Friday, May 11, 2007

Talking to the Elders of the Tribe

Let me start by noting that so far, we're still planning on joining the demonstration on the Golan Heights. Turns out we had the dates wrong, so it's next Friday (May 18th) and not this one. Hence, today's post is not related to the demonstration.

Have had a crowded second half to this week so far, topped with a lovely (or not so lovely) migraine last night. I think I'll start a new blog here on this account just to record my migraines, so as not to clutter up this space.

Three days ago, my mother came to visit us and brought my grandfather along with her. My grandpa is 78 years old and lives in Netanya. He was born in Tunisia, in a town called Gabes and came to Israel by himself as a teenager. He went on his journey back in 1947, out of pure old idealistic Zionism. He was a member of a Zionist youth member and came to Israel to build the State of the Jews where his religious family always said home was. He didn't make it in that year.

He was only 18 but had a nice girlfriend already! They planned on coming together on the same ship. A few weeks before their ship was supposed to leave, they were called to come help prepare another ship of Jewish immigrants (since they were both in the Zionist youth movement). My grandfather got busy helping settle the immigrants in the ship. Suddenly, local police forces appeared and the boat had to sail right away. His girlfriend managed to get off the boat, but it was too late for him, and so he sailed to "Palestine" a few weeks ahead of time.

As they approached the beaches of Palestina, they were surrounded by British boats. My grandfather loves telling that story of how four huge British Navy ships surrounded the tiny boat and almost crushed her. They were escorted to Cyprus and put in a refugee camp there. A few weeks later, his girlfriend arrived at Cyprus. Same story, different ship. A year later, still in Cyprus, they got married. Then the State of Israel was established and they came over, finally as legal immigrants. Shortly afterwards, my mother was born, while they were living in a local refugee camp (Ma'abara).

Well, I have heard this story more than once before. This time, sitting with my grandpa by our dining table, I asked him about other things. I asked what made them come to Israel to begin with. What made them leave Tunisia and what did they leave behind. My grandpa was only too happy to share his boyhood memories. For him, the reason for leaving Tunisia was simple. They had been living in fear and feeling persecuted. I have heard so often about how Jews and Arabs lived well together in Arab countries, that my grandfather's recollections surprised me a little.

He described in detail the day when his mother was attacked by Arabs in the marketplace (left with a huge scar on her leg where they knifed her). Then he talked about how as soon as the Nazis invaded, the Arabs would volunteer to walk with the Nazi soldiers and point out the Jews to them. The encounter would end with some humiliating public kicking only at that point (although later on, men in the family were already sent to camps set up by the Nazis in Tunisia).

In short, he explained, there was no question in the minds of the Jews living in his community that they had to leave, and the sooner the better. Even before the establishment of the State of Israel, many left and tried breaking into the then Palestina as illegal immigrants. During the 19'50s and 1960's most of the Jews left, about half of them to France and the other half to Israel.

Well, I asked, did your family have any property back there? Did they manage to sell it before they joined you here (in the early Fifties). Well, that got a nice laugh from my Grandpa... He said no one in their right mind would buy property off the Jews. People would say, "Why should we buy from you? You have to leave anyway, and you're going to leave it to us for free, so why should we pay?". So, they left it all behind. The house he grew up in, the whole neighborhood, was simply given up, as the Jews were driven out. Actually, what he lamented the most was the public buildings. I got to listen to a long description of the community synagogue, and other community buildings, where my Grandfather had spent many days as a child, being the son of a Rabbi.

Why bring up this story now? I'm not sure really. I guess Khaled's recent visit made me think more about those historical times. Learning more about the wrongdoings of Zionism, made me curious about our side as well. I always knew that my family, especially on my mother's side, lived in what was basically refugee camps for a few years before they were given proper housing. I never really bothered to ask why, and why didn't they have enough money to buy their own place right away.

This story, to me, isn't about pointing fingers or laying the blame on one side or another. To me it shows just how complicated history is and how the violent times of the previous century effected so many people adversely. Things we read about in history books, were life changing events for people a few generations before us, and I felt it was necessary for me to tell this tale here, while my grandfather is still with us.


AM said...

Very interesting insight, true what you said in your last paragraph, history is complicated indeed especially with the different ways it affects people.

If you're interested in reading more about Jewish in the middle east, here is a link for you (you may already be familiar with it).

IsraeliMom said...

Thank you! I was not familiar with that site. I went there now and even commented on an article. Thank you for introducing it to me.