Opinion

My Late Uncle Was Part of a Generation of Palestinian Giants

This generation didn’t despair, even though its surroundings radiated nothing but despair: in the words of the poet Mahmoud Darwish, they never stopped 'fighting and sowing hope'

The late Sa’id Bisharat, uncle of Haaretz writer Odeh Bisharat

When I was still in my mother’s womb, some 60 years ago, he was fleeing from the police after the May Day demonstration of 1958. That year, the military government had decided to put on a show to mark the 10th anniversary of Israel’s founding and show that its Arab citizens were happy and even grateful to the young state, which, just 10 years earlier, had expelled most of their countrymen, and afterward imposed a military government on them.

The communists disrupted this show, defying the organizers’ plans, and on May Day the streets of Nazareth became a battlefield between the demonstrators and the hundreds of policemen who forcibly suppressed the protest at the price of hundreds of wounded and hundreds of arrests.

That day, in my view, was the first intifada by Israeli Arabs against the chutzpah of the military government, which both oppressed them and asked them to smile for the cameras.

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My uncle Sa’id wasn’t arrested during the demonstration; he fled and hid from the policemen who were searching for him. At that time, he worked in Tel Hanan at a cooperative carpentry shop, some of whose members were Jewish communists, and the cooperative hid him.

It was during those stormy days that I was born. How did the poet Samih al-Qasim put it? “A generation passes and it shakes up the next generation: I fought, you will fight.”

Sa’id Bisharat died on Saturday at the age of 85. The man who at age 14 was deported from his village, Ma’alul, to the nearby village of Yafia, where he joined the communist youth movement, continued to do what the Palestinians know so well how to do – fight and “sow hope,” in the words of the poet Mahmoud Darwish.

There were tears in my eyes as I remembered those who have passed on from his generation. From a distance of years, I feel the enormous debt we owe this noble generation, which fought and refused to despair.

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Darwish wrote, “If the olive tree knew the hand that planted it, its oil would turn to tears.”

When I recall the members of that generation, I compare them to a small child, left vulnerable to the evil winds after four of his five brothers had been expelled, leaving him at the mercy of the expulsion forces. And in the end, after everything that had happened to him, they asked him to show joy on the day of his Nakba. But in 1958, this child mustered all his feeble strength for a resounding cry: No!

And therefore, they are the members of the founding generation who shaped the Palestinian reality in Israel after the state’s establishment in 1948. This generation didn’t despair, even though its surroundings radiated nothing but despair. They left the luxury of feeling despair to the elite few who, at any given moment, had the ability to take off their uniform, sit on the sidelines and criticize those who continued to fight.

The members of this founding generation – with no orders from on high – didn’t weep and wail, even though their hearts were bleeding. And on top of this, they knew the twists and turns of the road to survival.

Thus in the very first days of the Nakba, they pounded on doors to obtain identity cards from those who had expelled their countrymen. To observers from afar, this was impossible to understand, but to them, it was clear: They sought identity cards so they could remain here, not as a reward to the government that expelled and uprooted.

Today, the luxury of feeling despair and sitting on the sidelines is spreading, and there are loud, supposedly combative voices calling for a boycott of the upcoming election out of an excess of patriotism. But I say to them: You are betraying the path of the generation of giants, the generation that never boycotted an election. They saw every campaign as an element of the campaign for survival.

This legacy of the generation of giants contains all three legs of the tripod of a promising future – optimism, struggle and Jewish-Arab fraternity.

These three legs are the recipe for survival and further progress.

My Uncle Sa’id and the members of his generation embodied this winning formula. May his memory be blessed.