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Lara Tries to Go Home

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Demonstrations in Ramallah & Sakhnin directly following the Flotilla Attacks (plus a few photos from Bil'in)

Friday prayers and speech outside the Old City walls after the Army prevented Muslims to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Our delegation arrived safely in Palestine a couple weeks ago. We exited our plane at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, built on part of a Palestinian town of Lyd, most of whose inhabitants either fled in 1948 during the Nakba and remain in refugee camps in Amman, Jordan or Ramallah, West Bank living under deplorable conditions, or they live as second-, third-, or fourth-class citizens in what remains of the town, now part of Israel. The removal of 17,948 of Lyd's population of 19,000, in 1948, was led by former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, hailed as a peacenik by those unfamiliar with his history of brutality that continued through the First Intifada (during which Rabin implemented a policy of breaking the arms and legs of any Palestinian who threw a stone at an Israeli tank, jeep, etc.) and beyond. Rabin wrote the following in his own diary shortly after 1948 attacks driving out almost 95% of Lyd's non-Jewish population:

"After attacking Lydda [Lyd] Ben-Gurion would repeat the question: What is to be done with the population?, waving his hand in a gesture which said: Drive them out!. 'Driving out' is a term with a harsh ring, .... Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook." (Soldier Of Peace, p. 140-141 & Benny Morris, p. 207)

His guilt and psychological struggle didn't prevent him from giving orders to do the same to neighboring villages ('Imwas, Yalu, and Bayt Nuba) 19 years later.

The struggle of the remaining inhabitants of Lyd (now citizens of Israel) for recognition as equal human beings and their isolation from their fellow Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Diaspora is documented beautifully in one of my favorite documentaries about Palestine: Slingshot Hip Hop, documenting the rising Palestinian hip-hop movement as resistance to oppression through the spoken word.

Anyway, arriving at Israel's airport, named after Ben-Gurion himself, our delegates waited anxiously in line for passport control, hoping we would not be targeted given our desire to meet with Palestinians. Israel recently denied entry to Noam Chomsky, who was on his way to give a talk at a Palestinian university, to name but one example. Those eventually interrogated from our group were no surprise--two Palestinian delegates, simply trying to visit their homeland.

They each told us their stories that night, but I'll focus on the story of just one: Lara.

Lara stood in line next to a large group of young Jewish Americans talking excitedly about coming on vacation to Israel. They were breezed through with a smiling, "Welcome to Israel." When Lara reached passport control, they didn't bother asking her any questions. Her name was enough. Security escorted her to another room where she was held for over an hour. First, they asked for her phone number in the United States. She gave it to them" What will they do with it? They asked where her parents were born. "Gaza," she answered. That was all the questioner needed to know. "You will have to visit the Ministry of Interior," he said, and took her into a third room.

"What is your father's name?" Lara answered. "I know," he replied.

"What is your mother's name?" Lara answered. "I know," he replied again.

"What is your father's mother's name?" "What is your mother's father's name?" "What is your mother's mother's name?" She answered each question and with each he replied, "I know."

When the interrogator asked, "What is your father's father's name?" Lara replied that she actually didn't know because he died long before she was born. But he knew, and before her eyes he sketched out the family tree of her own family, most of them uprooted from their homes by the Israeli Army. He said "Your grandfather's name is Sayyid. And your father's name is not only Ahmad. It is Ahmad Mahmoud Sayyid Elborno."

Lara asked, "If you know the answers to all these questions, why are you asking me?" but he didn't respond. He continued:

"What date did your grandparents get married?"

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Anna Baltzer is a Jewish-American Columbia graduate, former-Fulbright scholar, the granddaughter of Holocaust refugees, and an award-winning lecturer, author, and activist for Palestinian rights. As a volunteer with the International Women's Peace (more...)
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