Farid S. Bitar
Since 1967 almost a million Palestinian olive trees have been cut down by the Israeli authorities in order to ruin the Palestinian economy and by settlers attempting to uproot Palestinian culture. em>Screaming Olives is about the trees that have seen so much suffering: the Nakbah, the wars of 1967 and 1973, the invasions of Gaza and Lebanon, the Intifadas, the settler movement, the continuing blockade of Gaza. Farid Bitar – who has lived in exile for forty years – connects the story of his ‘stolen homeland’ to the stories of Selma, Eric Garner, Rachel Corrie, Emmett Till, Charlie Hebdo, the walls of Trump and Netanyahu. Screaming Olives is about a country that no longer exists, but refuses to die, about occupation, resistance and resilience. It’s a demand for the right of return for the five million Palestinians living in exile. And it is a refusal to be erased.
Cover image: Farid Bitar
15 May 1948–6 June 1967 I have told this story So many versions That sometimes I forget How it all started An eternity away Mother narrated the middle I read the start Father refrained from talking I keep dwelling on the past While I should build the future The problem is Every time I build the nest Zion keeps destroying it It all started a simple way An innocent child Growing in a sleepy town – Jericho I still remember the mint tea I still smell the rain evaporating.
Beyond the evergreen The settler is very mean The olive tree glimpsed The oblivious coming Carrying a tank of petrol And an M-16 hanging from his shoulder The branches started waving hurriedly Then the olives joined in screaming Like a chorus in a symphony Call our owners – call our owners But no comes Wonder why? Is it because the soldiers are busy Sniping the farmers in the harvest The tree started yelling at the MAN Get out of my existence Every time you come, I know I’m gone Stop killing my babies Stop suffocating my insides Stop your savageness... Emmett Till lynched in 1955 Way down near Selma Alabama Ali on Grill, the settler taunted Burned in Duma-West Bank-Palestine in 2015 Mississippi still.
Disaster dispersed dismemberment Displaced but never discarded. Passing old streets, destroyed houses, I look for faces from long ago – Where has everyone gone? Another day lapses, And another and another; Ghosts dwell in the destroyed Villages of ’48. Exiled all my life, I will return one day To the garden of my house to see The Dome of the Rock from my rooftop; Talk to my neighbour, visit the Indian Hospice, My family’s compound, Relive memories of the Napalm bombs That blanketed the place And burned and killed my family. I remember water lilies, The fig and lemon tree. I once knocked on a door in Al-Qatamon. A lady answered and shouted, What do you want! I replied, to see my father’s house. She slammed the door in my face, It must be another country you’re looking for. I begged her to let me in, screaming, This is my father’s house – I am holding the deed to it! I passed by the ruins of Hebron’s Gate Where my father’s shop once was. And where the wall of Jerusalem once stood Has now become No Man’s Land. Why should ghettoes and death camps Be repeated in Gaza and Jenin? In Deir Yasin and the Khasin villages of ’47? Why the Haganah’s ethnic cleansing On the northern coast of Palestine? Expulsions, attacks on local villages? One day we Palestinians will return To al-Barweh, Qatamoun, Deir Yasin, and the Qazaza villages of ’48. Rachel Corrie will be re-born. My voice will keep circling the skies So the conscience of the world will hear. Darwish and Kanafani will resurrect. The children will not have to starve in Gaza. No more ethnic cleansing! No more Balfour Declarations! No more empty UN resolutions! No more mass killings of a civilian population! Simply no more! I am asking for justice. I am asking for dignity. I am asking for my home back. Remember us. Keep praying for us.
City of my birth, my memories of you are both pleasant and painful. I still run in the narrow streets of the Old City along walls centuries old, built by Salah Ad-Din, vanquisher of the Crusaders. I walk the Via Dolorosa, in the footsteps of Jesus. I enter the Dome of the Rock, where Muhammad ascended to the seven skies. I still follow in my father’s footsteps as he heads for his shop – narrow alleys, streets, and entrances, the smell of jasmine and honeysuckle, souqs, souvenir shops, and countless markets: the spice market, the copper market, meat market, sweets market... Faces seen day in day out in the tiny hummus and falafel cafes, the family butcher carving our favourite cuts of meat for Eid... Memories of me running to the market for my mother’s missing ingredients, the smell of fresh coffee, the coal burner in winter, barbeque in spring, and images of my mother tending plants in the garden, visiting the holy places – Omar’s Mosque, the Holy Sepulchre, stores, houses, bakeries... I remember well the air raid sirens, too, October’s War, 1973 – the Yom Kippur War, fighter jets thundering in the sky, bombs exploding as my brother and I run to safety. The look of fear on my mother’s face, the blackened windows, shuttered shops during curfew time. I remember the anger of the Zionist enemy after the war. I remember the demonstrations against the occupation. I remember the fallen victims resisting the occupier. I remember the happiness of the nation as the enemy was losing. Then I remember better days, when I played marbles in the dirt. When I walked to school every day, bought a shawarma sandwich and drank 7 Up with my mother. My beloved Jerusalem, You live in my soul. You live in my dreams.
again and again falling down on my head and the dead are too many to blame only stones remain Umm Ahmad wailing holding a stone in one hand hitting her face with the other screaming, where is my beautiful house where is my beautiful life where is my son I am looking for I have his favourite toy I found his arms I found his legs I can’t find his head where is my beautiful child where is my beautiful wife where is my beautiful house I am not talking about talking heads only stones remain again and again falling down on my head I will rebuild Shuja’aiya I will rebuild every stone I will rebuild Beit Hanoun that al-shaytan Zion destroyed and the dead are too many to blame.
‘Screaming Olives captures the barbarity of the Israeli occupation in the voices of the trees and the Palestinian lives they destroy. This is a book to be read and re-read, and to learn and teach from.’
‘Screaming Olives bears a message the world needs to hear. It is delivered by the poet in a voice that is clear and without compromise.’