No Checkpoints in Heaven
I still vividly remember my father’s face - wrinkled, apprehensive, warm - as he last wished me farewell fourteen years ago. He stood outside the rusty door of my family’s home in a
I think of my father now as he was that day. His tears and his frantic last words: “Do you have your money? Your passport? A jacket? Call me the moment you get there. Are you sure you have your passport? Just check, one last time…”
My father was a man who always defied the notion that one can only be the outcome of his circumstance. Expelled from his village at the age of 10, running barefoot behind his parents, 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
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. In a strange, unfamiliar land, his new role was going into neighbouring villages and refugee camps to sell gum, aspirin and other small items. His legs were a testament to the many dog bites he obtained during these daily journeys. Later scars were from the shrapnel he acquired through war.
As a young man and soldier in the Palestinian unit of the Egyptian army, he spent years of his life marching through the Sinai desert. When the Israeli army took over
My oldest brother is buried in the same graveyard that bordered my father’s house in the camp. My father, who couldn’t cope with the thought that his only son died because he couldn’t afford to buy medicine or food, would be found asleep near the tiny grave all night, or placing coins and candy in and around it.
My father’s reputation as an intellectual, his obsession with Russian literature, and his endless support of fellow refugees brought him untold trouble with the Israeli authorities, who retaliated by denying him the right to leave
His severe asthma, which he developed as a teenager was compounded by lack of adequate medical facilities. Yet, despite daily coughing streaks and constantly gasping for breath, he relentlessly negotiated his way through life for the sake of his family. On one hand, he refused to work as a cheap labourer in
But when the Palestinian uprising of 1987 exploded, and our camp became a battleground between stone-throwers and the Israeli army, mere survival became Dad’s new obsession. Our house was the closest to the Red Square, arbitrarily named for the blood spilled there, and also bordered the ‘Martyrs’ Graveyard’. 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, begging for his children’s safety, as we huddled in a dark room awaiting our fate. “You will understand when you have your own children,” he told my older brothers as they protested his allowing the soldiers to slap his face. Our ‘freedom-fighting’ dad struggled to explain how love for his children could surpass his own pride. He grew in my eyes that day.
It’s been fourteen years since I last saw my father. As none of his children had access to isolated
Since the siege on
“I am sick, son, I am sick,” my father cried when I spoke to him two days before his death. He died alone on March 18, waiting to be reunited with my brothers in the
My father’s struggle began 60 years ago, and it ended a few days ago. Thousands of people descended to his funeral from throughout
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London).