I watched him as he stood against the silent waters of the Dead Sea, his eyes sheltered from the sun with one hand, his gaze fixed in one direction, beyond the gentle waves licking the salt encrusted shore, beyond the air heavy with longing. In the spring of 1990, the sadness in the air was almost palpable, as if the dreams of an entire nation had been buried beneath the rocky soil of what has been known as the Fertile Crescent, that sliver of land which has seen war and bloodshed for so many centuries now, war based on territorial control, given the guise of divides predicated on ethnicities and faith.
We stood for a while longer at the edge of the Dead Sea between the Kingdom of the Hashemites and the biblical Judea. I collected sea shells and bits of driftwood, clutching them in my hand, holding on to bits and pieces of a life I had come so close to, but from which I would always remain at a distance, always the outsider, looking in. The sun had begun to set now, its vermilion rays caressing the waters of the Jordan. He turned around towards me, smiled and said that he would like to bring me here in the evening, when the lights in his hometown of Jericho would be able to guide his vision towards the orchards his family had been forced to leave in 1967. He looked back again, and pointed at the line of trees in the distance: “There, that is where I was born and that is where I want to die.”
Mohammad Zaki Saleh Darwish did not return to his homeland. His death, in the Libyan desert in April 1992, was covered by the world’s media, frenzied by the fact that the plane which was carrying the entire Palestinian National Council, including its leader, Yasser Arafat, had gone missing in a sandstorm over the Sahara Desert. I was unaware at that time, while watching coverage of the search for the missing aircraft that the man I was supposed to marry shortly had gone down with the plane, having lost fuel and direction over hours of drifting in the red sand whipped up by the storm which was to claim his life. I was unaware that the day of his death would mark the beginning of the apocalypse, red sand whipping up the fury of a people dispossessed, a people enraged, a people left deserted in the eye of the storm.
Where should I begin? Where does one begin to tell the story of the many people who have been forced into exile, some made to flee their homeland, others living as aliens within their own home, and others, still, expecting to pay obeisance to a foreign master? So many kinds of exiles, so many kinds of death: What have we done, Mother, to die twice, once in life and once in death! Who has calculated the immense human cost which is undertaken in wars which have been a consequence of agendas of imperialism and hegemonic control of the world’s wealth and resources? Who has mourned the deaths of the men and women and children who die in defence of their homeland, who has mourned the loss of thousands more exiled, banished, removed forcibly from that homeland? Who has been held responsible for the carnage wreaked upon populations all over the world, from Vietnam to Valparaiso, from Algeria to Argentina? And who will exact vengeance for the greed which has destroyed the earth, pummeling it with thousands of tons of explosives, poisoning its air and water and soil with depleted uranium, wiping out the birds which used to sing on the trees now left stunted and burnt in the fields which once grew the harvests and the fruit which sustained the people of these lands? Who will rise to seek justice, who will set the record straight, who will look the enemy
in the eye and defeat it, banishing it to the terrible place it inhabits, that living hell of human avarice?
Twenty-two years ago I was a young woman poised on the threshold of a new life, one full of uncertainty yet replete with possibility. It was in the same month, on April 21, that I was to marry Mohammad, that magnificent man who died for what he believed in, and who lives on in the beliefs I still hold dear to my fractured heart. Twenty-two years ago I asked the same questions I ask today. As I look out onto my garden ripe with spring and bursting with colour, I don’t hear any answers, only bird-song, and an ominous hum as the air is displaced by the fluttering of the wings of a lost bird.