Guest contribution by Lena Ibrahim
I can feel the painfully real connection my family has to the land in what was once Bisan, Palestine, and as I lose my thoughts staring at this charm on my necklace, I can actually see the land we still call home. I begin to personify the charm imagining all the pain it had once seen. I think about what the charm would say if it could speak, how much it would cry if it could cry. I imagine my father as a child, gripping the charm with his tiny fingers and my grandfather picking him up running out of their soon to be stolen home.
On the back of the charm, written in Arabic, is my family’s name. This charm had been passed down from all of my great grandfathers, all of whom were Palestinian men who lived and died in Bisan, Palestine. 1948 was the year my father’s family was forced to leave their home in Bisan. My father recalls not being able to take any of his belongings, except for his charm, which had been gifted to him with at birth. The charm had always been a family tradition but the meaning of this charm changed after my family became refugees. Sixty-six years later, it now sits on my neck almost like a land deed, like a piece of the Nakba, attesting to every generation of my family coming from the land of Bisan before our forced displacement.
There was one moment my necklace really came to life in a way that was completely out of my control, emanating entirely from the truthfulness of the charm itself. This specific moment reminds me why I never take my necklace off, why it is so important for me to always wear my father’s Palestinian charm.
I had encountered a woman in a public restroom. I noticed she had a shiny blue necklace on and as she noticed me staring, I smiled at her and told her I liked her necklace. “Thank you! I got it in beautiful Israel when I was visiting there last year,” she responded, flattered and excited. I don’t know if my face could tell but I immediately felt sick. I felt sick at the thought of tourists in Israeli cities enjoying the magical views while ignoring the hideous wall and all the blood it covers up. I felt sick at the thought that she visited Israel and thought its occupation and apartheid was pretty enough to buy a necklace to always remember her very distorted perception of “beautiful” Israel. If she thought her necklace had a story about Israel, she was going to be in shock when she heard mine. I paused and reminded myself to smile back at her.
As I heard her say “Israel” and “beautiful”, my necklace began to choke me, reminding me I was wearing it. I felt my scarf wrapped around my neck begin to tighten reminding me to unwrap it quickly and show what was underneath.
“Really?” I said to the women as I finally pulled out my necklace. And there it was, in the palm of my hand, hanging from my neck; there it was screaming, crying. There it was, my father’s charm glowing, ready to tell its truth. “My necklace is from Palestine. You see? It’s an ancient charm, it was passed down from my Palestinian grandfathers all the way to my father the day he was born in 1942 in Bisan. You see, my father was the last to get it because he was the last of his family born in Bisan.” I continued to explain, in disturbing detail, how my father was forced out of his home that day. “This charm was one of the only things my father held on to.”
My story was over. She was silent. It was as if her and I stood in a room that become completely black and moved millions of miles away from the world. She zoned out, as if she could not believe what I was telling her or what my charm was showing her. I could tell she was feeling emotions she didn’t want to feel and in that moment she could see the Nakba just as strongly as I could.
“Wow,” she finally got herself to say, as she grabbed a paper towel, smiled at me once more and hurried out of the black room I seemed to have created for her. That was it.
My only intention was to tell a true story about the Palestinian Nakba in the ethnically cleansed village of Bisan. It is a story that has been relentlessly ripped apart, denied, and deliberately silenced since it happened. But from the moment I put the necklace on I have felt empowered by its truth and the story it allows me to tell.
I’ll never know what that woman took from our encounter exactly, but I know for sure that every time she wears her necklace from “beautiful” Israel she’ll remember my necklace from Palestine. She’ll remember my charm and the not-so-beautiful catastrophe that it lived. She will remember the 1948 Nakba.
Lena Ibrahim is a Palestinian-American student pursuing a degree in Global Affairs at George Mason University.