Silvan Shalom is the vice prime minister of Israel and minister for regional development. He wrote a column last week that appeared in a local paper in Chicago titled “Israel, striving to be a good neighbor.” It was an upbeat column, intended, I think, more for American consumption than to reinforce confidence among the Palestinians. But I did read it. And I was inspired by his words and his promised goal to “support Palestinian development.”
Maybe I am a sucker for politicians who have a habit of saying inspiring and great things, but doing something different. I’ve been a journalist for 35 years, so that makes me very cynical. Then again, maybe I always just want to believe that there is something far better behind the ugly headlines of conflict and continued turmoil that plagues Palestinian-Israeli relations.
There are things about Shalom that make me, at least as an Arab, believe he is genuine. He is a Jewish Arab born in Tunisia who immigrated to Israel as a one year old in 1959. About that time, my dad was able to get his brothers and sisters out of a refugee camp in Jordan and resettled in Chicago near by. I was seven at the time.
But Shalom is also a journalist, and despite what I know is a deep-seated bias in the mainstream media against Arabs, I think sometimes Israeli journalists are more open to see the “other side.”
So, maybe Shalom does “care” about us Palestinians.
AND IT is in that spirit that I am asking Minister Shalom to step in to my life and into the issue of my family’s land. It is located right in the middle of that spirit of cooperation that Shalom spoke about in his column, about how he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were working hard to improve relations with the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries by “increasing the level of economic cooperation.”
It would go a long way, Minister Shalom, if you would insure that no one messes with my family’s land, which has been handed down to me as the official representative of the “Hanania Palestinian people.”
My mother’s cousins on my grandmother’s side purchased about 34 dunams of land that sits in one of the valleys in Gilo that face Malha and the stadium. The land belongs to my cousins, the Tarud family. It is right around the mountain bend from a little Muslim village called Sharafat. It’s not too far away from the land owned by the Darweesh family.
For years, one of the family members at Sharafat watched over our land, harvesting the olives and other vegetables and fruits as a trade-off for his service. Three generations have passed. The caretaker lived in a small home that was on the side of the land, but that was torn down by Israeli soldiers sometime in the 1970s. They sealed the water well that was nearby, too. (It wasn’t a great gesture of wanting to work together, by the way. But, I guess, stuff happens.) The land has more than 100 olive trees and Zarzour berries. I’ve been to it several times in the past few years, as my cousins have passed away, leaving the land’s ownership in the hands of one last cousin, who placed the power of attorney in my hands.
For five years I have tried my best to gain control of my family’s land. I have all of the original papers and even the sales document stamped by the Ottoman government, and registered in Bethlehem, where my mother’s family is from.
And for five years, all I have been given is the runaround. “We don’t ‘steal’ anyone’s land,” I have been told by countless Israeli officials who defend the expansion of settlements like Gilo, which was once a security settlement and is a prestigious and “old” neighborhood these days.
PALESTINIANS HAVE not been that helpful, either. They keep threatening me that I “must not sell the land to the Jews.” And everyone wants a piece of it to help me protect it.
I brought it to an Israeli realtor to put it on the market to see what I can get from Palestinians or Israelis. They found one potential buyer, “Yossi,” who offered a paltry $600,000 through a prominent law firm on King George Avenue.
But Yossi never followed through. The deal was never consummated. I don’t trust too many people anymore. I ignore the threats from Palestinians and the hypocritical advice I get from other Arabs who tell me, “Don’t do anything. We’ll get it all back one day.”
The biggest problem, though, is the Israelis, Every trip to an Israeli office has ended in a bad experience. Why should they help me when maybe, if they wait long enough, they can just take it from me. Who am I to complain?
But that would contradict the spirit of what Minister Silvan Shalom wrote about in his glowing column on how much Israel’s government wants to help Palestinians through cooperative development.
Okay, Minister Shalom. Here’s my deal: You develop the land for me. I want to create a peace oasis where Palestinians and Israelis can come together to learn about cooperation. Maybe they can build a business there run by both sides. Maybe we can build a theater there where Israelis and Palestinians can creatively work out their conflicting narratives through writing, comedy, stage plays and sometimes just sharing a cup of coffee.
Yea, that’s it. Maybe we build a big coffee shop that caters to both sides so that Palestinians and Israelis can come together. Or, maybe it’s all just a bunch of baloney – kosher or halal, who cares.
And it’s all just talk. I’d like to believe there are some good
Israelis out there who really do care about “Palestinian development,”
and maybe even do the right thing.
Imagine, Palestinians and Israelis sharing a table in a disputed region
not too far from Jerusalem to the north. Sharing a finjan kahwah and
even having their futures read from the grinds at the bottom of the
My mother, bless her heart, read my fortune once when I was young. And
she said to me, “One day, you’ll be at the forefront of peace.” I’m
here. Just sometimes, it feels a little lonely.
Named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media, the writer
is a Palestinian-American columnist and peace activist. He can be
reached at www.YallaPeace.com.