Open Letter To My Best Friend in Palestine (That I’ll Never Get To See)
There is really nothing secret about the road. Alaa and I have mapped the way from al-Bireh in Ramallah and through the villages of Birzeit to Ein Yabroud, around and under the bypass road at the edge of the Ofra Israeli Settlement and Silwad, through the villages of Deir Jarir and Taibe. And we know precisely when we are leaving ‘Area A,’ those areas within the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and when we are entering ‘Area C,’ those areas of the deeply divided territory under full Israeli control — although all roads, regardless of area classification, are Area C. It’s important for you to understand, because there exists no road in all of Palestine where we ever really feel free.
But beyond Taibe, our road of legend. So sinuous, that we follow only the sky. So dangerous are its curves, that we feel safe here. So lost beyond the confines, that we feel found. Alaa is behind the wheel, and he gently heavies the weight of his foot against the gas pedal. We are not scared; it feels like flying, and I want to fly above our confines, given to us, placed on us, forced upon us. I release the buckle of my seatbelt and soar from the open window, arms stretched like magnificent wings. “Nobody can hear us,” I shout to him as he drives — and we are laughing, and alive. “Alaa, I want to scream to the sky!”
“Haifa, be careful!” — one last glance. The poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote of Palestine: Do not describe what I can see of your wounds. And scream that you may hear yourself, and scream that you may know you’re still alive. Alaa has this way of looking at me as though his heart is in his big brown eyes.
And so the cool night air takes my hair, and I scream to the desert valley before us, “CAN YOU HEAR US! I WISH FOR LOVE!”
Hysterical laughter, and I fling my body back inside and take his hand into mine — eidy fi eidek, Alaa. This is our sacred place. When I take the wheel from him, Alaa shouts from the window, “GIVE US A FUCKING BREAK!”
One day, we will drive along the coast and across old borders to Tyre and to Saida, and to Beirut. I am from there. There will be no more camps, because nobody is a refugee — Ein al-Hilwe will no longer be splintered cement, but literally the beautiful springs it was meant to be. One day we will walk the ruins of great empires, inside the Saidon Sea Castle built by Crusaders in 1228 AD, now crumbling into the Mediterranean Sea; the shattered remnants of the Phoenician city in Tyre; the Roman ruins of Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley — the fallen mosque amidst the Great Court and temples to the gods Jupiter and Bacchus. As a child I’d played hide and seek and ran barefoot at the pillars of their civilizations.
Do you remember walking once along Hamra Street in Beirut, and the way we danced in the dimly lit jazz club with no name, its walls of brick and smoke, hidden away from the glaring car lights, blaring horns, and the glamorous Lebanese nightlife? And they played oud instead of jazz, and sang to Ziad Rahbani instead of Frank Sinatra. The night we sat on the jagged rocks beyond the walls of the corniche — the very rocks from which my grandfather used to fish and my uncles used to jump; the rocks from which my mother and her sisters used to swim — and we watched the smiling moon setting over the black water as we prepared to say one of our many goodbyes, and talk about the next time. We will do that again, one day. One day, we will not be greeted by mothers and women and children coming from Syria now with sad eyes, and open hands. You are from there.
So one day we will climb to the top of the Golan Heights and reach Syria. Where Yarmouk Camp was once a nebula of sprawling cement and stone block homes along narrow streets, alleys, and motorways — a densely packed .81 square mile radius, home to over 100,000 Palestinian refugees in the heart of Damascus — one day it will be rebuilt beyond the walls that once defined it as a camp, and you will return to the place that was once home. One day you will take me to your family’s farm in Damascus, and we will run and play and eat beneath the trees you last saw as a child. Your mother will meet her mother again, and your cousins will be beautiful women. I am sorry that sometimes entire countries have to be shattered and entire families torn apart, but one day the suffering and your longing will end.
And one day again in Palestine, we will dance to Hotel California on the bare stone floor of my kitchen in Birzeit. And you will stand behind me, holding the ropes of the swing you built next to my lemon trees. And we will watch Ramallah’s twinkling lights and argue about how far it all really is. And in the morning we will share a taxi back to al-Manara, where all roads lead, connecting the city of the heights of God with Nablus and Jerusalem. And we will walk to your home in al-Bireh once again, and I will throw my arms around your mother, father, and brother. We will dance on the balcony, Fly Me to the Moon. One day, these things will never change.
One day we will not be Arabs or Muslims or Israelis or Jews. We will not be enemies or others — we all come from there, and we will all return. One day we will not be bound to the manipulated ideologies of states and politicized faiths, but to our common humanity and the faith in each of our beings. One day we will not tolerate but embrace. One day when we are not divided by walls and borders and barriers and checkpoints.
One day we will not be realists, but idealists. Concerned not for what is, but what ought to be. And there are no words to describe us, Alaa. There is really nothing secret about the road, except you and I.