When Jaffa was home : An introduction
The intro to my final paper for university at Texas A&M:
A key: this is what has become one of the most cherished symbols, and in many cases family possessions, for Palestinians across the world. It represents a central component to Palestinian identity and a piece of home, lost. Kanaan King Al-Jamaal sits across from me, behind a wooden desk. The walls are adorned with images of Palestinian nationalism: the Palestine flag, a picture of Jerusalem, and posters with various statements about al-huq al-awda, the right of return. Kanaan is an official in the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) refugee affairs department. He has pulled out a small illustrated cartoon to help explain the issue of right of return and the role it plays in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The illustration was a quick primer on how the refugee issue is thought about on both sides and strategy for the future.
“Now we see here that the Israelis – the keys is the refugee issue – the right of return. Now, say that we bury this key; it means [that] we kill all the memories. We delete the memories from the minds of the refugees. And here they bury it, and here they say ‘it’s finished’. But unfortunately for the Israeli government and the Israeli army, here – this hole, this key, right? It planted more keys and more keys and more keys. It means that the new generation of refugees [are] being even more committed to the issue, more than their grandparents. So, the issue is really, very complicated now. It’s generations.”
In the old refugee neighborhood of al-Mahatta in Amman, my friend Abu Ahmad entertained me with stories of Jaffa. Conversation always came back to the oranges. Amongst the Palestinian community, Jaffa is famous for its oranges, bortoqal. The now Israeli city of Tel Aviv-Yafo is the modern materialization of Jaffa, what was once one of Palestine’s most notable cities. It still sits on the Mediterranean coast just south of Tel-Aviv, the ancient, weathered white stone juxtaposed against the glistening high-rise apartments and beach hotels of Israel’s modern capital. Jaffa’s old Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, mixed with Greek and Armenian churches, tell of a much different Palestine, one that lives in the memories of those who remember, and in the dreams of those who hope that it can be once again, when it was home.