I Was Born There, I Was Born Here

Mourid Barghouti, American University in Cairo Press (2014)

One of the many books in my suitcase that I’m carrying to Gaza for my friends and colleagues imprisoned there is Mourid Barghouti’s “I Was Born There, I Was Born Here.” I picked it up at the American University in Cairo bookstore when I arrived a month ago and decided to read it while I wait, not so patiently, for the Egyptian authorities and the U.S. Embassy to approve my travel across the Rafah border.

Barghouti was born in Palestine in 1944, was educated in Cairo where he met and married an Egyptian student. They had a son together in Cairo and shortly after Barghouti was expelled from Egypt and forced to live in exile, apart from his wife and child, for 17 years. Eventually, he was able to introduce his son to Palestine.


Mourid Barghouti with wife and son

The stories in this volume are a free-flowing collection of the author’s memories of his personal journeys – the tragedies and the joys, his dreams and fears, and finally returning full circle to the beginning.

(Israel’s blockade and siege of the Gaza Strip prevent most Palestinians from ever putting their hands on books like this one. I take the liberty, hopefully with the author’s blessing, to reprint a large portion of the final chapter for the benefit of many inside Gaza who won’t have a chance to read the book.)

Others may easily order it on Amazon.com.

Corruption is reaching a crisis point. The violence of the Occupation is increasing. Fatah is falling apart. Hamas is rising. This proves that the abyss can widen to take two victims at one time when both lose their minds.

The Authority has decided to sit on its throne waiting for the Israeli tank to smile.

The tank doesn’t smile.

The Arab rulers behave as though their countries are in a dilemma that can be resolved only in making concessions to their enemy and thus defusing the danger he represents. It never occurs to them that it is the Zionist project that is in crisis and that today it is caught in a real dilemma, which it doesn’t know how to get out of.

The Palestinian people, on whose disappearance it based all its calculations, haven’t disappeared and are still here, in its singular hell known as “the Occupied Homeland.” In addition, Israel hasn’t won a clear victory in any of its confrontations with the Arabs since 1967. Despite this, the Arab leaders have yet to lose their fear of victory. Indeed, they rejected victory when they clearly achieved it in 2006 in southern Lebanon and claimed defeat, so attached were they to the latter. The “peace process,” on whose pillow they have been sleeping so long, has exploded under all their heads. It’s just not working, chaps! The absurd peace process has killed more Arabs than all of Israel’s wars together. More dangerously than all this, though, it has seduced the Arab leaders into highjacking (sic) the meaning of the Palestinian cause itself and transforming it from one of national liberation into an NGO, and from a program of resistance into one of assistance, ignoring in so doing something every citizen knows, which is that the only form of resistance the Israelis will allow the Palestinians is the presentation of bunches of flowers to the soldiers of the Occupation. However, there aren’t enough flowers in Palestine for an army that keeps up its good work with such energy and constant appetite. During the long siege that the government of Israel has imposed on Gaza, tons of Gazan flowers prepared for export to Europe have become free food for sheep and goats, which munch on them with relish on Valentine’s Day. The Israeli army conducts its maneuvers against our bodies, and with live ammunition. Every time, it “keeps trying what’s already been tried” and doesn’t calm down and doesn’t relax and doesn’t solve its security problem. Israel has tried every kind of military assault against the Palestinians. The United States and the governments of Europe have tried every door except the one door that would lead to a real chance of a solution, which is the door of justice.

Palestinian official impotence, however, isn’t our last word. Here is a people that have never ceased to be extraordinarily creative in coming up with ways to go on living. What is new is that it is now clear that the Namiqs will never liberate the land and that the Palestinians must do something to reclaim their cause, which has been highjacked (sic) by political corruption. They must repossess the moral significance of resistance, cling to its legitimacy, and rid it of the bane of constant improvisation, chaos, and ugliness. The oppressed wins only if he is essentially more beautiful than his oppressor.

How much time has been lost?

The Palestinian cause is starting over again from the beginning. Wasn’t the beginning that a land was occupied and has to be reclaimed? And that a people were expelled from its land and has to return? Is the end that we come to today anything other than that beginning?