Archives‎ > ‎

After the Last [Climatic] Sky, by Hatim Kanaaneh MD

 [Dr. Kanaaneh published two excellent and highly acclaimed books 'A Doctor
in Galilee' and 'Chief Complaint' and he occasionally writes his beautiful
descriptions of life here as it really is. He is worth reading]
My wife and I are back in our home in Galilee after tarrying for several
months in New York. Last night we visited family and dear friends. The sky
was phenomenally clear and we stayed up past midnight, a rare event for an
early riser like me. It was the coincidence of June’s Strawberry Moon, a
reminder of the rich environmental legacy of Native Americans, those
forgotten sacrificial victims of othering and settler colonialism, and the
summer solstice, a once-in-a-lifetime event. Our last visit for the night
was with our age mates Said—Arabic for ‘Happy’--and Nabiha—‘Witty Woman’—,
better known in our village parlance by their first born son’s name as Abu-
and Umm-Ayman. Said is my retired biochemist fellow villager who has spent
more time in his land in the Battouf Valley for pleasure than he ever did
in the hospital laboratory that he headed as a career. His hobby farming
had kept his family, as well as mine, supplied with fresh vegetables
throughout the summer months for many years. Last night he and Nabiha were
apologetic about the limited amounts of fresh peas and melons that they
insisted on gifting us. Alas, the heat this summer had ruined the crops. As
you know, they explained, the Battouf’s best vegetables are grown
ba’il—without irrigation—thanks to the nightly dew precipitation in the
valley. This year the morning fog lifts early, the dew is evaporated with
the first rays of sun that desiccate the vegetation except for a hardy okra
plant here and a mutant melon there. To keep himself busy in retirement, my
friend had increased the number of goats in his yard and we were treated to
our fill of qataif, freshly baked light pancakes stuffed with homemade
cheese then deep-fried in olive oil and smothered with spicy syrup. Yummm!!
Always a super housewife, Nabiha still supervises all the household chores
despite her failing vision, limited mobility and the confinement of home
dialysis. Thank God for small favors! Not everyone has an accomplished
biochemist for a husband and not every husband is so loving and dedicated.
Said had won her hand in marriage competing with a dozen other suitors,
including closer relatives of hers than he was. But that all is history. By
the time he retired, they had raised a good family and lived happily for
over four decades. It has been only few years now that she stopped her
daily trips to their Battouf fields where she pulled more than her fare
share of physical labor. She did it more to pamper her children with fresh
produce and to keep the traditions of the good old days than for the extra
income. Tending the fertile land and gathering the fresh produce was a joy,
second nature to the old couple. They passed it on to the next generation
effortlessly. You don’t teach kids how to breathe, Umm-Aymen says. By the
time Said retired, the family was quite well-off by village standards: He
collected a good retirement pay, three out of the four girls worked in the
village and their boy, Ayman, was a pharmacist at a hospital in the south
of the country. Now Nabiha can hardly ambulate within the house with the
help of a cane. She sits in the kitchen and the two surviving daughters are
always at the ready to follow her tuitions. She does most of the food
preparation for all four remaining members of the family, the two parents
and their attentive two daughters. Ayman’s widow and his baby girl, named
after one of her late paternal aunts, come to visit every few weeks and
that is when everyone gets a life again.
Now, the old couple constantly pleads with God for forgiveness. The good
lord continues to test their faith and endurance. But how does one deal
with the added curse of the fields losing their productivity. Of late the
Battouf Valley is turning sterile. But they insist on sharing what little
vegetables Said picks every few days with friends and neighbors. Stores are
full of fresh produce from the irrigated fields of Jewish commercial farms.
But the stuff lacks the bite of Ba’il produce. It tastes like soggy hay and
sinks in your stomach, never fills your body and soul with the flavor of
the land in which it grew. Nabiha recalls how her late father used to know
from the first bite from which exact area of the Battouf Valley a fresh
tomato, a watermelon or a dish of cooked greens came. And Said, like some
other locals, believes that there is a direct link between the name
“Battouf” and the Netufa Spring at its eastern edge. From there the jump is
easy to the Netufians who happened to have introduced agriculture to the
human race a dozen millennia ago. Alas, it seems like it all is coming to
an end. Unless God envelopes us with his mercy and blesses the Battouf
again with more rain at the height of winter and with cooler summers.
This morning I woke up with a peculiar sense of dislocation, a fugue state
I first attributed to jetlag. I was fully aware of my time and space
coordinates and felt in full command of my senses and memory. But when I
looked at the newspaper headlines from yesterday I didn’t understand what I
read. The meaning seemed to seep out of the words: First, several headings
in Arabic, my mother’s tongue, seemed to be confused: “Government approves
additional 82 million shekels to build settlement homes,” one said. Then
right next to that another heading read: “Government approves 20 million
shekels in a plan to demolish thousands of homes of its Arab citizens.”
Yes, we are 20% of Israel’s population and the budgets are proportionate, I
figured. But I sensed I missed something. For some reason the two
statements didn’t make sense. A third heading said “Saudi Arabia supported
Netanyahu with $16 billion.” I could already imagine the next double-speak
heading about the ‘Green Patrol’ spraying Bedouin crops in the Negev with
Agent Orange. First I was lost between the real and the imagined headings.
Then I missed the inner coherence of each statement. Finally words seemed
to have been stripped of their meaning, the concepts becoming empty shells:
What did ‘state,’ ‘king’ or ‘citizen’ mean? They were collections of
letters that I could read and I sounded the words out several times. But
each had no significance beyond the auditory impact it made on my
neurological system. Looking at words and sentences on the page seemed like
scooping ladles of alphabet soup. The whole page meant nothing beyond the
different black dots, lines, twists and turns on a white background.
Did I suffer from a serious brain dysfunction, I wondered? I checked my
memory again by reciting a few lines of poetry from elementary school days.
They flowed nicely with rhythm and rhyme. But I couldn’t tell what they
signified. Then I recited ‘Alfatiha,’ the opening chapter of the Koran. I
didn’t miss a beat. But what did the word ‘God’ mean? I put the paper down,
closed my eyes and breathed slow and deep. This was a peculiar neurological
symptom, I could tell and I hoped it was a passing one. I went to my study
and turned my Mackintosh laptop on. I immediately connected to the
instrument and could navigate in its myriad functions. I felt reassured. I
checked my email. A welcome name glared at me from the screen: Dr. Mazin
Qumsiyeh had sent out another one of his weekly messages to his many
thousands of contacts. I recognized the name and immediately connected it
to the dark face, the bespectacled focused black eyes and the persistent
smile, all stored in my memory. I ticked on the message and read. Slowly I
made out words other than the inspiring name. The guy is so spot-on! OMG!
His words made sense. Yes, ‘God’ is the friendly big guy in the sky. I Knew
Him well, of course. Thank you, Mazin, for bringing me back to reality and
full comprehension. Your words make sense:
“From Palestine we send our deepest condolences to Brenden Cox and all the
family of the murdered British labor party MP Jo Cox. … The best thing we
can do to honor Jo is to redouble our efforts for peace and justice. …
Please think of how World Wars were started and the devastations they
caused. It was not bad leaders but an acquiescent public. …”
Mazin then quotes a lovely fable from Kurt Kauter’s  “New Fables: Thus
Spoke the Marabou,” to buttress the need for the peace-minded to speak up.
He then provides three more links to significant current events and signs
off with his standard “Stay Human!”
My wife interrupts me with a loud chuckle from the bedroom. I go over, sit
on the edge of the bed next to her and listen to the funny news item from
the New York Times: A woman in the Big Apple is offering her sexless
cuddling services at the rate of $80 an hour.
I give my wife a good-morning kiss and go back to my study. I choose the
last link from Mazin’s email on the strength of Naomi Klein’s name
recognition. Lo and behold, in her eloquent 2016 Edward Said Lecture
delivered in London on May 5, she speaks directly to me and to my village
friends. She addresses our issues and personal concerns more meaningfully
than I ever dreamt possible from a lead global environmental campaigner. I
wish she were here right now so I can thank her with a sincere hug. Her
lecture is entitled “Let Them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming
World.” It ranges far and wide yet feels personal and immediate. She is
talking about our Battouf Valley, of course. I can hardly distinguish her
voice from that of my village friends. I swear I can detect in her voice
that telling twang of mixed fear and hope I heard during my last visit last
night. She decries the fact that “… climate refugees aren’t recognized
under international law.” And there is no legal recourse for my friends,
local, national or international.
Naomi Klein doesn’t shy away from addressing the mother of all Middle East
conflicts, Europe’s settler colonialist project in Palestine. The
intellectual legacy of Edward Said, another ‘Happy’ Palestinian, and his
mythic relationship to land and exile necessitates that. She avers that
environmental racism, designated ‘sacrifice areas’ and ‘sacrifice peoples’
and “The trauma associated with these layers of forced separation—from
land, from culture, from family” is at the base of the continuing violence
in the Middle East and elsewhere. Said, the legendary exposer of
Orientalism, didn’t trust “tree huggers” apparently because of the special
experience of the Palestinians with the Jewish National Fund’s successful
camouflaging of its “green colonialism” and of its “feel-good conifers”
replacing Palestinian habitats. The roots of colonialism, Othering, and
massive human rights abuses on one side and of environmental neglect and
international debauchery to control carbon resources on the other are one
and the same: insatiable greed.
Edward Said “was and remains among our most achingly eloquent theorists of
exile and homelessness.” In the spirit of his many relevant insights on the
matter, Naomi suggests “climate Sumud” as a strategy. She points to the
example of “staying put” practices of the locals in Nauru as they struggle
to face the rising seas. Environmental Sumud and the struggle for freedom
know no borders. I am reminded of the legacy of such unsung heroes as David
Eggers’ Zeitoun in New Orleans (Vintage, 2010), which is one and the same
eons-old tradition of steadfastness born of physical rootedness in one’s
piece of our shared terra firma. In this same spirit of human solidarity,
the one state solution is the ultimate Sumud strategy for us sane
Palestinians and Israelis alike. It has been practiced in this crossroads
locale over the millennia thus depositing in my native Canaanite genes the
layered residues of all the invaders and their slave gladiators from
Hittites, Hyksos, Egyptians and Hebrews through Greeks, Romans, Persians,
Byzantine and European Crusaders all the way to the Arabs with a light
Turkish flavoring.
Abu- and Umm-Ayman would agree with Naomi a hundred percent. The soil of
the Battouf Valley under their fingernails drenched with the oil of the
olives they collect from the adjacent hillside gives them instant
comprehension of her words. And, like me, they would reach out and hug her.
We are ready to offer her all the cuddling she needs free of charge. Who
else could better illuminate the relevance of Edward Said’s concepts of
‘Orientalism’ and ‘Othering’ to the global climate change and of ‘Sumud’ as
the last global weapon of the weak in facing the impending climate Nakba?
Sumud is all that all of us have left. Without Sumud, where would we all
set up camp after the last climatic sky?
[Thank you Dr. Hatim for sharing and for Staying Human. It was great to see
you here in Bethlehem albeit for a short visit last week. Visits inspire us
to push harder . Mazin Qumsiyeh]

HumanRights newsletter