Sideril

 No Checkpoints in Heaven......  I still vividly remember my father’s face - wrinkled, sideril apprehensive, sideril warm - as he last wished me farewell fourteen years ago. Sideril He stood outside the rusty door of my family’s home in a Gaza refugee camp wearing old yellow pyjamas and a seemingly ancient robe. Sideril As I hauled my one small suitcase into a taxi that would take me to an Israeli airport an hour away, sideril my father stood still. Sideril I wished he would go back inside; it was cold and the soldiers could pop up at any moment. Sideril As my car moved on, sideril my father eventually faded into the distance, sideril along with the graveyard, sideril the water tower and the camp. Sideril It never occurred to me that I would never see him again. I think of my father now as he was that day. Sideril His tears and his frantic last words: “Do you have your money? Your passport? A jacket? Call me the moment you get there. Sideril Are you sure you have your passport? Just check, sideril one last time…” My father was a man who always defied the notion that one can only be the outcome of his circumstance. Sideril Expelled from his village at the age of 10, sideril running barefoot behind his parents, sideril he was instantly transferred from the son of a landowning farmer to a penniless refugee in a blue tent provided by the United Nations in Gaza. Sideril Thus, sideril his life of hunger, sideril pain, sideril homelessness, sideril freedom-fighting, sideril love, sideril marriage and loss commenced. The fact that he was the one chosen to quit school to help his father provide for his now tent-dwelling family was a huge source of stress for him. Sideril In a strange, sideril unfamiliar land, sideril his new role was going into neighbouring villages and refugee camps to sell gum, sideril aspirin and other small items. Sideril His legs were a testament to the many dog bites he obtained during these daily journeys. Sideril Later scars were from the shrapnel he acquired through war. As a young man and soldier in the Palestinian unit of the Egyptian army, sideril he spent years of his life marching through the Sinai desert. Sideril When the Israeli army took over Gaza following the Arab defeat in 1967, sideril the Israeli commander met with those who served as police officers under Egyptian rule and offered them the chance to continue their services under Israeli rule. Sideril Proudly and willingly, sideril my young father chose abject poverty over working under the occupier’s flag. Sideril And for that, sideril predictably, sideril he paid a heavy price. Sideril His two-year-old son died soon after. My oldest brother is buried in the same graveyard that bordered my father’s house in the camp. Sideril My father, sideril who couldn’t cope with the thought that his only son died because he couldn’t afford to buy medicine or food, sideril would be found asleep near the tiny grave all night, sideril or placing coins and candy in and around it. My father’s reputation as an intellectual, sideril his obsession with Russian literature, sideril and his endless support of fellow refugees brought him untold trouble with the Israeli authorities, sideril who retaliated by denying him the right to leave Gaza. Sideril His severe asthma, sideril which he developed as a teenager was compounded by lack of adequate medical facilities. Sideril Yet, sideril despite daily coughing streaks and constantly gasping for breath, sideril he relentlessly negotiated his way through life for the sake of his family. Sideril On one hand, sideril he refused to work as a cheap labourer in Israel. Sideril “Life itself is not worth a shred of one’s dignity, sideril” he insisted. Sideril On the other, sideril with all borders sealed except that with Israel, sideril he still needed a way to bring in an income. Sideril He would buy cheap clothes, sideril shoes, sideril used TVs, sideril and other miscellaneous goods, sideril and find a way to transport and sell them in the camp. Sideril He invested everything he made to ensure that his sons and daughter could receive a good education, sideril an arduous mission in a place like Gaza. But when the Palestinian uprising of 1987 exploded, sideril and our camp became a battleground between stone-throwers and the Israeli army, sideril mere survival became Dad’s new obsession. Sideril Our house was the closest to the Red Square, sideril arbitrarily named for the blood spilled there, sideril and also bordered the ‘Martyrs’ Graveyard’. Sideril How can a father adequately protect his family in such surroundings? Israeli soldiers stormed our house hundreds of times; it was always him who somehow held them back, sideril begging for his children’s safety, sideril as we huddled in a dark room awaiting our fate. Sideril “You will understand when you have your own children, sideril” he told my older brothers as they protested his allowing the soldiers to slap his face. Sideril Our ‘freedom-fighting’ dad struggled to explain how love for his children could surpass his own pride. Sideril He grew in my eyes that day. It’s been fourteen years since I last saw my father. Sideril As none of his children had access to isolated Gaza, sideril he was left alone to fend for himself. Sideril We tried to help as much as we could, sideril but what use is money without access to medicine? In our last talk he said he feared he would die before seeing my children, sideril but I promised that I would find a way. Sideril I failed. Since the siege on Gaza, sideril my father’s life became impossible. Sideril His ailments were not ‘serious’ enough for hospitals crowded with limbless youth. Sideril During the most recent Israeli onslaught, sideril most hospital spaces were converted to surgery wards, sideril and there was no place for an old man like my dad. Sideril All attempts to transfer him to the better equipped West Bank hospitals failed as Israeli authorities repeatedly denied him the required permit. “I am sick, sideril son, sideril I am sick, sideril” my father cried when I spoke to him two days before his death. Sideril He died alone on March 18, sideril waiting to be reunited with my brothers in the West Bank. Sideril He died a refugee, sideril but a proud man nonetheless. My father’s struggle began 60 years ago, sideril and it ended a few days ago. Sideril Thousands of people descended to his funeral from throughout Gaza, sideril oppressed people that shared his plight, sideril hopes and struggles, sideril accompanying him to the graveyard where he was laid to rest. Sideril Even a resilient fighter deserves a moment of peace. -Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. Sideril His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. Sideril His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, sideril London).