Reprise Society

Reprising ‘Golda Slept Here’ by Suad Amiry

An Israeli border policeman checks a young Palestinian woman’s documents as she enters the city from the West Bank.

An Israeli border policeman checks a young Palestinian woman’s documents as she enters the city from the West Bank. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/ IStock

At a time when the world is reeling from the shock of the senseless killing of a Palestinian journalist who was known to portray the travails of the people living in West Bank and Gaza, we turn to Suad Amiry’s Golda Slept Here (Women Unlimited), which traces the history of both Palestine and the émigré Palestinian community forced to live in other countries of West Asia and the world.

Displacement and exile, war and everyday battles, memory and remembrance, are dominant themes in the works of all Palestinian writers. Even in exile, Edward Said was rooted to the cause of Palestine, which informed his books from Orientalism to Culture and Imperialism. For Said, Mourid Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah was one of the “finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement.”

Barred from his homeland after 1967’s Six-Day War, Barghouti spent 30 years in exile, before returning in the summer of 1996 to a “whirlwind of emotions; happiness, of course, but regret, sorrow, surprise and anger” as well. When Raja Shehadeh began hill walking in Palestine in the 1970s, he was not aware that he was travelling through a vanishing landscape ( Palestinian Walks). Jewish settlements have come up on the hills and the Gaza Strip has become “completely out of bounds for Palestinians from the West Bank.”

“With a past irrevocably lost, Amiry and her cousins often walked to Jerusalem neighbourhoods for a glance of their old homes”

Writing an essay for the COVID anthology, And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again, Majed Abusalama, journalist, scholar and human rights activist, said the intifada imposed by Israel in December 1987 was like a forced quarantine. At the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, lockdowns, curfews and various types of restrictions were all he knew as he grew up.

Escape to Ramallah

Amiry, a well-known architect, uses poetry and prose as she maps the Palestinian landscape, recalling stories about individual members of Palestinian families, how some of them had to flee their homes in minutes as bullets flew past, the acute sense of loss and the never-ending struggle to come to terms with the present. Her parents lived in Jerusalem, and her father was the head of the Arabic programme on the Palestine Broadcasting Service.

View from the Mount of Olives in Jersalem through a barbed wire, as a symbol of the Israel-Palestine conflict

View from the Mount of Olives in Jersalem through a barbed wire, as a symbol of the Israel-Palestine conflict | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStock

In Part One of her book, ‘Remembering and Forgetting’, she looks back to May 1948 when the British left Palestine and “all hell broke loose”. The poem called ‘May 4 of 1948’ records the moment: “They left behind two fighting peoples/ One strengthened, the other weakened/ The new and mighty jubilated and went for more/ ‘What is mine is mine and what is yours is also mine.’” When the fighting between Jews and Arabs intensified, the Amiry family had to escape to Ramallah and later to Amman.

Absentee property

Amiry profiles the tragedy of master architect Andoni Baramki, who created “secular and religious projects” all over Palestine. For his own family, Baramki built two villas, one which he always referred to as nour hayati or ‘the light of my life’, later to become a museum. However, the Baramki family, like thousands of other Palestinians, was forced to abandon their home in 1948. For years, till the 1967 war, Baramki would sneak into the neighbourhood on Sunday to catch a glimpse of his “beloved”; later, when he went to court to seek a return to the family home, the judge threw the suit out because he was an ‘absentee landlord’ like other Palestinians and it was an ‘absentee property’.

With a past irrevocably lost, Amiry and her cousins often walked to Jerusalem neighbourhoods for a glance of their old homes — Edward Said had a home there too, long abandoned — sometimes running into inhabitants who “screamed” at them to get out and threatened to or often called the police. One day they stumbled onto a villa where Golda Meir lived, an Arab home called Villa Harun al-Rashid.

Amiry gleans details from her mother-in-law of the time she was forced to flee her home in Jaffa suddenly one morning, as shelling from Tel Aviv increased. Later, when an Israeli politician tells Amiry that he had been a Mossad agent in 1948 and had come across an Arab home where the coffee pot was still warm, she can hardly hold back the tears. “Would you ever let go of me?” she asks in the last poem, “My dreams are all about you/ And my nightmares are all because of you… Palestine, will you ever set us free?”

The writer looks back at one classic every month

sudipta.datta@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | May 28, 2022 5:53:30 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/society/looking-back-at-golda-slept-here-by-suad-amiry/article65442270.ece