Untold stories: Ibrahim Fawal

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Author and former professor Ibrahim Fawal.

To interview Ibrahim Fawal contact the IMEU at 510-451-2600 or info@imeu.net

Ibrahim Fawal was 15 years old when he woke up in May of 1948 to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees streaming into his small West Bank town of Ramallah. It is an image he still cannot forget. “They were pitching tents anywhere they could: churches, schoolyards, open fields and cemeteries.” Many had been forced out at gunpoint from their homes in what subsequently became the state of Israel.

“Think of the people of New Orleans. They woke up one morning to complete devastation and had to flee. Most of them have returned to their homes but we Palestinians are still waiting. Fifty-nine years later, and hundreds of thousands of us are still refugees. The Nakba was our Hurricane Katrina – and for us there is no end in sight,” said Fawal author of On the Hills of God, who taught film and literature for twenty-five years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

One of the children who came to Ramallah in June 1948 was a six-year-old girl named Rose Rahib who had walked up and down the mountains and in the summer heat for more than 20 miles on foot. Her father had been successful in the trucking business and had built his family a fine home in the Palestinian town of Lydda. Rose would grow up as a refugee in Ramallah and would marry Ibrahim Fawal in 1961.

Fawal recounts their Nakba experience as told to him by his father-in-law: “They [the Israeli soldiers] had guns in their hands, sticking them in their faces. They pushed my mother-in-law saying ‘go to Abdallah, go to Abdallah’ [referring to the King of Jordan]. My father-in-law started putting mattresses and provisions on one of his trucks. He said they needed something to sleep on, something to eat. They [the Israeli occupiers] said ‘no, we need the truck and we need the highways. You hit the mountains.”

“We were the generation of the Nakba. As teenagers, we were not interested in dating or football; we were worried about survival and about losing our country,” Fawal added.

Determined to narrate the story of the expulsion of the Palestinians, Fawal wrote a novel, On the Hills of God, which was published in 1998. Winner of the PEN-Oakland Award for Excellence in Literature, it is based on his own life and the lives of his classmates and friends who had experienced and witnessed the catastrophe known to them as the Nakba.

“In 1968, I was watching television and heard Golda Meir make her infamous remark, ‘There is no such thing as a Palestinian people…They didn’t exist.’ With that lie, she wiped me out! She wiped out my reality…my identity…my heritage! The Palestinians are now over 9 million people. Where did we all come from if we didn’t exist? I knew at that moment I had to write the book”

Reflecting on the relevance of the Nakba to Americans, Fawal says, “There will be no peace anywhere in the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And this cannot happen without America’s serious involvement, not just occasional engagement. The American people are kind and fair-minded; if only they knew the other side of the story. Therefore it is essential for them to understand the enormity of the injustice that has been inflicted on the innocent Palestinians.”

“Because America backs Israel unconditionally, the problem is as much an American problem as it is a Palestinian or Israeli problem. Therefore America’s credibility is on the line. Unless and until a viable Palestinian state is born and the legitimate rights of the Palestinians are restored, no Arab would believe an American President speaking of democracy or human rights. ‘Look what you’ve done to the Palestinians,’ they would sneer.”Dr. Fawal is now retired and lives in Birmingham, Alabama.
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