Said K Aburish

Said K Aburish



This is the afterward of the new
French Edition of "Children of Bethany."

French Edition of Children of Bethany

The Muffled Sound of Despair

In August 1990 the first Gulf War is on the way and I am on my way to Jerusalem on Dan Air Flight 4964. From Ben Gurion Airport I travelled to the biblical village of Bethany to spend two to three months researching a book about the first intifada.

This was the longest time I am to spend with my family since 1948. This was the best way to discover what has happened to my people since I wrote Children of Bethany six years before. The background to my presence, The Gulf Crisis brought about by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait served as background to my effort and I thought that’s good. Everybody was stressed and, under stress, people show their true colours. Life is exposed without the trimmings of pretence.

My impression of the new reality to which my family, and by that I mean the Aburish clan, belong started on the plane. My discourse with the pretty Israeli girl sitting next to me on the plane came to an end the moment the plane landed. ‘We are in Israel’, she announced in a way which said our friendly conversation was a thing of the past. Indeed it was.

My Israeli neighbour went through immigration and customs in no time at all. My fate was different. When checking out of immigration a colour coded paper was put in my passport. As I moved forward two security officers eyed the pink slip of paper and stopped me. They took away my passport, asked me to collect my luggage and go into a room under the sign welcoming people to Israel. It was 31° outside and despite the air conditioning not much better inside.

The room I entered with my luggage on a trolley is bare except for a small metal bench on which, obeying instructions, my suitcases were placed. Opposite me appeared a dumpy and dishevelled twenty some year old girl. The officers were nowhere.

‘Why are you coming to Israel?’

I was tempted to say that I am coming to the place where my family has been for a thousand years, but I still say ‘To visit my family in Bethany.’

‘Where is that?’

‘Two miles east of Jerusalem.’

‘When was the last time you visited them?’

‘Almost six years ago.’

‘Why do you keep coming back? Don’t you have family in London where you live?’

Suddenly my face was hot. No, I think, I didn’t have family in London. They were not as rude as this girl in London but I lived there as an outsider, a refugee. And the indignity of being a refugee never stops to hurt.

The security girl, amazingly a private company runs security at Tel Aviv airport, was inept. She made a big deal about a stimulator I used for my bad back but eventually she let me go.

My first cousins Khalil and Zakkaria (sons of Mahmoud) and Ashraf (son of Daoud) were there to meet me. They were happy to see me despite their two hour wait. On the way out Ashraf’s car was stopped twice and we were finally heading towards Jerusalem. Zakkaria spoke first, ‘Do you think there is going to be a war in the Gulf, Said?’


A long discussion of the rights and wrongs of the situation followed. It is the atmosphere of fear that prevails, the one holding the whole Middle East in its grip, that I felt most. It was more present than anything else. It had a tactile quality to it.

The Aburishs who were still in Bethany numbered about 50, about ten percent of the family, and by circumstance, the financially worse off. With exceptions they are the offspring of Mahmoud, Daoud, Fatmeh , Amneh and some of Mousa.

Ibrahims son are all in America and none of us is in Bethany. I am in London, a fulltime writer, and so is my brother Afif, an airline executive, but Wagih perhaps in financial terms the most successful Aburish of them all is in Seattle, Alia is married to a doctor in Houston, Texas, Mona is the wife of an international hotelier, Rabah is in the Gulf, running a travel agency and Munif is a businessman in Saudi Arabia, though his revolutionary background keeps him from travelling to Europe and America.

Mother, who had escaped the horrors of Lebanon’s civil war by moving to live with Alia in Houston, died in 1987 while visiting relations in Jordan. Her death, like everything in our lives, produced a humiliation. Banned from Jordan for writing critically about King Hussein, I had been away from the country for years. I still telephone a member of his Majesty’s government asking for forty-eight hours safe conduct. My request was denied.

My father, ninety-five now and eighty one while I visit Bethany in 1990, is retired in Seattle, Washington and lives by himself close to my brother Wagih. He stopped his work for Time in 1986. His achievements as Time’s man in Beirut were celebrated at a party attended by 500 people. People flew to New York from Beirut, London, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, South Africa and other places to attend. At the end of the festive evening the announcement was made confirming an old promise made to my father by Time magazine founder Henry Luce, that he, my father, is an employee of the corporation for the rest of ‘his natural life’. The corporation has honoured Luce’s pledge.

The element which continues to form and shape the over 400 descendents of Khalil and Rasheda Aburish is Palestine and their commitment to it. That continues to be transmitted from one generation to another, father or mother to children, down the line without exception. Of course there is mellowness brought about by our circumstances and where we live but it stops short of interfering in the overall commitment.

The most representative Aburishs in terms of our relationship to Palestine and what happened to us, to our sense of statehood, are the ones who continue to live in Bethany – under the boot of the Israeli occupation. Their reality differs from ours. The brutality of the Israeli occupation is as constant as a toothache. They have no pursuits or ambitions which are strong enough to make them ignore or forget, however temporarily, the confrontation with Israel’s once secret but now open refusal to grant them the slimmest of what falls under the heading human rights.

The story of Ali Ali Aburish and his children dramatizes the conditions under which they live but it doesn’t exaggerate them. Ali was born after his father, my uncle Ali, was killed fighting in Jerusalem in 1948. My testimony regarding his character is the same as that of other members of the family. Not only was Ali well brought up, he was probably the most popular person in Bethany. Among others his students adored him. A man of modest ambitions, he always wanted to be a teacher.

Twelfth September 1990 is the date for the sentencing of Ali’s sons Amen and Nasser. The boys had been under detention for sixteen months – they were fifteen and fourteen when they were arrested. Like her husband, Hala Irekat Aburish was born in 1949, a few months after her uncle and cousin were killed during the battle of Jerusalem. It is reasonable to assume that Ali’s and Hala’s children grew up with strong anti-Israel feelings. Given that their grandfather died fighting for Palestine they represent the third generation of Aburishs who held the line defending their country.

The crimes with which Amer and Nasser are charged are simple enough: that they belonged to a cell of young people whose aim is to resist Israeli occupation. The cell is supposed to be loyal to the PLO. They are accused of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at army Israeli patrol. Regardless of their age and the nature and scope of their actions, the Israelis considered them terrorists.

The Aburish family, their friends and the rest of Bethany saw them differently. To us, both were outstanding students, obedient children, popular with everybody and somewhat older than their years. Both are quite tall and very handsome.

As the question of the character of the accused is clear, were they involved in anti-Israeli activity? Yes. They proudly admitted that, and state that they are committed to resisting Israeli occupation. But they deny any attacks against army patrols with stones or Molotov cocktails.

Hala, their mother, and I are in Ramallah for the sentencing. I am deputizing for their father who remains outside of the compound of the court in Ramallah. It is a hot day and everything is dusty. The Israeli guards interrogate us as to why we were there, searched us, verified the names of Amer and Nasser and let us in after taking our passports. Walking towards the courtroom, Hala told me that it was the fourth time they had re-scheduled the day of sentencing. The delays are aimed at shattering the spirits of the accused and their families. In the courtroom, no larger than a living room, I met their lawyer Abid Al Assali for the first time.

The judge’s chair is raised with a lectern in front of it. There is an Israeli flag and various emblems of the Israeli administration. To the left is a chair and small desk for the advocate-general. The defendants are meant to be in a cage left of the audience. An old fashioned fan is making too much noise.

The lawyer tells me there are nine courts in the entire West Bank and eight thousand people are awaiting trial. Then he tells me how the laws of occupation enable the Israelis to keep someone in detention for years without trial. There is no limit. After a while I refrain from asking questions.

Hala sat next to me in the second line of chairs facing the judge’s lectern reading a Koran. I became confused and very lonely. I silently appeal to him to grant me strength. When a big tear rolled down my cheek I wiped it with a tissue and muttered a silent ‘fuck’. Hala was in her Koran.

‘Quiet, quiet, all of you... quiet.’

The judge and advocate-general walk in conversing in Hebrew. A Red Cross person is taking notes. The advocate general is an army officer. But it was the judge who intrigued. They part and the judge is occupying his place. He nods to the back of the room and six prisoners are brought in. For a few seconds there is a commotion but it dies out.

But a higher law than that of Israel is invoked. Hala moved to the cage and embraced her sons. I was behind her but my legs were weak. My arms reached out and I am transformed and transported. Nasser’s arms are strong.

‘How are you, Uncle Said?’

‘I am fine. More important, is how you are.’

Sorry, haven’t had a chance to read the last book…’

The sergeant interrupts, ‘Everyone to their seats…’ We obey.

The defence lawyer turns to Nasser and his fellow defendants. He tells of a bargain he reached with the advocate-general to settle the case. In return for pleading guilty to two charges, throwing Molotov cocktails and organising activities against the state of Israel, the advocate-general will drop the rest, including belonging to a terrorist organisation. The court will take into account the time they have already served and they will get a light sentence, perhaps another year.

Nasser speaks for the group after an agitated conversation of two minutes. He stands up and looks manly; he emits a strong physical presence. All eyes are on him. Silence reigns.

‘The bargain struck by our lawyer and the advocate-general is not acceptable to us. We do not accept that belonging to a Palestine resistance movement constitutes a conspiracy. Furthermore, there are no circumstances under which we would pay fines to the Israeli government. We are ready to have this illegal court sentence us as it wishes.’

Nasser sat down and all eyes are on the judge. He and the advocate-general are unhappy. The boys’ lawyer says something in Hebrew. The prisoners are ushered out. I wanted to talk to him, to Nasser. I wanted them to bring my cousin back so I could tell him how much I love him. I wanted to give him an all-embracing hug to tell him how proud I am. But of course they don’t bring him back. His mother listens to him with head bowed and never raises her head from her Koran. The judge announces they will be sentenced the following week.

Back in Bethany in Ali’s home our conversation is about conditions in prisons; the ban on my book, Children of Bethany, included. But it isn’t only me, David Grossman and other Israeli writers are included.

The conversation continues over a simple late lunch prepared by Ali’s daughter Sherrouk. Eating is slow. The events of the day preclude a healthy appetite. Then Hala asks her husband to tell me about another aspect of prison life, torture. He obliges:

‘Sometimes some of the detainees do not appear because they have been beaten up. The lawyers can’t do much about it. The world isn’t interested. Human rights organisations have no power. Torture is common…’

Taken aback I interrupt him:’ I have to record the history of Amer and Nasser later…’

I am not allowed to finish. In turn Hala interrupts me and begins telling how one time the boys’ sweaters had been shredded by a whip…’

Suddenly, Hala, Ali and Sherrouk are crying and so am I. We cry our hearts out for a few minutes without a word being said. Only the muffled sound of despair could be heard.

My cousins Amer and Nasser were sentenced to six year prison terms. They served four years each.

The news of their sentence is received by Aburishs in all corners of the world in no time at all and it generates worldwide anger which expresses itself differently by their relations. Some, like my father, decide on what they considered the only way they could help and they send Ali’s family money. From London I promised to sponsor one of the boys through university. The Aburishs in Bethany take to visiting Ali and Hala and commiserating with them on a regular basis.

In fact there is only person with misgivings about the situation, and that is Uncle Mahmoud. Mahmoud has been headman and mayor of Bethany since the 1930’s. An old man who failed to understand the intifada altogether, he has considerable disrespect for the Arabs which he expresses crudely. ‘The Arabs, their people, their promises, and everything else about them can kiss my ass.’ On the surface there is something hugely unattractive about his bitterness. On analysis, it is understandable.

Ibrahim, who died in 1984, never became bitter. He was cynical and irreverent but never bitter. Despite his age, any Arab-Israeli fight after 1967 would still have found him ready to fight. His cynicism was directed at Arafat and the New Palestinian leadership, especially their corruption. ‘Had I, in 1948, had the arms Arafat has, the world would have never got to know the son of a bitch. I would have won. What a bunch of rascals and cowards. Whatever we were in 1948, we weren’t cowards.’

My father, the third of the elder Aburish achievers, had retired earlier in 1990. Living thousands of miles away did not and doesn’t interfere with his attachment to Palestine. In the late 1960s and 70s, he became Mr Beirut. He numbered King Hussein, President Chehab and dozens of prime ministers as friends. Some consulted him and took his opinion into consideration. All of them wanted him on their side.

In fact, his attachment to the rich and famous was legendary. Beyond politicians he knew practically every major businessman in the Arab world. But all this came at a price. Over the years his belief in the rights and dignity of the common man grew thinner and thinner In fact his reputation was of greater importance to him. Unlike Ibrahim, he didn’t push us, his children, towards financial achievement but he did want us to shine in other ways, especially socially.

The Palestinian identity of Mahmoud, Ibrahim and my father was never an issue. They were Palestinian and yet Mahmoud’s bitterness and the ease with which he befriended some of the Israeli occupiers amounted to surrender. Ibrahim never changed colours. My father’s connection with Palestine was loose. He didn’t reject his Palestianism but he found it confining. He thinks of himself as a player on the Middle East stage. Put together, three of the elder Aburishs were not as close to Palestine in 1990 as they had been in their youth. Time is undoubtedly an element in this, the erosion of the connection, as with any erosion of any emotional connection makes weaker. But there are two other elements which loosened the tie to Palestine: the disappointment in all things Arab, and the pre-occupations with the strictly personal.

If my father, Mahmoud and Ibrahim represent what time has done to the original Aburishs then their offspring represent case studies of the fate of the second generation. That all of us inherited a commitment to Palestine as presented in the body of the book is undoubtedly true. But the way we express it differs, practically on an individual basis.

My brother Munif stopped being a revolutionary and quit the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine when he could no longer tolerate the level of corruption in the organisation. He turned to business and became financial manager of a Saudi trading company. He does little or nothing to serve the cause of Palestine and he is explicit as to the reason. To him, he has done his share, he has done enough.

No member of my generation attained Munif’s level or sacrificed as much as he did. There were times when the Sorbonne graduate with a PhD in social sciences didn’t have enough money for cigarettes. That is a thing of the past, but what about the rest of it? Has anything happened to the ideology? The answer is yes. Munif, like others –in a way similar to Mahmoud’s - is not a believer in the Arabs in a collective way. Yes, he too is bitter.

My cousin, Said Hamad, Aunt Amneh’s son, has been with the PLO for about twenty-five years. Unlike others, he is not ready to quit. But like most, he has grown very cynical in his judgement. He too has seen colleagues cheat and steal. He knows people who do nothing else but steal the people’s money. And he can no longer excuse the PLO leadership by believing that it doesn’t know what goes on below it.

If Said Hamad resents what the PLO leadership stands for but continues, then cousin Hilmi belongs to those who have done anything but complain, unlike his father, Uncle Ibrahim. The successful owner of a limousine company and travel agency is in the mainstream of Palestinian thinking. He laments a PLO that cannot do for him more than he is willing to do for it.

Nowadays it is the fourth generation, Khalil Aburish’s great-grandchildren who are setting the course of the family. I have seventeen nephews and nieces who belong to the generation, several of whom are old enough to have independent opinions on the subject or to do something about it. In fact, the oldest member of this generation is no other than my daughter, Charla, 42. In her teens, Charla’s sense of belonging drove her to spend a summer digging ditches in a refugee camp in Lebanon. The days of that kind work are gone. Nowadays she believes something drastic needs to be done to wake up America to Israel’s ugly reality and that without that Israel will destroy America and everything it stands for. Charla lives in San Francisco and she never misses a chance to demonstrate, write pamphlets against or support the action of pacifist objections to America’s foreign policy.

Cousin Khalil Mahmoud’s son, Mahmoud after his grandfather, is a school-teacher in Bethany. His life is devoted to inculcating his students with ideas aimed at resisting the Israeli occupation. Despite the propaganda surrounding this activity, little of what he teaches comes from text books. Of course text books prepared by Palestinians do present the Arab-Israeli conflict from the Palestinian view-point, which means it is condemning of the Israelis. But most of what teachers impart to their students is oral and both the content and the way it is delivered differ from teacher to teacher. An Aburish never lacks material. The history of the family is enough.

My nephew Nasser, son of Rabah, is another mature member of the fourth generation. In this case his Palestinianism is shallow and superficial. After his parents divorced, he grew up with his mother Samiha in Washington DC. The bitterness of the divorce drove him and his mother from Rabah, and father and son didn’t see each other for seven years. Nasser’s life was determined by small factors that didn’t allow for attachment to something bigger.

Nasser lacks Charla’s broad intellectualism and he isn’t imbued with the spirit of Palestine a la Mahmoud Khalil and others who live in Bethany. His pursuits are American and middle class. He considers himself Palestinian but knows little about it and he isn’t willing to pay it anything beyond lip-service. He is living proof that attachment to Palestine is taught. With him it is neither acquired by osmosis nor instinctive. What captures his imagination are ordinary middle class pursuits. His attachment to basket ball comes ahead of his Palestinianism.

In a way it is the situations which are anchored in ceremony which reflect the changes afflicting the Aburish family. The two models of the same thing which provide us with visual evidence of the changes which have overtaken the family were the deaths of my uncles Ibrahim and Mahmoud.

According to his admirers Ibrahim’s death in 1984 was of a broken heart. They speak of him never recovering from the Hassan disaster. He the hero, was reduced to being the brother of a traitor. He drank to forget. Eventually it killed him.

On a visit to Beirut my mother queried him as to the oddness of none of them becoming aware of the ‘situation.’ Of course to her the situation was that Hassan was being set up. She later told me that Ibrahim looked at her and swore, ‘Had I known that he even knew that SOB, I would have killed him, I promise you, Sureya, I would have killed him. As to Mahmoud’s greed – well there was never an end to it. He registered all our land in his name.’

Ibrahim’s statement is not a satisfactory answer. How does one react to a dictatorship when it threatens his or her being? When there is nothing to resort to for relief? Perhaps you die of a broken heart! Ibrahim watching his and the Aburish family reputation being destroyed wanted to die. He would have got some satisfaction from the number of people who still saw him as a hero, the 4000 people who walked behind his coffin. Whatever Ibrahim had been in life, he was well remembered in death. More, there were people who missed him so, they thought a world had come to an end.

For the Aburish family it was a huge subtraction. Ibrahim wasn’t only the tough man of the family he was part of the glue that held it together. After the death of Kahlil Aburish, Ibrahim was part of the triad that kept it together and expanded its reputation. When Mahmoud died in 1991 the end of the original family came to a close. Only my father was left and he had slipped out of the orbit of the life to which Bethany belonged. He was not part of an Aburish being in terms of his closeness to its roots. He was a Beiruti. Bethany was no more than a birth place. Palestine was a country. But both confined him. His preference was a small fish in a big sea.

Mahmoud’s funeral is what the people in Bethany will speak about for generations. He was followed by 5000 people including the diplomatic representatives of 42 countries and the religious leaders of six churches. Members of the family were right behind him. The Aburish men were tie-less in line with tradition and formed a solid line with their arms linked. Then came the religious people, and after them the diplomats. Then the guests and the people of the village. The end of the huge sea of people was lead by the Aburish women. They sang for him and in his praise. The chief is gone and none will be like him. Nobody cried; their grief was too deep for tears. A world had come to an end.

Our cousin Hassan al Khabib followed Mahmoud as mayor. In Houston, Texas, my mother called me eight times in one day. ‘Tell the world they don’t make them like your uncle anymore. Tell them the generous one is gone. Tell them it is the end of life as we knew it. He wasn’t Palestinian, he was Palestine.’

In 1995, Amer and Nasser are released from prison after serving four of their six year sentences. I am not there to greet them but I see a video of the celebrations. Nasser is on someone’s shoulders. His arms are spread out with the V for victory sign. I swallow hard. No, they have not broken his spirit. He is the embodiment of a dream which, attainable or not, continues.

Even the intifada seemed to have little effect on the persons and pursuits of the non-Bethanite Aburishs. Those who were in business overseas, my brother Wagih, cousins Hilmi, Galeb, Fathi and others grew and became richer. How they expressed this state of well-being differed. Hilmi claims his daily expense is $1000. He is a generous bon vivant and he lives to surround himself with beauty. Fathi, a financial consultant to the Qatari royal family is a quiet and retiring type. He is a devoted family man and most people don’t even now what he does.

My brother Wagih’s expansiveness is anchored in charity and good taste. He has over the years paid for the schooling of many a needy student and relative. Most of the time he insists on being unknown to the recipients because he has no interest in ‘love letters’ or running peoples’ lives. Closer to home, he is a wine connoisseur extraordinaire. Not only has he built a massive wine cellar to house thousands of bottles of vintage wine, he keeps wine at his favourite restaurant in his hometown of Seattle.

The three Aburish with the PLO, all in minor positions, stay there. Those who fit the term junior executive stayed where they are, with no hope of movement or improvement. The older generation was too old to change.

Perhaps the greatest change between the years of 1970 and 1990’s was in the position of women. The male Aburish happily married to foreigners - my brothers Afif (English) and Wagih (Irish) - have had to accommodate their wives. But for Uncle Daoud’s daughters to wear shorts in Bethany when in their twenties was unthinkable a mere five years ago. For cousin Samirha to do a debkah in a Washington DC nightclub would have been as scandalous. For some of them to have boyfriends (and even now I hesitate to mention their names) is unreal. For my niece to marry a black American would have led to murder a few years back. But it doesn’t stop at the unusual only. To speak to men not related to them in the open is a totally new development.

After Amer and Nasser’s release there were two noticeable things about them. They both were studying long hours trying to retrieve as much of their lost school time as possible. The second element was not of their making. They were the first people to be visited by the Israel security whenever something happened in the environs of Bethany. Except for the frequency of this occurrence, there was nothing surprising in it – Israel is a typical occupier. But it was almost a daily occurrence in their case – it actually still is.

In 1997, well after Oslo came like a fresh breeze only to become hot air that hung menacingly close, Ali Ali built himself a new two storey house behind the old one he inherited. He proudly told one and all that it was for his children, that, ‘happy events were on the way.’ By that he means one of the boys was going to marry. One evening soon after, the Israelis came in to pick up the boys. Ali tried to reason with them, ‘We have nothing to hide; you come and pick them up every night.’ The Israeli border guards pushed him around violently and took Amer and Nasser away. Ali, obviously distraught, went onto a small bedroom to be alone, according to his wife to pray. An hour after he was found dead. Two hours after his wife suffered a massive nervous breakdown. Her recovery has not been complete.

In 1998 the whole family was pre-occupied with one issue: my plans to publish a biography of Arafat and the effect it will have on all of us. Knowing me, everyone took it for granted that it would be critical of the PLO and its lack of morality and ethics. To their credit, not a single Aburish tried to influence my direction or dissuade me from writing the book.

The problems with the book begin early both in timescale and in terms of my qualifications to do it. True, I had carved myself a position among Arab writers in exile and there was no question of my being a free agent. But I lived in the distant safety of London, and Arafat, whatever his shortcomings, was in the middle of the fray. What qualified me to judge him when he was sacrificing more than I was?

Mulling this question forced me to approach Arafat and attempt to get his co-operation the book project. Ostensibly he accepted and then the one meeting we had produced four major lies by him. Not only that but some of his aides, Kanafani and Abu Rdemeh in particular, found it beneath their dignity to help me. Oh yes they would kneel to a foreign writer but not someone from Bethany. The Arabs are toadies.

The points made by me in the book which angered Arafat most were ones accepted universally by the Aburish since Oslo. About Arafat himself, that he was more Egyptian than Palestinian, that he was an uneducated philistine, well behind the times and not entitled to represent the Palestinians. Then there was the condemnation of the Oslo agreement of 1993 which essentially promised the Palestinians an independent state in return for a comprehensive peace with Israel.

The book, with the testimony of some of the participants in the negotiation with Israel, accused Arafat of sacrificing Palestinian interests for his own. Oslo, I still believe, was a phoney agreement which gave the Israelis more than they had expected. The Israelis had offered the official Palestine delegation more than Arafat accepted. But then for others to sign an agreement on behalf of the Palestinian people would have meant the end of his leadership. As our rights were sacrificed in order to maintain his position it was not something I could overlook. I still condemn him.

Immediately following publication of Arafat, From Defender to Dictator, direct and indirect threats from the PLO fill the air. There is only one thing to do: to challenge Arafat on home ground. I am on the first flight to Jerusalem and I stay where I do most of the time, at the American Colony Hotel. The owner, my friend Val Vester, is as welcoming as ever and so are the staff. However, but for Adnan Abdel Latif, my friends are not there. Even the ones who make it to the bar every night are afraid to see me.

I announce to a United Nations type staying at the Colony that I am going to Bethany. A mere three miles away and the barman eyes me with a message not to do it. Uncle Daoud and cousins Amer and Nasser come to visit me at the hotel. Daoud and Amer tell me not to visit Bethany. Nasser, flamboyant as ever, tells me to visit them, ‘Let any son of a bitch touch you and we will see.’ Bassim Eid of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitor comes to see me; ‘Go, but let me know beforehand, I will be there.’

I don’t go, but alone and somewhat drunk on the fourth night in Jerusalem I address a letter to all my Jewish friends, to Lynn Epstein who was with me at the University of Chicago, to Armand Matusen, one of the ushers at my wedding in 1958, before Arabs and Jews spoke to each other, to Mark Kravitz, former foreign editor of Liberation, to Michael Sommers, the Gotliebs, Borkums and to Bob Bloomer.

My friends,

You have been named. Whatever opinion of the Palestinian problem you have must be judged against what you know of me and about me.

You have a moral obligation which you cannot escape. To me, you as Jews are the only people capable of influencing what Israel is doing today; and how Said Aburish is living.

I am in Jerusalem, two miles away from my place of birth. But for complicated reasons I cannot get there safely. At night I sometimes hear the bells of some of Bethany’s monasteries. You can imagine what that does to me.

You and I have held different opinions on many aspects of the Palestinian problem and have argued heatedly and may it continue. But the pain of being here without being able to visit my ancestors’ graves generates a pain I’m sure most of my friends share.

I trust that you will continue to speak out against injustice the same way that you have done for all the years that I have known you. Forgive me for being sentimental, but I am in the autumn of my years. I do not wish to go as a witness to the decline of man. I would rather go remembering you, my Jewish friends, as believers in freedom.

Nice, France - 31 May, 2004

© Said K Aburish