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Returning to Yaffa, but only as a ‘tourist’

It is hours — days, weeks, maybe some months if we’re fortunate — before my permit expires, when I would have to make my way back to the West Bank, or else Israel will deem my presence in my own ancestral city ‘illegal.’

By Mariam Barghouti

Yaffa is where my great grandfather was killed in 1947, and where my grandfather spent his childhood and adolescence. Like most Palestinian cities, Yaffa is de jure banned to most Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. (Mariam Barghouti)

Yaffa is where my great-grandfather was killed in 1947, and where my grandfather spent his childhood and adolescence. Like most Palestinian cities, Yaffa is de jure banned to most Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. (Mariam Barghouti)

If I were given a dollar for the number of times diplomats, journalists, activists, and policy-makers have asked me “Have you thought about speaking with Israelis?” I could buy myself a chateau in Yaffa.

I choose Yaffa because that question rings loudly in my head whenever I visit the city. It is where my great-grandfather was killed in 1947, and where my grandfather spent his childhood and adolescence. Like most Palestinian cities, Yaffa is de jure banned to most Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza by Israel.

I was able to visit Yaffa some weeks ago, when the District Coordination Office (DCO), a part of the Israeli army’s Civil Administration that manages the day to day aspects of the occupation, issued me a travel permit. Permits are difficult to get, because they are conditional on strict yet arbitrary criteria that Israel determines.

On an intimate level, getting a permit takes a toll in that it affirms that we are only allowed to enter historic Palestine as tourists. Our visit is to remain an ephemeral experience, never with a possibility of remaining or returning.

More generally, the permit system is a reminder that Israel dictates all Palestinian movement, determining where we can go and how often we can meet one another. Even cities like Gaza, which are considered Palestinian districts, are barred from certain groups of Palestinians — I am more likely to meet fellow Palestinians from Gaza abroad than in Palestine, for example. Those in Gaza seeking to leave the strip for medical attention, often for treatment that is only available to them in the West Bank or Jerusalem, must also go through Israel’s permit regime. No matter the reason, Israel has assumed the role of providing permission for our movement — permission that can be revoked at any given moment.

I watch the beach waves undulate back and forth in Yaffa. I hear Hebrew all around me, mixed with the laughter of youth. Men, women and children lounge under umbrellas whipping in the sea breeze. Occasionally, Arabic escapes from the mouths of Palestinians who are of the city.

In 1948, after Zionist militias occupied Yaffa, a quarter of Palestinians were forced to flee. Israel’s Absentees Property Law allowed for the official confiscation of the emptied Palestinian homes and lands. Yaffa’s Old City has been turned into an Israeli artist colony. I walk feeling so foreign, yet the city is so loud with its Palestinianisms.



I watch as Israelis roam freely, wondering if the ongoing violations of rights and injustice ever occur to them. A young woman, a police officer, walks with a pistol on her hip. She doesn’t look older than 18. Her long, jet black hair matches her black skirt. The purse over her shoulder reads “Forever Young” in big, bold letters. Have too many generations passed to recognize the history in which Israel drowns? Have decades of negating injustice normalized a new form of justice?

I enter one of the art galleries near the sea. The curator is Israeli. She watches as two young women walk in speaking Arabic loudly, laughing at this reality we were experiencing. The Israeli woman asks where I am from. “Ramallah,” I say, quickly. A privilege of traveling with a permit is not having to conceal my identity out of fear of arrest.

She smiles and says: “Oh, I would love to come party in Ramallah.” My heart sinks. My veins feel like they are burning. I feel so angry, so hurt. All I can muster is a labored “When Palestine is liberated, there will be a massive party. Until then.”

I want to shout at her. I want to ask her if she ever questions her position, if it ever occurs to her what the history of that ancient building she carefully crafts her art in used to be. It is no wonder that the Palestinian plight is so camouflaged for Israelis. Our existence is narrated in the voices of an exaggerated heroism of soldiers and armies, of security complexes, of fearing the Arab and yet, somehow, fetishizing us.

The first time I saw my grandfather cry was a few blocks away from here, at the Clock Tower Square. It took my grandfather years of heartache, of resistance, of life in exile, to be afforded the “right” to visit the city he is from, decades after he was forced out. His old age graced him with the ability to visit — his fragile bones, atrophying body, and wrinkled, leathery skin mean he is not the threat he once was to Israel. He held the stones of the Clock Tower and called for his father, long dead. There he was, my 88-year-old grandfather, crumbling in front of a large stone clock in a city he holds so dear but can only temporarily come back to.

The first time I saw my grandfather cry was in Yaffa. He held the stones of the Clock Tower and called for his father, long dead. (Mariam Barghouti)

The first time I saw my grandfather cry was in Yaffa. He held the stones of the Clock Tower and called for his father, long dead. (Mariam Barghouti)

At some point in the evening, an older woman hears my Arabic and asks where I am from. “Ramallah,” I say again, this time as I eagerly wait for my bucket of fried shrimp at a Palestinian-owned restaurant in Yaffa.

Although Yaffa used to be at the core of Palestinian economy, Palestinians who have remained are struggling to survive as second and third-class citizens. It is an injustice reflective of Israel’s Jewish supremacy, where privileges are often afforded not only to Israeli-Jewish citizens but especially those of Ashkenazi (European) origin. I made sure that every penny I would spend would support the Palestinians who remain, despite all odds.

The woman, also waiting for her own order, smiles back. I finally ask her where she’s from. “I am from Akka. But the old Akka,” she says in Arabic.

 I was excited. Akka, a city in northern historic Palestine, had captivated me in a manner which I cannot describe in words. I learned that many Palestinians romanticize the struggle in a similar way. It has become a necessary coping mechanism, given the incessant feelings of loss; to hold on to what is us in some beautiful way. To remember that while our reality may be tragic, we are not a tragedy.

I smile from cheek to cheek wanting to hug the woman, to smell Akka off her flesh. To feel like I saw Akka in Yaffa that night.

Something in the way Arabic rolls off her tongue feels outlandish, though. She said Akka al-Qadeema (Old Akka) with so much pride and such a true sense of belonging — but it turns out she is Israeli. A settler.

I feel betrayed. We focus on the settlers in the West Bank, but somehow purposely ignore the settlers of Akka, Yaffa, Haifa, and Safad. Israel built its entire state by forcing Palestinians out. What’s worse is that this is still happening today.

Israel’s discriminatory land policies make it even more difficult for Palestinians to keep or own lands. As the state annexes and settles over more occupied land, it keeps the Palestinians living in those areas under military rule, disenfranchised. Israel feels so emboldened, it demolishes homes even in areas meant to be under full Palestinian control.

Before departing the table, the woman looks at my friends and I and asks if she could take a picture of us. Not with us, but of us. Were we exhibits? My mind returns to the art gallery.

I wonder if some decades from now settlements like Ariel and Modi’n will be drawn into maps as part of Israel, with Palestinians merely as “exotic” passersby to be photographed and fetishized rather than recognized. It terrifies me. I wonder if the woman recognized what she was saying in her broken Arabic, of the city that I can only see in momentary glimpses. It is hours — days, weeks, maybe some months if we’re fortunate — before my permit expires, when I would have to make my way back to the West Bank, or else Israel will deem my presence in my land as “illegal.”

“Have you thought about speaking with Israelis?” I have. More times than I can recall. I find that the Israelis who call out the occupation and recognize their settler-colonial position do not join Palestinians in “dialogue” but actively refuse to tolerate or participate in the continued displacement and oppression of Palestinians.

Mariam Barghouti is a Palestinian writer based in Ramallah. You can follow her on Twitter @MariamBarghouti.

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    1. Itshak Gordine

      Let’s think for a moment about the million and 300,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries after being robbed. Think of the Jewish community in Hebron that was massacred by Palestinian Arabs in that city.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I thought about it, and came away confirmed in my view that +972 Magazine is on the right track, a track echoed by Lara Friedman here:

        Exploiting Jews from Arab Countries
        Lara Friedman makes the point that the U.S. Congress and Israel’s Foreign Ministry should not exploit Jews who moved to Israel from the Arab World by comparing them to Palestinian refugees.

        Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Itshak: Judaism condones collective punishment for historical wrongs? So you’re basically saying that Jews are a tribe of primitive goat-sacrificers with all the moral sophistication that existed in 1000 B.C.?

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          If this allows us to no longer be looted and recover our property then the answer is yes, if it pleases you.

          Reply to Comment
      • Amir

        Like those jews from Yemen and Morocco who have been robbed their baby?


        You should go through the testimonies or I can help you

        Thousands of testimonies by parents indicate a similar method: parents were asked to give their children to nurseries or hospitals under the pretext that there “they will be given more appropriate care.” Sometimes children were violently taken by social workers or nurses, placed in ambulances and forcibly transferred to these institutions. The parents were not allowed to stay with their children and were told to go home and to return only to breastfeed their babies. A few days later the parents were told that their child had died. The parents never saw their child’s body and were not allowed to take their child to be buried. In many cases, parents did not receive a death certificate or received it much later, retroactively

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          This has nothing to do with the spoliation and expulsion of Jews from most of the Arab States.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      Man, you are really ungrateful for the permit to visit my country. I am starting to believe that allowing Palestinians entrance into Israel in general is a mistake. They don’t appreciate it. People are being nice to her all around and it just makes her more angry. What’s the point? Let her sit in Ramallah and stew in her hate and anger. It is better for everyone involved. Maybe when she is 88 we’ll let her visit. Maybe.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Firentis’ typical sneering, sadistic power trip. Yawn.

        Reply to Comment
    3. itshak Gordine

      Lara Fridman is wrong.There will be no viable solution without compensating the hundreds of thousands of Jews despoiled and expelled by the Arab countries without any compensation (without UNWRA, etc.)
      By the way, who is interested in what Lara Friedmann thinks from the USA? I am the descendant of these Jewish refugees expelled from the Arab countries, and I ask for compensation. My father owned houses and lots and they took everything from him. So no solution without taking the interests of the Jews expelled by the Arabs in account.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Thank you. I had dimly perceived that you operated from a base of personal hatred, passed from father to son, that drove your cold disregard for anyone among “them,” and warps all your thinking into the kind of “they are all guilty of everything, none of us is guilty of anything” connections you habitually make. You confirm that now. Hence the primitive goat-sacrificer theme mentioned above. Which fits like a glove with your professed theme of ultimate revenge: that your Levite sons will one day mount the steps of a rebuilt Third Temple after you’ve kicked out the people who (you see as having) mistreated your father. And goats shall be sacrificed by your sons, who inherit the role, in the ultimate purifying revenge ritual. Your father bequeathed you this heritage of hate apparently. Because you grew up in Switzerland or northern Italy attending rock concerts–hardly the basis for lifelong hatred and revenge making in and of itself. Now I see how it all kind of amounts to your inability to make any distinctions between any person belonging in your mind to “us” versus “them,” “the Arabs” and “the Jews,” the past and the present, another country and this country, etc. I feel like I have more insight into you now and settlers like you (doesn’t explain one bit the Disneyland Biblical Theme Park Americans, however) and it explains your striking coldness and implacable nature and why you are such a dedicated member of what I have called here a cult.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          I’m NOT making light of your family’s trauma. But surely you could have the minimum tactical insight to realize that what you’ve done to them is every bit the same basis for the same kind of hatred of you among some of them. Just reverse directions. So that all you’re good for in your current mindset is an endless cycle of hatred and revenge, a war of hatreds, let the “better” hater win. No thanks. (Which is why you detest most of all the peacemakers among them. Which is why you tacitly favor either the Hamas or some non-existent total surrender party among them. Just who is it that is indifferent to Jewish suffering, you or me, if it is you who advocate this endless cycle?) This is what Lara Friedman is getting at on one level. It seems to escape you.

          Reply to Comment
      • Paul Seligman

        Itshak. If your family (and others in the same position) were given a choice between compensation for losses in whichever country the older generation left or returning, plus maybe an apology for past wrongs, would you then support Palestinians having the same deal? Because then we have moved a long way towards a better future for all. It’;s not everything that would be needed, but it would be a huge step.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          No you do not understand. Jews were despoiled and expelled from Arab countries simply because they were Jews. They have been given no compensation or right of return to date. They have worked and made themselves a situation. The Arab refugees (who for years have received billions of dollars) can not be dissociated from Jewish refugees. . The world must also be concerned about the fate of Jewish refugees.

          Reply to Comment
      • sasasasa

        So you’d like compensation for Jews but also you strongly disagree with compensation for Palestinians and also for their right of return? Such hypocrisy and arrogance, sadistic.

        Reply to Comment
        • Amir

          It reminds me of the Arabic quote: dhrabni ou bka, sbaqni ou bka= he hit me and cried, he arrived before me and complaint.

          Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          But the Jews despoiled and expelled from the Arab countries had neither compensation nor a right of return. The problem of Jewish refugees can not be dissociated from that of Arab refugees. Why such discrimination?
          No hypocrisy or arrogance on my part. Only common sense and desire for equality and justice.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Itshak Gordine: What part of what Paul Seligman and Sasasasa write do you not understand? I can’t see that you understand a single thing either of them wrote. Making your answers to them a puzzling non-answer, a non-sequitur. Try again, if you want to be taken seriously. Otherwise, as I see it, their points stand unchallenged by anything substantive.

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            Jews who immigrated to israel took the properties and land of Arabs who were expelled. Houses, bank accounts, land etc. Not only you destroyed more than 400 villages but you dare asking for compensation??!!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Amir has a point. A good one. But he’s up against settler narcissism. Which no observer has ever found a limit or boundary to. As a natural sociological phenomenon it takes the form of an infinite progression.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      Re: “We focus on the settlers in the West Bank, but somehow purposely ignore the settlers of Akka, Yaffa, Haifa, and Safad.”

      Here the Jordanian “Mariam Barghouti” gives the game away.
      His displeasure is not that Israel exists in Judea and Samaria.
      No, his disapproval is that Israel exists at all.
      This nasty thug should be repatriated to JORDAN (where he belongs.)

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Lewis, to start with, Mariam Barghouti is a woman. To refer to her with male pronouns is your first step in dehumanizing and delegitimizing this Palestinian person. You second step in delegitimizing her and dehumanizing her is to put her name in quotation marks, as if she does not really exist. Your third step in dehumanizing and delegitimizing her is to call her, a Palestinian writer based in Ramallah, a “Jordanian.”

        You say that her “displeasure is not that Israel exists in Judea and Samaria [but] that Israel exists at all.”

        Yes, so what? It is her displeasure. She’s entitled to it. Why should it not be her displeasure? What sane Palestinian would not be displeased? What crime is there in that? The very idea that a Palestinian person being displeased that Israel exists is somehow a crime is in itself a form of dehumanization of Palestinians and a tactical empathy failure and a kind of thought police action. Your displeasure, nay, your obsession, is that the Palestinians exist at all. Are you a thug? (Well, yes, you are. I explain as follows.) What makes her a “thug” by virtue of her displeasure? You will note that Mariam Barghouti did not advocate here mass transfer and ethnic cleansing, and mass death for the non-compliers. But you do. You make no bones about it. So just what is it that makes her a thug but you not a thug? By all objective measure, you are far more thuggish. It’s not even close. That is, she and you have similar feelings (in the narrow sense of the specific displeasure noted, only) but you advocate thug behavior and she does not. That makes you a thug and her not a thug.

        So, she is displeased. You are displeased. I think that calls for a fair two or one state solution. I think that any sane person has to think that a two or one state solution is the best possible outcome for your mutual displeasure. That outrages you. You should look at how it is that you move from displeasure to outrage, instead of in irenic directions, when there are other pathways, easily achievable by an Israel so motivated, that makes far more sense to sane people.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          But no, Jordan is part of the “Palestine” of the British Mandate. It occupies 2/3 of this territory and the majority of its population is “Palestinian”. The States of Palestine already exist. The Ramallah entity is a second “Palestinian” state. And Gaza, the 3rd. This prompts me to ask myself a question: Why are Jews banned in the Gaza and Ramallah territories? If they venture there they are murdered or taken prisoner. Racism and discrimination.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Itshak Gordine: This is so obviously false, by omission and commission, in its basic premises and in its alternative “facts,” that it cannot be taken seriously. It’s a waste of time to engage as such. It is really just trolling. But it does serve as testament to the cult you adhere to, and it shows very well why no reasonable conversion with a hard core settler fanatic is possible.

            (The same goes basically for “Lewis” below. Might as well kill two birds with one stone. “nothing she can do will ever convince me she is NOT.” Yep it’s a cult.)

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            As usual, Ben, unable to disassemble the undeniable arguments of all those who do not agree with you (and they are probably many, because history and facts are right), you launch reproaches that have nothing to do with reality, or insults .. Back to the serious things: The 70-80% of the Jordanian population is “Palestinian”. True or false? The theocratic regime in Gaza is “Palestinian.” True or false? The vast majority of the Arab population of Judea and Samaria live under the “Palestinian” and corrupt rule of Ramallah authority. True or false? If I add Jordan, Gaza and Ramallah, I see 3 “Palestinian” governments.

            Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          I did think “Mariam” sounds more female but the silly photo at the top with the caption underneath indicates the author is a man. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with a “female thug”. In any case, all this is just a Comrade Ben-style Bolshevik distraction and not the issue at hand.

          Yes, she is JORDANIAN and nothing she can do will ever convince me she is NOT.
          Ramallah was conquered from JORDAN when they attacked us in the miraculous 6 day war. That was in June 1967. A few years later – around 1972- some of the JORDANIANS transmuted into the infamous “f” people. Several years later, the entire enemy population had disowned their JORDANIAN roots and claimed to be part of a mysterious ethereal nation that had gone “missing” in history.

          But the basic fact is that if the war had gone the other way and JORDAN had won, much of Israel would now be part of JORDAN. The JORDANIAN flag would now fly over the rubble of Tel-Aviv and the coastal strip while JORDANIANs would be residing there. The fake phantom entity would not have arisen because it had no rationale for its invention.

          In the long term, mass enemy repatriation to the East Bank is the only sane solution.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Benyamin

      I was in Yaffa the other evening and saw four elderly Arab women sitting together on a bench eating ice cream and watching the sidewalk traffic.


      Reply to Comment
    6. Reality Check

      There are many factual issues here, here are a few:

      1. He misrepresents Jaffa is his “own ancestral city” whilst the Barghouti clan hails from Bani Zeid in Ramallah. If his great-grandfather moved to Jaffa, probably for work given the opportunities provided by Jewish migration, he was a migrant there. So in Ramallah, under PA control, he is residing in his “own ancestral city”.

      2. He indicates his great-grandfather was “killed” in 1947 without clarifying how. Since Jaffa was only liberated in April 1948 and given that the Barghouti clan has long history of terror and insurrection documented since 1834, it is reasonable to conclude that he met his demise trying to kill Jews in one or other of the pogroms in or terror attacks emanating from Jaffa in 1947.

      3. He makes a whole big issue about needing a permit to visit Jaffa as if this was always the case. Remember from 1948 to 1967 his “ancestral city” was occupied by Jordan and while he could not visit Jaffa, Israelis could not visit Ramallah. After liberation in 1967 and until the wave of terror of the Second Intifada in 2000-03 in which his clan played a very significant role there were no effective constraints on travel between Ramallah and Jaffa. I have no doubt he or members of his family did visit and more than once without any permit. If today he requires a permit he should point the finger at members of his murderous clan who forced Israel to establish a hard border and control movement.

      4. He visited Jaffa, was not attacked or threatened by any Israeli in any manner and returned to his real “ancestral city” to pen this piece of propaganda. An average Israeli needs a permit to enter the PA and visit Ramallah, the chances of him or her returning home in one piece to pen his/her experience is very low, particularly if they happen to meet a member of the Barghouti clan.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        All four claims here are shot through with just the kind of casual Israeli Jewish racism and master-slave mentality, not equivalent to but strikingly analogous to 19th century American proslavery ideology, that Eva Illouz illuminates with precision and rigor here:

        47 [now 52] Years a Slave: A New Perspective on the Occupation
        Eva Illouz | Feb. 7, 2014 |

        Regarding your four claims:

        1. “he was a migrant.” I have news for you, you or your ancestors were migrants too. In the master-slave-ethic-infused entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies (“the master-slave entity”), Jews either “return” or “sanctify the (West Bank) land,” Arabs, being a kind of non-person, “migrate.”

        2. You don’t know how he was killed but in the master-slave entity Jews liberate and freedom fight, Arabs terrorize and mount insurrections.

        3. In the master-slave entity the permit system has nothing to do with “security.” It is about domination and control, slow ethnic cleansing and creeping annexation.

        4. The average Jewish settler can enter areas A and B with relative impunity and with most often a wink and a nod from the army. Not the other way around. Any violence towards these Jews would be met with a combination of swift ruthless reprisal and massive collective punishment joined to joyful, triumphant cries of victimhood by manipulative settlers. The Jewish denizens of Jaffa and other Israeli cities comfortably dominate the resident Arabs and have no need to outwardly attack or threaten. It’s not an accomplishment or some testament to their superior racial nature. Any more than a 19th century white had to threaten a black man for him to know his place and abide it, or that his restraint in not killing the black man was a testament to the white’s superior noblesse oblige. Who occupies whom? You’d think those poor settlers were occupied and beaten upon by the Arabs of Areas A, B and C. Only in the topsy-turvy master-slave entity and only-democracy-ethnic-nation state, always without borders.

        Reply to Comment
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