15th May is Nakba Day. Yawm an-Nakba, meaning ‘Day of the Catastrophe’, is a yearly commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. According to the Palestinian narrative, more than 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.
Inaugurated in 1998 by Yasser Arafat, the day is commemorated the day after the Gregorian calendar date for Israel’s Independence. The day is often marked by speeches and rallies by Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and in other places around the world. Nakba Day protesters often hold up keys, symbolising their desire to return to their pre-1948 homes.
To commemorate Nakba Day, we wanted to share some of our short stories by Palestinian writers:
He reaches behind him, over the seat, so the passengers next to me in the back of the car can put their fares into his outstretched hand. He carelessly chucks the money down beside him, with a gesture of disgust that I resent. In an attempt to get him talking, I mutter,
‘It’s a tough situation, but it’s temporary…’
‘There are more cars than passengers!’ he retorts. ‘What we take only just covers our fuel costs!’
He falls silent and contemplates me in his rearview mirror for a moment, before continuing bitterly,
‘A taxi driver’s exactly like a beggar: the only difference between them is that a beggar puts his hand out in front of him, and a driver puts his hand out behind him!’
As dawn breaks with the twittering of birds, she stands by the kitchen windowsill. Every day she greets the sunrise, absorbing through the window the radiance of the new day, the scents of the morning. But despite the mingling perfumes, fear invades the heart of Umm Ahmed.
Umm Ahmed stands by the window, meticulously washing her dishes, glasses and cutlery, escaping from the noises of aircraft and raids and bombs into the sound of water flowing from the tap. She contemplates the soap-bubbles on the glasses. The sunlight on the water droplets shimmers in her eyes, but her mind and heart are filled with images, with pictures of children consumed by shrapnel and fire. Tears run down Umm Ahmed’s cheeks and mingle with the sound of the water on the dishes.
She looks to the sky and sees far-off smoke, burning buildings. She jumps at the sound of an ambulance speeding, its tyres fighting the asphalt of the road, the paramedics inside. The radios in the street sing for the resistance. She talks to herself:
Read by actress Grazyna Monvid. From the Comma anthology The Book of Gaza.
(Excerpt from the novel):
The children have barely slept in days. Nor has anyone. Sometimes a couple of hours just isn’t enough, especially when the little sleep you get is stretched thin with anxiety. Worry plays like a lightning storm behind your eyelids whenever you close them. Only when that stops do your hands start to relax. Then, finally, sleep starts to gather around you, slowly, like a gentle whirlwind, circling you and your loved ones.
The pleasure of watching my kids sleep peacefully is no longer possible. Instead, what plays before my eyes are haunting images of the preceding day: a house in the neighborhood struck by a drone; photographs of mayhem posted online by various media; vivid descriptions of destruction from a friend who happened to be an eyewitness. Watching my kids sleep used to be one my greatest pleasures. I don’t know how many hours I’ve wasted watching my nineteen-month-old daughter, Jaffa, sleeping, drifting among the clouds of her dreams. I’d smile at every slightest movement: the occasional twitch of a limb, the faint smile dancing on her lips. This was my favorite moment of the day. But now, looking at my children and thinking they could be dead in a moment’s time, that they could be transformed into one of those images on the TV—it’s too much.
Read the full excerpt on LitHub here.