Palestinian and Israeli: Excerpt from “Haifa Fragments”

15 May, 2022
“Trans­for­ma­tions” by Estelle Disch (cour­tesy Estelle Disch).

 

In this excerpt from khu­lud khamis’ nov­el Haifa Frag­ments, jew­ellery design­er Maisoon seeks “an ordi­nary extra­or­di­nary life,” which isn’t easy for a tra­di­tion defy­ing peace activist, and Pales­tin­ian cit­i­zen of Israel, who refus­es to be crushed by the feel­ing of being an unwel­come guest in the land of her ancestors…Frustrated by the apa­thy of her boyfriend and her father, enam­oured with a Pales­tin­ian woman from the Occu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries, Maisoon must deter­mine her own path.

 

khulud khamis

 

At the begin­ning of the fol­low­ing week, Maisoon has some fin­ished pieces she needs to take to the bou­tique and asks Christi­na if she would like to join her. “We won’t be long. After that we can go back to Wadi Sal­ib if you want.”

They take the Carmelit up to the Carmel, “the short­est under­ground in the world,” Maisoon laughs as they get off sev­er­al min­utes lat­er at the last stop. They spend about an hour at the bou­tique, and while Maisoon is busy rear­rang­ing the jew­ellery, Amalia and Christi­na talk — main­ly Christi­na answer­ing Amalia’s ques­tions about her expe­ri­ences and first impres­sions of the West Bank. When they emerge from the bou­tique, the sun is halfway up the sky. They walk the short dis­tance to the bus sta­tion in silence.

Haifa Frag­ments by khu­lud khamis is avail­able from Spinifex.

“Let’s take this bus, it goes a longer way, but you’ll get to see some new parts of Haifa,” Maisoon points at bus num­ber 5. They get on and sit close to the back, Christi­na by the window.

The doors close and they begin to descend from the Carmel — a wind­ing road con­nect­ing moun­tain and sea, called Derech Hayam in Hebrew — the Sea Road. As they descend the moun­tain, Christi­na notices that the hous­es become less grand, the streets are not as clean and proud. She imag­ines the res­i­dents from on high look­ing down in dis­dain at the low­er parts of town — Hadar HaCarmel, Wadi Nis­nas, Hal­isa, Kiry­at Shprintsak, Kiry­at Eliezer.

“So, this sto­ry your grand­moth­er told you … about what hap­pened to her in 1948 … did it make a change in how you see things today? I mean, did it have a sig­nif­i­cant effect on your life?”

“You know, I nev­er thought about it like that. Of course it affect­ed me but not in any par­tic­u­lar way. I mean, I can’t iso­late this or anoth­er expe­ri­ence and point to a clear effect on my life. It’s a pack­age deal, you see. Every one of them adds to the ones before it. And what are we made of, if not our past?”

The bus con­tin­ues down the wind­ing road, and towards the end reach­es a bus sta­tion with about sev­en or eight sol­dier-boys stand­ing around. It stops for about a minute and a half — which seems too long to Christi­na, who is sit­ting at the win­dow, only glass sep­a­rat­ing the men from her. Weapons always make her edgy, espe­cial­ly when slung over the shoul­ders of boys. One is smok­ing, let­ting failed rings of smoke out of his mouth. The oth­er is stand­ing talk­ing to him, and at one point shoves his hand down his pants to adjust his penis and scratch around it. The machine gun sways slight­ly with his exer­tions. These guns aren’t like the ones she’s seen before on the streets of Haifa and the West Bank. They seem heav­ier, thick­er. Or maybe they’re the same and only look more threat­en­ing because she’s sit­ting next to a Pales­tin­ian woman who cross­es that for­bid­den line every now and then. What if one of them gets on the bus and decides to sit oppo­site her, the machine gun point­ing in her direc­tion? What if he hears Maisoon’s accent or, worse even, what if he hears Maisoon say­ing some­thing not to his lik­ing? She sighs with relief when the bus takes off with­out any of the sol­dier-boys get­ting on. Then, a sec­ond sigh on account of her blonde hair and fair complexion.

A cou­ple, one of them hold­ing onto a shop­ping cart, gets off at the next sta­tion. An old man walks by, hold­ing a tran­sis­tor radio to his ear, the anten­na stick­ing out. The bus con­tin­ues. Now they cross a clear bound­ary, leav­ing Kiry­at Shprintsak behind with its dilap­i­dat­ed, col­or­less hous­es and enter Wadi El-Jmal — Ein Hayam in Hebrew.

“The Ara­bic name means the Val­ley of Camels while the Hebrew means the Eye of the Sea.” Maisoon’s com­men­tary picks up, “The Ara­bic name comes from the area being his­tor­i­cal­ly a rest­ing point for camel con­voys com­ing from the North — Akka and the Sham, on their way to Jaf­fa, Gaza and then Egypt.”

The bus stops, a young Arab woman gets on with two small girls. Nobody gets off. Maisoon motions towards the moth­er, “Look how calm she is? It wasn’t like this some years ago. I remem­ber after a bomb­ing of a bus that I used to take reg­u­lar­ly, I … I couldn’t get on a bus any­more. Every­body was tak­ing taxis.” She low­ered her voice. “I took a taxi once but nev­er again. Two men sit­ting in the back were dis­cussing the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion and how Arabs are all trai­tors and can’t be trust­ed. Any­way, right in the mid­dle of this, my mobile rings. I pan­ic. It is Tayseer’s num­ber. I hes­i­tate before answer­ing. Then I hit the green but­ton and my ‘aloo’ comes out sound­ing very Ara­bic … like I want­ed to pro­voke … I didn’t let my fear or pan­ic show. I will nev­er for­get the faces of the two men when they real­ized I was an Arab. The ene­my, sit­ting right there with them in that crammed space. After that, for months I would walk every­where. If I need­ed to go some­place far, I’d ask my father or Tay­seer to dri­ve me, or I would bor­row my father’s car.”

The archi­tec­tur­al scenery is breath­tak­ing. Christi­na con­cen­trates on the old stone hous­es. Green­ery gone wild. Oth­er hous­es are new­er, but built in ways that are reminders of the past.

“But you can’t say this is how it was for every Pales­tin­ian after a bus had been bombed. This is how it was for me. And I still can’t get into a taxi. But this woman — look at her. Maybe she took the bus the day after a bomb­ing. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe a rel­a­tive of hers was on a bus that was bombed and it has tak­en her years to get over the pan­ic, maybe she’s forced her­self to get on the bus every day and that’s how she’s got­ten over it. This is how it is around here, this is how we live …” Maisoon shrugs.

A few min­utes lat­er, they are out of the res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods and on the main Sea Road, pass­ing the Nation­al Mar­itime Muse­um of Haifa — with two war­ships exhib­it­ed in front of it, an unnec­es­sary reminder of wars. After that, they’re in the ‘busi­ness’ sec­tor of down­town — car agen­cies, falafel and shawar­ma places, met­al­work work­shops. All of this among scat­tered unoc­cu­pied hous­es, their own­ers expelled in 1948.

They get off the bus one stop before Kiry­at Ha-Memsha­la — the Gov­ern­ment dis­trict, with its ugly glass build­ings and lawyers’ offices that are fast encroach­ing on Wadi Sal­ib until one day, no Wadi Sal­ib will remain. It’s a short walk to the souk. At least we’re not at the very bot­tom of this moun­tain, Maisoon thinks as they walk up Mar Youhan­na alley.

 

HaifaIsraelPalestinian fictionPalestinian Israeli writing

khulud khamis is a Slovak-Palestinian feminist writer, author of Haifa Fragments (Spinifex Press, 2015). She holds a Master's in English Literature from the University of Haifa. Her short stories have appeared in the anthology We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers, and diverse periodicals including Verity La, FemAsia Magazine, and Consequence Magazine. She is a member of the feminist collective Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, advocating for the rights of women. She lives in Haifa with her family.