Peter Beinart’s interrogation at Ben Gurion Airport made headlines not because of his clout as a public intellectual, but thanks to the quiet dignity of Palestinian children, women and men who have endured Fortress Israel for years.
I first lost my father in the heat of a Jericho summer, 20 years ago this week. He disappeared, or so it seemed, between the river and the “rest area,” a concrete-columned bus depot known to Arabs as the istiraha. Teeming with travelers, some on their way to Jordan, others inbound for the West Bank, it was an easy place to lose one’s bearings, and foreign tourists were known to bypass it by paying extra for a private cab.
My father, though, was no tourist. Born and raised in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, he had lost his right to return in the 1967 war, when his absence — he was a medical student in Baghdad — cost him his residency.
For years, Baba had balked at the idea of returning. “Samer, in the final analysis,” he would say, employing a favorite phrase, “I simply can’t ask permission to visit my own home.” But five years after the Oslo Accords, he, like others of his generation, the last to be born before 1948, sensed his time was short. He began to ponder the possibility of an imperfect homecoming.
After months of jockeying, I had managed to get him an Israeli-issued permit to enter the West Bank. A cousin, still a resident of Tulkarem, had used his hawiya, or Palestinian identity card, to sponsor Baba, and the timing — late August, with its promise of freshly picked figs — was enough to sway him toward the trip.
Like the town that abuts it, the Jericho “rest area” sits at the lowest point on earth. At the time, travelers from Jordan could get there, from the Israeli-administered crossing point, by bus. There, they would navigate the way station, distilling from the noise of diesel engines and generators the names of various West Bank destinations, shouted in quick succession by drivers anxious to sell their last seat. “Al Quds! Al Quds! Al Quds!” signaled the onward journey to East Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. Ramallah, Nablus, or Bethlehem rose from the bustle, too.Read More