Ahmad Abu Husein from Baqa el Gharbiyeh, the Triangle located inside the Green Line. He is from the same place as the protagonist in The Almond Tree and he was the inspiration for me naming my protagonist Ichmad. We studied Middle Eastern studies together at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He still lives in his village in the Triangle. Here is his comments concerning the authenticity of The Almond Tree and his response to Abulhawa’s erroneous allegations.
From the very outset, and before responding to the comments made on the novel entitled “The Almond Tree,” by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, I want to say that the comment made by Susan Abulhawa bewildered and surprised me. It stunned me. The strange thing about it is that it is incorrect. It is devoid of any factual support or logical analysis. It may be that Ms. Abulhawa absolutely refuses to accept another view ever, which is definitely unacceptable.
What stunned me most about her comment is that I am part and parcel of this beautiful novel, personally and emotionally. In particular, I lived the events of this novel moment by moment on the stage of reality together with the author of the novel. I still live it.
In my opinion, the main protagonist of this novel should have been the author of the novel herself, because she lived its event on the stage of reality, in its totality. She saw all this with her own eyes along with all the accompanying sufferings and sacrifices.
Before responding to Abulhawa in depth and detail, I am obliged to shed some light on what was in the novel, especially some of its excellent artistic and literary styles. We see this excellence in the metaphoric use. For example, we see how the author portrays the magnificence of the Palestinian mother’s steadfast patience and compassion inside Israel. How this mother sews her children’s clothes, how she feeds them the little food that is available to her, perhaps some rice, in order to provide for them a better future, a comfortable and dignified life in order to carry them to a safe and secure life, especially after losing all sources of living in the aftermath of the war of 1948, when some Palestinians became resident refugees within the state of Israel. We see how the novel uses the borrowing style, which contains within it pride in and devotion to the mother.
Is there anyone who can deny the magnificent mother? This is my mother and this is what my mother did and what every Palestinian mother did after the Nekbeh, (the Catastrophe of 1948.)
Yes, we were allowed to eat meat only once a week, which was in the form of a chicken divided among nine people. I don’t deny that it was the only day during which we saw meat, and I will be frank with you that it was the day I used to celebrate. And my mother succeeded, for you can see me now writing these beautiful words about her.
As for the novel itself, I have no alternative but to admit that “I read it” before it was written and after it was written because I lived its events with the novelist. And I can say that it was written in accordance with the original text in both cases. It was a living picture to the reality we lived over the years, the reality the novelist and I, as well as the rest of the Palestinian Arab community inside Israel (Or as is commonly referred to as the Arabs inside the green line) lived, including the policies of deportations and the racist laws, in addition to the daily sufferings in conducting the various official dealings of the State in the simple daily living matters of the various succeeding Israeli governments. There is no doubt that there were many Israeli Jews who did not approve of these policies and of these practices, which they continuously fought. These Jewish citizens tried to create an environment of equality and peaceful coexistence, as a result of which there was a lot of progress in this regard over the years.
Before becoming engrossed in the response to Abulhawa’s comments and before addressing her unjustified attack against the novel’s author, first I have to introduce myself. This introduction is significant to the subject matter and its private aspects. I am the Ahmad mentioned in the novel. I am from a village named Baqa el Gharbiyeh located in an area called The Triangle, or The Small Triangle, or what later became known as the villages within the green line. This area, which includes my village, was given to Israel in the aftermath of the 1948 War, and became a part of it. Its residents became citizens of Israel. They carry Israeli identification cards.
As for the areas and villages east of the green line, which became known as the areas of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, they became part of Jordan until the War of 1967.
In the aftermath of Israeli dominance of this area inside the green line, Israel imposed Martial Law on it for about twenty years. I lived part of this period myself.
I must say here that my village was never a part of the West Bank, as Abulhawa claimed in her comment, perhaps erroneously, or perhaps due to lack of knowledge of historical and geographical facts.
I met Michelle when she arrived at Hebrew University in Jerusalem the very first moment of her arrival. Over many years we met every day together not separating for a moment. We learned, traveled, ate and drank together.
Throughout this period, Michelle lived with me the Palestinian Arab Israeli existence, with all that it carried with it of suffering, contradictions and sacrifices, on me and on her also. When we first met, she had no idea of my circumstances or of the circumstances of the Palestinian people as a whole. The foundation of her moral, human and liberal upbringing, however, made her a careful listener to the opinions of others.
I will not dwell too much on describing the sacrifices the author made on behalf of this segment of Palestinian society inside Israel. I will be content in relating one or two examples, among hundreds the author was an inseparable part of, which we lived together, of which the author was the heroine. These examples will be among the responses to Abulhawa’s false claims.
During that period Michelle (the author) and I used to live in Wad Al Joaz as neighbors in East Jerusalem. One evening I received the news of my mother’s death. At that time I was a young man in my early years with high ambitions. After returning from the mourning period, there were exams I missed, which I could not take due to my mother’s death. I could not pass the academic year without taking these exams.
When I proceeded to the Division Secretariat to ask for a date to take the exams I missed, I was requested to present a document proving my mother’s death. When Michelle heard that, she began to cry hard with heartfelt pain. The next morning she went to the Division, her tears rolling down her cheeks, screaming at the Division’s secretary, insulting her and accusing her of racism and fascism, something had I done I would have faced expulsion or even imprisonment. In this connection, I have to mention Michelle’s tears that let me return to the benches of learning after the period of mourning, because I was depressed. Is this a stolen story, Ms. Abulhawa?
As for another example, which occurred when the first Palestinian Intifada exploded, there were many who were wounded in the streets of Jerusalem. Michelle asked me to join her by visiting Al Maqased Hospital in East Jerusalem to offer moral support to the injured. We in fact made the visit to the hospital. Is this also a stolen story, Ms. Abulhawa, or is Michelle its actual heroine? Would you have dragged me to make this visit, especially at the very outset of the Intifada? For sure many like you did not make such visits to the wounded of the Intifada. The discussion will be long if I were to enumerate more examples and other encounters.
Another matter that stirred my curiosity among the complex of comments made by Abulhawa is how my name or the name “Ahmed” is pronounced. Her absurd allegations show Abulhawa’s ignorance about the rural or village environment in which I live. Her ignorance of its geography, of its history and of its culture is behind her assertion that my name is never pronounced as Ichmed. It must be acknowledged that the village in which I live and the residents of the entire area pronounce my name with an “i” that is “Ichmed” instead of “Ahmed.” This is the common rural pronunciation.
As for Abulhawa’s claim and accusation of Michelle with racism, for me this matter is a sign of stupidity and disgust. It is a sign of the times we live in, because it is unreasonable to accuse one, who fought racism, and who continues to fight it, with racism. In my opinion, Abulhawa’s own accusations are themselves racist.
As for Abulhawa’s claim that we Palestinians with Israeli citizens do not receive education in Israeli universities, this claim is wrong and misleading at the same time. The overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs of 48, or the Arabs inside the green line attend Israeli universities. My teachers in the years of the fifties and sixties studied in Israeli universities. I myself studied in and graduated from an Israeli university. Up until 1967, we, in the first place, were not allowed to speak with any Palestinian who was not an Israeli, or with any other Arab, nor were we permitted to travel to the West Bank. Since the peace accords with Egypt and with Jordan, however, we have been permitted to travel to these two countries.
Ichmad goes to college in 1966. At that time, it was illegal for a Palestinian from Israel to go to the West Bank as it was under Jordanian rule. Given the fact that Ichamd’s father is imprisoned, his brother is crippled, he is barely keeping his family afloat, it would be completely absurd for him to self-deport to Jordan, abandoning his family so he could study there. First of all he lacked funds. With Israeli citizenship, how would he have gotten across the border? Where would he stay and how would he support himself? Because he chooses to accept a scholarship and stipend to Hebrew University which he won in a math contest because he was smarter than the Jewish Israeli students and for which he didn’t have to give anything to Israel in exchange for and he doesn’t self-deport to Jordan doesn’t make Michelle a white supremist, racist.
Finally, but not least, Ms. Abulhawa should have offered moral support to a young woman who made many sacrifices on behalf of a segment of the Palestinian people that did not abandon its land, or its culture, or its history. Even Abulhawa herself does not know this Palestinian society or its geography.
This young novelist of “The Almond Tree,” could have lived a very comfortable life, and could have married whoever was available in Israel and elsewhere, and believe me I saw that with my own eyes, but she refused with stubborn determination and remained at my side to the last moment, and until now she is ready to sacrifice all she owns, and she did not need to exhaust herself with this matter.
As for me, I wish to end my essay with a word in English addressed to Michelle Cohen Corasanti: Thank you, Michelle.