We are a big family and we owned this beautiful house with stunning land all around.
We’ve had many neighbours from all over the world down the centuries, not all of them have been good to us, but most have. Suddenly, one day, one violent day almost 70 years ago now, when I was a boy, we were having a wonderful family meal out in the garden when there appeared men and women from nowhere. We’d never seen them before but they insisted the house was theirs.
They stopped us eating the food and they ate it themselves. They even took food out of my baby brother’s mouth. They insulted us and hurt us. “This house belongs to us now!” they shouted. My family were in shock and many were crying. One or two tried to fight back, but the intruders were too strong.
They moved us all into the basement of the house. I say all, but only 13 made it, we lost three of our family, my own father, his brother and my older cousin. We never saw them again.
The basement room was small and dingy, it was dark and we only had one small window that let in sunlight, but even that was sometimes covered by those who took over our house.
They shut the basement door and locked it. We couldn’t go anywhere and were told to be quiet lest we disturb the party that was going on above our heads, in our house!
The conditions were filthy and we heard them calling us dirty dogs. We had little water, we ate scraps and we had no hope. Over the years our family grew, there were by now over 300 of us, in the same space as the original 13. Occasionally, the occupiers of my house would open the door, they said as a gesture of peace and good-will to let some fresh air come in. The whole world congratulated them for doing this. An “outstanding act of generosity” as one pompous Western government commented.
We were left filled with pain and confusion. And in time this made us angry. Very angry. Some of our own growing family had never known it otherwise. Born under occupation. Living under occupation. Dying in occupation. Yes, we were very angry.
The sheer force of energy in the young was a wonder to behold. For sure some were hot heads who just wanted to charge the enemy and keep charging until all are dead. I understand the anger that can lead to these feelings. Others would bang on the door relentlessly, crying out for freedom, for rights, for a return to our house. Sometimes those in our house would retaliate by beating and killing some of us, other times they would come in to the basement room and really hurt us with a vast array of power and force. We lived in fear. Fear of the unexpected and fear of the expected and this made the younger men even more angry.
We heard those in the house telling visitors that the reason we were locked in the basement room was because we were angry and violent, that we wanted their destruction, that we were anti-Semitic. But we are Semitic ourselves. We are angry now because they took our house then. But we don’t want their destruction, even though some of the hotheads say as much, it’s just our Arab way of exaggerating to make a point, we just want our house back!
We want to join the human race again. We want to feel the sun on our face as free-men and women. We want our children to grow up loving life not despising it. We want to live. We want our house back.
My house is called Palestine and the basement room we have called Gaza.