. (Do not even ask.) She is warm and funny and sharp and brave, and perhaps one of the most generous people I’ve come across in Palestine. I know that things have been quite tough this year, yet she has never ceased to put the welfare and needs of other people first. These qualities are apparent to me in what she has written for her grandfather.
I hope she doesn’t mind me writing this. For me, a big part of remembering people who have died is celebrating the people whom they helped to raise, and Linah, I think your sido would be proud of you. Even if you do smoke argileh and don’t consume enough assorted nuts.