Sunday, June 19, 2011

Unwanted Reaction to Nabi Saleh Excursion

One thing I neglected to mention in my Nabi Saleh post was that my parents had no idea I was going there. I knew they wouldn't let me, so I took advantage of my mother's absence of a few days where she went to Amman to help my father move into another apartment. She left Thursday and got back on Monday. My sister told everyone I was at a friend's house in Ein Yabrood.

I faced the music Saturday night. I was over at my uncle's house, and the electricity in Ramallah got cut off for an hour. My uncle's family had come from the US only a couple days before so their house didn't have any candles or flashlights. We were plunged into darkness. My sister called Mama before letting my uncle talk to her jokingly about the electricity. Then the cell phone was transferred to me.

My mother's voice was brisk and all-knowing, a tone of Don't Bullshit Your Way Out of This. "Where were you on Friday Linah?"
My heart sank.
"Where you in Ein Yabrood or Nabi Saleh?"
I answered in a resigned voice, "Nabi Saleh."
"Nabi Saleh ah. Okay, I'm not going to say anything, talk to your dad."

All I could think of then was how my dad was scared of roller coasters, how he over-panicked whenever his children got sick, and how I could picture my mother standing next to me in protests instead of him. I then got the rollicking of my life.

"What the hell were you doing there in Nabi Saleh zift! Next time before you go anywhere, remember you have family, remember to ask for their permission, to let them know where you're going! This is the last thing I need on my plate right now, for my daughter to be protesting amid choking on tear gas and getting hit by sound bombs and then getting arrested and thrown in the back of some Israeli jeep! For you to be in jail! Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you ask me?" The decibels were getting louder. "What were you thinking!!"

I sensed the panic behind his yelling. I kept my voice even, low, neutral, quiet. I answered in one words. When my dad is in a temper, you let him continue steamrolling on. Maybe later when calmness is regained again, we can have a proper discussion. A tiny "maybe".

"I don't want you to be involved in this nonsense anymore, do you understand?" he shouted on. "This is the first and last time you go, I forbid you to be involved in this stupid shit, is that clear? It's all empty words, nothing is going to change! You go out to your friends' houses, out to eat and socialize, but none of these protests do you hear me? Even to the stupid ones around the Manara square!"

I was grateful for the darkness, as the tears coursed silently down my face. I squeezed my eyes shut, taking deep inaudible breaths as images of Friday's events flitted across, forever tattooed to my inner eyelids.

Dear Baba,

I'm sorry I didn't tell you where I really was on Friday. I knew you wouldn't let me, so I saw no point in asking you if I could go to Nabi Saleh or not. So instead of asking you and getting the negative answer and then going on to defy you anyway, I didn't beat around the bush and thought it best not to mention it. You have to know, "tear gas" and "sound bombs" sound threatening in the news and in print and on screen, but I was never really in any danger. These protests are glorified a bit, to garner more attention and sympathy, but if you were protesting with me, if you actually were there you'd know that if you don't get out of the army's way when they're firing tear gas and sound bombs then there's nothing more to it really. I know you care deeply about me, and I love you a lot for that. But you have to understand something. Yes it sounds like I've just tried to minimalize the dangers of the protests, but I never felt that I was under anything close to a life threatening situation. I have a job interview on Tuesday. My grades are really good, and I've sent you every article I wrote that was published over the internet. Baba, if I had children I would encourage them to go out and demonstrate. I wouldn't want them to become squares, getting a university degree and then a boring job and treating politics with sneering disdain discussed over overpriced lattes and cappuccinos. I would want them to be active, all for the sake of fighting for a worthy cause and for a better future for their own children. If there is no voice, how can we fool ourselves that the Palestine cause still exists? You know that the youth are imperative to changing the political landscapes, not the corrupted officials and politicians. I wish you could relate to this more, and it's frustrating to me because you can but don't want to. I know how immensely active you were during your own time at Birzeit University, to the point where they had to expel you for your political views. I never told you how in my first year, I was sitting with friends and an old guard came up to warn us about not leaving our food on the ground. We offered him cake and he asked me who my parents were. I told him your name, and he smiled ruefully. "I remember him clearly. Your dad was a troublemaker," he said. "Very outspoken, caused a lot of commotion. Your mother was deeply in love with him." Don't think I don't understand the gravity of the consequences. I am not an idealist, I don't get sucked into slogans and banners. I explained my presence to one of the foreigners as a sort of citizen journalist, almost like a casual observer. I had my notebook with me all the time, jotting down a few words here and there. I'm sure this isn't about the case of me being a female Baba. You cannot undermine the immense role the Palestinian women played throughout our history. Leila Khaled became active when she was barely out of her teens in Lebanon. The ones making the most noise, the ones who were leading the chants at the protest were young women, all of them passionate and realistic. I wish you still lived here and made a report about Nabi Saleh. They have the most incredible steadfast families. I wish you could understand it from my perspective. I know that the one thing you care about first and foremost is my safety and well-being. How can I convince you that being at the protest actually invigorated me, and that I never felt like I was in danger? Sound bombs don't hurt anybody, and I'm not stupid to let the tear gas engulf me. We don't instigate and we don't taunt the soldiers, we just stand there chanting, and they show their fear of our freedom ringing voices by dispersing us with the canisters. I'm sorry I caused you to worry and be shocked into a rage, but please don't tell me I can't go to any more protests. I won't go every week, and I personally know some of the protesters, as do my brothers, and they are good people with normal jobs and everything. Don't think that they are the ones who have influenced me, you know where I stand politically, or rather, apolitically. You know how frustrating it is for me having to write about the incompetence of the PA and Hamas, the indifference of the street, and the increasingly heavy hand of Israeli occupation. I was well aware of the protests in the villages of Bilin, Nilin, and Nabi Saleh. I once shared the view that what the youth are doing there is pointless and as you said, empty words. I didn't see the point in getting tear gassed every week after throwing a few rocks. But then a new youth movement appeared, designed to resist "non-violently". It is still in its fledgling stages, but I honestly believe with the right amount of dedication, passion, and leadership this movement will make history. Non-violent resistance obviously includes writing up firsthand accounts and disseminating that information all over, but once in a while you must be in the field to maintain that level of authenticity. I dreamed of having these kinds of discussions with you, but I'm not very articulate or eloquent or convincing when it comes to speaking, as you might have gathered. I do understand your concern, but you must also understand that I would never unwittingly put myself in an "intense" situation just because that's where all the action is and how secretly I crave that sort of attention. That's not the case at all. Believe me when I say that if I felt like I was in any danger, I would stop going to the protests immediately and content myself with writing about the events I wasn't part of. Believe me when I say this isn't bravado. Who knows, maybe I'll become disillusioned with the whole state of affairs pretty soon, and maybe I'll be part of the close knit network (who have already expressed their enthusiasm for my writings) that will have succeeded in changing the status quo. All I am asking you is to please give me a chance, let me find out on my own, or I will never forgive myself. I have never known a more ardent family about our land and history than ours. Do you remember Mama taking us to every Arab-related protest in D.C and London? Even if there were only 11 people, she'd take us. I consider it a duty to continue protesting, because history has taught us time and again that in the face of oppressors, it is the oppressed who will finally triumph in the end.

Happy Father's Day.
I love you,

UPDATE: This morning another phone call. Much more calmer, and a million more times worse.

"I'm extremely angry with you," he said quietly. "Listen, putting the fact that you acted irresponsibly and lied to us about where you were on one side, there's something you must understand politically. The protests that take place in Nabi Saleh and Bil'in and Nil'in all happen with the blessing of the PA and Israel. You think the PA has nothing to do with this? You think Israel can't crush the protests once and for all? Their tactic is to confine and encourage resistance to these tiny villages, and that resistance completely debilitates armed resistance, as if it's something that is taboo now. They know that the protests have no chance in spreading to the larger towns and cities, and the youth get caught up because they believe they are making a difference when they are actually the victim of the PA's stratagem. I'm all for popular resistance, but what's happening now isn't that. You're not going next week or anytime after that, ok?"

I fought to control my voice. "I won't be in the protests themselves. I'll be in the houses, talking to the families and the women."

"You are not a credited journalist. Whatever you do there, even if it's so something completely innocuous, you're still technically involved in the protests."

I tried to make him understand. He hadn't read my letter yet because he didn't have internet access. [He since has:"Thanks for educating me about civil resistance and patriotism." Now we all know where I get my sarcasm from.] He kept telling me that I would not go again, and I stayed silent, refusing to consent. My dad has a way with articulating even the most banal thing powerfully but I wouldn't say, "Yes Baba." He finally told me that I wasn't allowed to go until I graduate, and even then we'd have another long discussion about what I was allowed to participate in. In the meantime, he encouraged to me to continue writing. "Look at some of the journalists who go to Gaza for a week. They continue to write about their time there even after a month, a year even. Khalas, you went to Nabi Saleh, you got the experience, now you know what it feels like."

After that, I went into my full cleaning mode. I cried as I washed the dishes, thinking of my promise to Samer, my little spiderman. I broke a couple of trinkets dusting. I threw books from the shelves. I finally calmed down, realizing that the song 'Killing in the Name Of' was playing loudly in my ears. I finish university for good in another three weeks, completing the most useless years in my life in three not four. Did he mean then, or in August where the stupid little graduation ceremony was going to take place? Life gives you lemons, turn them into lemonade. Yes, there are other things I could do within the borders of Ramallah. I breathed.


  1. thanx for sharing mashallah u are so brave and thanx for sharin this touchin letter to ur dad ...

  2. So powerful! I hope your parents see your side of things, this was an eloquent letter and you made great points.
    Also, you inadvertently answered most of the questions I posed in the comments section of the "Nabi Saleh" post. Good luck in the future and iA you get to continue participating in the demonstrations. Btw, you should tell your dad about Budrus and how their protests made a huge difference, although I'm sure he already knows.

  3. Beautiful, keep writing. They'll come around, don't stop doing what you know is right.

  4. You are a great writer and thinker. I feel so frustrated about the view your father told you the second time he talked with you which I agree with. Thank you for sharing.

  5. The post on Nabi Saleh was fantastic, I've been avoiding going to protests for various reasons (er, here as a researcher not as an activist)and I am busy Fridays BUT have been thinking of going soon and that post convinced me I must in the next few weeks before leaving Palestine.

    Its difficult to convince men they're wrong as the stereotype goes, but especially difficult to convince a father he is wrong about the well-being of his children. But fear can't keep us inactive in these situations. Know as I am sure you do, that many women are huge parts of the struggle and you as well in the way of writing and informing and inspiring and perhaps you'll have to protest vicariously for a bit through one of us who you inspired to go to Nabi Saleh or elsewhere.
    Don't know why but your posts remind me of the Che Guevara saying (paraphrasing!) "at the risk of sounding silly, true revolutionaries are guided by feelings of love" or something like this..

  6. Palestinians have many ways to resist the occupation. All of them are important. I think no one should force others to choose one of them. However, if you are unable to do it your way, you are still able to resist somehow and compare the methods you experienced. You will then be able to convince your father and others that your choice is the optimal one.
    I think that the number of protesters in Nabi Saleh will increase despite these difficulties and the true images of civilians and occupiers will be much clear.
    Good luck.

  7. Frank Tamimi KahnJune 22, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    It is an honor and a privilege to know you and a joy to read your writing.

  8. I am grateful for the link to this page, Linah. The demonstrations in the villages are imensely important and effective, not only for the villages themselves (their cause is just) but for the international spotlight on Israeli injustice and repression. One thing that your father mentioned is true, and we can hope that it will change: The increasingly non-violent demonstrations have been confined to a few villages and venues - outside of the cities. When Nabi Saleh comes to Ramallah things will have to change - the young will lead, I believe. PA cannot act as the jailers for Israel forever. Yes, plz keep writing.