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My grandmother’s chronicling of the war does not end
Mahmoud Muneer
2015/05/21

-It is war! It is war!

-O Angel of the Lord, restrain it…

-It is war, unfortunately–how much I desire it not to be my fault!

 

The words of the German poet Matthias Claudius return me to the 1980s. I was a child in primary school in Abu Dhabi, at the peak of the Iran-Iraq war, and the news bulletins on the television screens and over the radio waves projected and enumerated the news of the war, which extended without resolution or anticipated end.

 

On my way to school, I ride accompanied by my father and my uncle who drives us in the car, both of them listening to the news bulletins, where the announcers and commentators do not tire of analyzing the effects of the war and its future. Talk interrupts the silence suddenly, from authorities who are not politically or intellectually qualified to put forward coherent and reasonable views–this vessel for the despair and frustration played a big role and continues to mobilize the Arab masses, and suppress them as well.

 

The debate was neither long nor dialectic, and it ended soon after with the terrible sense of Arab helplessness of that time, and of this time as well. As a child, I was accompanied by the feeling that the description of the enemy in that painful war, which killed dozens and wounded hundreds, was above all a description that was purely imaginary–surrounded by great superstition, larger than its true size or nature. I continue to hold a similar position after more than thirty years, throughout which wars in the region have left many scars, but with a different cognitive and ideological view toward it.

 

Back then, I grasped the mere background of the war and considered it not exciting at all. I forgot it, despite its overwhelming presence in the view of my stay in the Gulf (a central participant in the war and its main supporting party), innocently wondering about the meaning and feasibility of war, given my lack of experience in such matters, and about that destruction which means loss and bereavement. However, it was not too many years before I realized that the war gave birth to other wars and that this is the deeper meaning of destruction.

 

I was waiting eagerly for the end of the newscast so that, before arriving to school, I could hear a Fairuz song, Wadih El Safi or one of the other Lebanese songs which Monte Carlo would broadcast before and after each bulletin.

 

Songs to the beat of the war, like what my grandmother played to the tune of another to transmit to myself, and her more than thirty grandchildren, the details of the Nakba–of how she was displaced from her land, a girl of sixteen years old, and forced to leave behind the orange groves of her village, Serene, near the city of Beit She-an. Perhaps I have grown so many orange seedlings to form the dream of my grandmother.

 

“In the Country,” were terms equal to the loss, so the dream was born of that great country. She spread stories, tales and songs of her country, attributing to it laurels and dignities, throughout the seventy years that my grandmother lived. A tear fled my grandmother at the end of each story or novel as she lamented the county which was destroyed by the Zionist occupation forces, her hometown Serene vanished altogether from existence, and salty tears fell from my grandmother onto my hands which erased them.

 

My grandmother was a woman with an unrelenting determination. She had the hardness of men and a rare will. Few could manage to educate ten boys and pay for all of their schools and universities, or know how to encourage them in their learning, despite her illiteracy. It was that illiteracy which brought about the exceptional consciousness where she held her very strong memory, preparing her to list events hundreds of times without adding or deleting a single word whenever she told of them, preserving her chronicle in her children, her children’s children, each of their generations, and all the hours and the minutes. Her illiteracy was not discovered by her children and their friends until years after their progression in their studies.

 

My grandmother’s consciousness chronicle was keen on all times and dates of the proceedings. Life changed form on May 15, 1948, the passing of the days on the calendar did not cease, and each time there was a new defeat or the last fracture which took her away from her Serene. The latent desire pushed her towards more of life and more of hope.

 

The smell of oranges followed my grandmother’s talk. I understood early on the meaning of the homeland existing within the dream, and what it meant for a human to live a life that looked full to the senses and perceptions but at the same time was a life with its roots in another place, a place she could not see but in a dream. I understood that the war could weave these two lives together and split a human in two–her mind residing here while her heart resides there.

 

My grandmother chronicled the war since the occupation of Palestine, and every war that followed the Nakba, which generated each of the wars that followed it. The Iran-Iraq war ended and with it the Lebanese Civil War, and in record time experienced: the Gulf War of ’91, the U.S. War on Iraq in 2003, the July War in 2006, and three brutal wars against Gaza, and today the civil conflicts in more than one Arab country, including the two intifada uprisings against Zionist occupation.

 

From every war I lived through I took away a sense of a certain loss, which returns me again back to Claudius: It is war, unfortunately–how much I desire it not to be my fault!

 

Mahmoud Muneer is a writer, journalist and the editor of the “Takween” section on AmmanNet

 

*The Arabic version of this op-ed article appeared on May 17, 2015. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of AmmanNet.

Translated by Julia Norris

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