Muna is Palestine

Posted on 12 August 2010

There are countless stories of pain and tragedy in Palestine. Muna’s story is not unique, but she is my sister, so her life touches me in a very personal way. Her eyes sparkle and her face radiates a gentle kindness, which I find incredible given her and her family’s suffering. There is something about her quietness and her “sumoud” (steadfastness) in the face of such adversity that humbles me greatly.

We went for a special dinner the other night: pigeon! A Middle Eastern delicacy reserved for special guests. I was very privileged, unlike Abu Sai’d’s pigeons whose demise were due solely to our visit.

I always learn something new about the family when I am there. J was looking at a collection of prayer beads hanging from the mirror, quite possibly with the intention of taking a set for himself! There was a piece of string with what looked like a domino hanging from it. In fact it was a domino, but it had been painstakingly sanded and smoothed, then carefully painted. A tiny red rose adorned one side, words of Arabic, the other. Mortasim had made it, when he was in prison. It took him over six months.

In prison there are no tools, no access to materials, so prisoners use their own inventiveness to create wonderful artwork and crafts. When I worked for the Palestinian Prisoner Society we had quite a collection of prisoners’ work in our office. I’ve always wanted to make an exhibition of it, bring it to Europe. The creativeness in terms of skill and imagination required to produce such works of art is astonishing.

Abu Sai’d went to the bedroom and brought out a collection of more pendants. There was a small square of pale white stone. On one side a dove of peace had been carefully carved, on the other, four names delicately inscribed. Abu Sai’d had created it from a rock he found on the ground, during one of many spells incarcerated by Israel. The names were of his three children, at that time, and of Muna, his beautiful wife. He has since had many more children, and many more spells inside.

The pendants were all hanging from a photo of a very cool looking dude wearing aviator sunglasses. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in a seventies movie. It was Abu Sai’d, aged only twenty. He looked so much older and mature than just twenty years old. Of course, he had already experienced more in life than most people do in a lifetime.

This led to the old photo album coming out, which was a revelation not just to me, but to J as well. There were not that many photos. After all, being a refugee, especially so many years ago, meant a life of relative poverty and access to frivolous items such as a camera was a luxury.

The people in the photos contrast starkly to camp-life today. They would not have looked out of place strutting down the King’s Road on a Saturday afternoon, circa 1979. Young women looking very hippy chick; the men in bold, bright prints and the kind of slacks not seen since the seventies! Now, there is a strong religiously-motivated conservatism in the camp, and beyond.

The photos were a mix of Abu Sai’d’s family and J’s. Muna and Abu Sai’d’s wedding day, J’s sisters as school girls, Lutfi working in Amman, J’s late father outside the two-roomed home in Deheishe where J grew up. There was such poignancy in these images, they touched me deeply, but there was also an incredible joy and lust for life. They were just people, trying to live, trying to make the best they could out of a very bad situation.

They are just Palestinians, no different to anyone else. Except, of course, their lives are not their own. Any semblance of normal life in Palestine was destroyed in 1948 by the newly created state of Israel, along with over 500 villages. Both Abu Sai’d and Muna’s parents, who were only children themselves at that time, were made homeless and destitute overnight. But today, despite all attempts to erase and eradicate Palestine and Palestinians, they still exist. And no matter what Israel does, they always will.

As I left and said my goodbyes, I embraced Muna tightly, and held back my tears. Muna’s husband, Abu Sai’d, has spent much of his adult life in prison or wanted; she has buried a son; she has seen her home raided and ransacked by Israel’s soldiers; she has watched a daughter so traumatised by events in their life change from a happy-go-lucky little child into a withdrawn young girl; and so, so much more.

Muna embodies the spirit of Palestinians. Muna is Palestine.

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