ISMAIL SHAMMOUT PAINTS A PALESTINIAN STORY

NOOR’S DAILY SMILE & ART ZONE

This is the story of Palestinians as told and painted/drawn by Ismail Shammout, an artist whose tale is included in the very strong prose accompanying each drawing.

If you want to understand the heart of the Palestinian, it is contained here, in his words and his images for all to see. At one point Ismail speaks of creating much of his early art using the most basic of children’s materials.

The exhibit he speaks of in Cairo was the beginning of the career of one of the Middle East’s most enduring and prolific portrayers of live within an occupied territory.

If you have ever wondered about life in Palestine, these works and writings will speak to your heart. Ismail paints his stories beautifully with his words as well as his artwork.

TO THE UNKNOWN

On the morning of the 13 July, 1948, we were forced out of our ancestral homes in Lydda at gunpoint. Zionist gangs rounded us up and herded us into the city’s largest squares. Then, surrounded by a tight cordon of heavily armed Zionist gangs, we were driven relentlessly towards the east.

Friday the 9th of July 1948, Lydda and Ramleh was captured by Zionist gangs. After only three days we awoke to the pandemonium of people rushing fearfully to the road parallel to home. Within moments, members of these gangs hit the door of our house with their rifle butts and asked everyone in the house to leave.

It was not possible to procrastinate or not follow those military orders. We walked in groups in the direction of an open space in the town carrying the name of “Nawa’ir Plaza”.

Tens of thousands of women, children and elderly people were driven, carrying only the clothes on their backs, into open spaces inside the cities of Lydda and Ramleh. These people were either inhabitants of these cities or refugees from Jaffa and the villages of the sub-districts of the region. The cries of the children were heard as well as the moaning of the sick and elderly.

The atmosphere was becoming hotter, more depressing and fearful. The gathered people were surrounded by armed men and military vehicles. A large number of snipers were present on the rooftops of the surrounding houses, carefully and anxiously watching the process of uprooting and forced migration.

Nobody knew what was happening to them. Many thought that the process would not be different from similar operations carried out by the British Mandate Authority in the majority of cities and villages of Palestine, when people were asked to leave their homes and gather in the city or village Plaza for a limited number of hours during which time the British soldiers searched their houses looking for arms and rebels.

At the end of the day people were permitted to return to their houses. This time people did not return to their houses because the operation was a different nature. Instead the people were ordered to walk towards the east through the plundered city streets and ransacked shops.

It was becoming hot and thirst and fear were on the increase. We were walking eastwards, surrounded by armed Jewish Zionists exclaiming lewd and humiliating words at us. We did not realize that that was only the beginning of our journey of displacement.

PALESTINIAN REFUGEES


Out of Lydda to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, then to Khan Yunis near Gaza our destination was a refugee camp surrounded by barbed wire. International charity trickled in. The proud Palestinians of yesterday today’s refugees ~ learnt to queue for meager food rations to ease their widespread hunger pangs.

On the following day we were transported by truck from the village of Na’lin to Ramallah. They left us at a girl’s school to the south of the city. We crowded into the rooms of the school, were given bread, and we drank until satiated.

The health condition of my younger brother Tawfiq deteriorated as a result of thirst, heat and severe sunstrokes on the day of forced immigration (he was 2 years old). After few days he passed away. My father and his two brothers, as well as other relatives, decided to depart to Khan Yunis in the middle of Gaza. We thought that getting to Khan Yunis would only take a few hours and that the passage to it would be easy.

In fact we experienced a dangerous and strenuous as we passed through Zionists-controlled roads. After about two weeks we arrived at Khan Yunis. We were among the first refugees to reside in the first camp to be established in Khan Yunis at the upper point of “sawafi”. The camp rested on pure white and golden sands, which alternated in form and color as a result of sunlight by day, and moonlight by night. However, the beauty of those hills of sand did not last long. They were leveled by men and machines in order to make them suitable for the influx of thousands of refugees.

THE ROAD TO NOWHERE


At the eastern corner of the city, while bidding farewell to the last of Lydda’s homes, the intense heat increased the children’s cries of the thirst. My 2-year-old brother Tawfiq and my two young sisters were among those who were thirsty.

It was the month of Ramadan and the people, including my father and mother, were fasting. Walking with my family I noticed an orange orchard nearby. Through the roaming groups of people, without the armed Jews noticing, I reached a pool of water in the orchard and was able to fill a container I found.

Quickly, tens of people followed me. The moment that I wanted to return to my group carrying the water for my siblings, a military jeep suddenly arrived stopping a few steps away from me. A Zionist officer stepped down and pointed a pistol to my head. He then ordered me in broken Arabic: “Throw water… Throw water’.

So I did what he ordered and returned to my brother and sisters without it. We then Resumed walking. At sunset we reached a point amidst the rugged mountains where we could no longer see armed Jews. We realized we were in an areas not under their control.

Exhaustion and thirst took its toll on us as the aged, the ill and the children had difficulty in continuing. We found some abandoned wells and natural openings in between rocks with impure residual water. We drank like horses and some began looking for containers, rope, anything to obtain water.

Hundreds crowded the place just to get a sip of those wells and wet their lips. The children, exhausted by the heat, were like flowers wilting of thirst. Their faces were somber, dusty and blackened. Their lips white from intense thirst. The heat intensified and chaos broke out. As thirst and exhaustion deepened, many people lost concentration. Many children were lost and the elderly, the sick, the pregnant fell to the ground, becoming corpses without movement.

I was able to find a place among the crowd around one of the wells and tried to get water, like the others. After several attempts, my brother and I were able to get hold of some of the impure water. I kept as much as I could, holding it in my wet shirt, and I proceeded to run towards my family. A thirsty woman begging for a sip of water attacked me. When she saw my wet shirt she held on to the edges of the shirt in order to suck the water that remained on it.

Some pulled out roots of plants in search of any liquid present in them. After sunset, we were among the first to arrive at “Na’lin” in the sub-district of Ramallah. The people of the village, with their natural generosity, immediately offered water and bread, as well as animals to transport the weakest.

That night we slept beneath the olive trees, under the sky’s cover.


HOMAGE TO THE MARTYRS


Since my childhood I have listened to tales of bravery and sacrifice of Palestinian fighters. Since 1948, the Zionist terrorist pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing through many massacre; from Deir Yassin to Kufr Qasim to Qana. The twentieth century is spattered with the blood of thousands of fallen martyrs.


In 1982, the Israeli aggression began. Israeli forces invaded Lebanon aiming to extinguish the forced of the PLO and its Lebanese allies. Several areas of Beirut, including where we lived, were badly hit completely destroying many buildings. On the 14th of September, 1982 the newly elected Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated. The invading Israeli forces were deployed in many areas of Beirut, and proceeded to loot, torture and arrest people.

After the PLO left, we hardly slept. We followed the news and at night, watched Beirut’s sky, which was violated by the sound of Israeli military jets day and night. A terrible noise was created as the bombs and missiles broke the sound barrier. We were in a state of distraction and astonishment in the face of these rapid changes, quietly pondering the question: “What will tomorrow hold?”

On the eve of 16th of September, light bombs hurled by Israeli jets lit the sky of the region where the refugee camps of Sabra & Shatilla are located, turning night into daytime. The camp was no more than a few hundred meters away from us, as we wondered: “What is happening there?”

We woke up to strange, unrecognizable sounds rushed to the windows and balconies to see what it was. We found a group of people from the refugee camps, some of whom were barefooted, others in their pajamas carrying their beloved ones on their shoulders aimlessly walking around simply walking away from a horrifying event. Tears filled their scared faces, and their eyes were unconsciously moving in all directions … it is just fear … fear … fear …

One of them informed me that there was a terrible massacre at the Sabra and Shatilla camps and it was stilling going on. It was not possible to get there as the Israeli forces controlled the entire capital, and so the roads were not secure. I felt limitless grief, as well as a sense of being overwhelmed and helpless.

It is then a new massacre to be added to the previous series of massacres inflicted by the Zionists on the Palestinian people.. Deir Yassin, Kufr Qasim, Qibya, Lod Tantura, Bahr Al-Baqar, Samu’, the Aqsa Mosque, the Ibrahimi Mosque, Qana… and so many many more.

My God … How many individual and group massacres were perpetrated against us and how much blood was shed on the road of sacrifice? I recall the Lyrics of a foreign song that says:

Where are the men?
They were martyred and are now in their graves.
Where are the Graves?
Flowers have grown on them.
Where are the flowers?
The maidens came and picked the flowers
to spin from them the homeland’s name.


THE SPRING THAT WAS

I was born in Lydda in the year of 1930. I lived in an area surrounded by orange and lemon orchards, and green gardens of vines. The surrounding plains are extended and wide open, adorned by beautiful flowers of varied forms and colors, such as narcissus, daisy and red anemone, on a base of graded greens.
Seasons involve the festive and traditional; and the winter has semi-sacred rituals. In the evening we used to bring some burning coal to fill the brazier. After evening prayer we –the children would gather around the brazier awaiting our grandfather or grandmother, to roast chestnuts or sweet potatoes. In the meantime we would listen to an old story… ‘Once upon a time”.
The agenda of the Jaffa, Lydda and Ramleh region was full of feasts and religious and popularfestivals, held yearly at their designated time. These events were a source of great happiness to us where there was tune, movement and color. Most prominent among these events was the “Rubin” festival to the south of Jaffa; hat of the “Prophet Saleh” at Ramleh; that of the “Prophet Job” on Jaffa’s coastline; the “Prophet Moses” festivals between Jerusalem and Jericho; and, finally, the “Lydda feast” at Lydda.
Likewise, there were seasons for celebration in spring and summer when the families, young and old, would go out to spend a day at the banks of the valley or in proximity to the wheat-threshing fields or under the shadow of the olive trees ~ eating and drinking, singing and dancing, playing, racing and just enjoying themselves.
THE RESISTANCE
In the early sixties, the Palestinians refocused their efforts on reclaiming their homeland. The resistance movement grew stronger, and resistance groups sprang into existence. The activities of the PLO (established in 1964) increased dramatically after the 1967 war, reviving the peoples’ pride and hope.

Towards the end of the 1950s and the beginnings of the 60s the Palestinian individual began to realize the necessity of reorganizing his affairs and preparing to carry out his national duty to struggle in continuation of what the forefathers did. Organizations and numerous Palestinian fronts were formed for the purpose of struggling to liberate occupied Palestinian land. Foremost among those organizations was “Fateh”.

Arab States agreed to establish the Palestinian Liberation Organization to represent the Palestinian people and to lead its struggle to liberate the homeland. Upon completing my art studies at the College of Fine Arts in Cairo, and after that at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome (1950- 1956). I began working and living in Beirut. Then and there I got married to Tamam in 1959.

Tamam and I worked with the PLO since its inception in the areas of art and culture. Our work with the PLO gave us a new opportunity to share in the feelings of our people wherever they lived. We sensed the great zeal of our people and their continual readiness to sacrifice what is valuable in order to recover the usurped homeland.

Palestinian resistance was launched on a major scale after the 1967 disaster. Most of the Palestinian organizations came under the banner of the PLO, forming in combination an overwhelming and world famous Palestinian revolution. As a consequence, the Palestinian people gained the support of most of the world’s states and nations.

This revolution had a great impact on the new march of the Palestinians everywhere, especially in the camps which embodied the basic arena for national endeavor. Feelings of happiness and ecstasy abounded, as did optimism combined with some anxiety.

This optimism and happiness was not immune from the harm inflicted by the Zionist enemy. From the beginnings of the Palestinian movement, acts of Israeli revenge against the Palestinians did not cease.

The most dramatic and harsh of those acts was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The goal of the invasion was the extinction of the PLO along with its civil and military forces.

THE DREAM OF TOMORROW

Dreams are that (a) welcoming, vast, limitless space ~ Dreams can not be denied. Would a life without dreams have meaning? We dream the impossible yet continue to dream. We know our sacred homeland like a sacred right. A home in its entirety for all its people.
Dreams forever have a limitless space None can prevent a dream They said “I think. Therefore I am” I say “I exist. Therefore I dream” Can life carry meaning if bereft of dreams? And the dream is free just as freedomWe know our dream
We know it and yet
we still dream it


We know it a sacred homeland liked a sacred right
We know it in the depth of poetry, music and color,but it is more wonderful with its land & people. All of its people, all of its land..


LIFE PREVAILS
The Israeli occupation was oppressive and ruthless. But we struggled to survive, to preserve our traditions, and susta in our dreams. Life went on. Happy and sad occasions continued to be observed and celebrated in traditional Palestinian custom. And children multiplied.

The Palestinian, upon the usurpation of his homeland, had to distinguish himself professionally and through his conduct in order to find his place in life. At many locations in the world he had to endure the many hardships of life and prove his presence and competence by being serious, loyal and perseverant.

Life for the Palestinians did not stop at any place in spite of its harshness, limitations and the arbitrariness of the laws. Palestinian popular life persisted in the face of all kinds of oppression, whether in the areas occupied by Israel in 1948, or those areas occupied by Israel in 1967 (the West Bank & Gaza). Thus Palestinians living became subject to changes which imposed a new pattern of behavior socially, culturally, economically and politically.

Years passed and the Zionist dream pertaining to the dissolution of the Palestinian personality and its extinction did not materialize. In fact, the Palestinian community remained cohesive with a significant presence, maintaining its heritage and traditions.

The life of the Palestinian communities continued with its happy and sad moments through a wedding or a new-born, or through the return of someone from abroad. The Palestinians toiled in all available arenas and in all professional specializations.

The symbols of the homeland lofty, where Jerusalem takes pride in the sanctity given to it by God with its Mosques and Churches, grand by virtue of its history and heritage. All the Palestinian cities moreover, take pride in the bequest of the forefathers in terms of everlasting relics telling the narratives of history and past glory.

Upon the passing of a few years from the hour of the catastrophe a new pattern of Palestinian life began to prevail inside the camp and outside of it. This new pattern laid the ground for relative stability, aiding the Palestinian individual to re-evaluate what happened and likewise, to ponder what could happen.

THE NIGHTMARE AND THE DREAM


The refugee camp became a nightmare prison, which had to be escaped. The train became the symbol and dream of escape and link to life and the world. But, until such a time as the dream could be realized, the refugees were forced to concentrate on ensuring bread for their families.

After receiving the generous hospitality of my father friends at Khan Yunis we had to think of how to face our lives. We decided (the younger generation) to find work any work. We proceeded to buy and sell bread, grapes, Kerosene. Then we learned how to make “Halva” and sold it. I roamed most of Gaza as a sweets salesman and I would sometimes ask my young brother, Jamal, to accompany me so as not to be lonely.

After a period of time the lines of communication between Gaza and the West Bank were cut and the Gaza area became isolated – connected to the outside world only through Egypt. The train became symbolic of the connection between Gaza and the world. The camp ~ in fact, the Gaza Strip ~ became almost like a prison to us (the youth) and we aspired to be feed through study or work abroad.

Oh! How much I dreamt then of flying and freedom. After about a year, schools for refugees were opened and I volunteered as a teacher. For a few months I worked in the morning as a teacher and in the afternoon as a sweets salesman. The dream returned to me of flying; traveling abroad to study art.

My mother’s dream was to plant near our tent, a Jasmine and Arabian Jasmine or lemon tree. We would say to her: “Mother, we do not have the water to irrigate the Jasmine tree that you want”. She would answer: “Son, the tree is a blessing”. To her the tree was symbolic of her connection to the land, nature and the homeland as well as being a symbol of life.

At the school I had access to paper so I painted and colored tens of paintings and pictures which reflected our living conditions in the refugee camp. Each day the train would carry a number of youth from Gaza to Cairo for the purpose of studying Knowledge was our only possible weapon, and to some of us. Others took the train to Cairo and continued their journey to work in Kuwait or in Saudi Arabia.

FOR SURVIVAL

We had to affirm our existence by hard work, study, and excellence. Our young men and women sought work in other countries, always maintaining strong ties with their families in occupied Palestine. At the center, stood the Palestinian mother, symbol of tenacious endurance and patience, confident of her self and of the future.

I traveled by train, in the summer of 1950, after bidding farewell to relatives and friends. My father was sad for fear that I might face hardship since he was unable to provide for my living expenses and study in Cairo.

I was accepted at the College of Fine Arts, and began looking for work. I found a job in a painter’s
studio, working for a mere three pounds a month. However the situation improved considerably after several months.

In 1953, I carried o Gaza the paintings I had produced during my three-year study, with a view to organizing an exhibition there. The paintings, named “where to?”, “A Gulp of Water”, and “The beginning of the tragedy” were among those displayed at the exhibition. The exhibition at Gaza was a success, which increased my self-confidence. It prompted me to consider organizing an exhibition in Cairo,

After much effort, it was agreed with the competent authorities in Cairo, that the exhibition be held at the Officers Club in “Zama’lek”, under the patronage of President Jamal Abdul Nasser.
A Palestinian girl named Tamam Al-Akhal arrived in Cairo to study fine arts, by virtue of a scholarship granted, at the Girl’s College.

I made an effort to introduce myself when I learnt of her desire to display her works at my exhibition, in hope of selling some to improve her financial condition. My meetings with her became more frequent and a love story began which culminated in marriage, then children and grandchildren.

President Jamal Abdul Nasser attended the exhibition opening in person, accompanied by most of the members of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council as well as other important Arab and Palestinian personages, including Haj Amin Al-Husseini, Ahmed Hilmi Abdul Baqi, Ahmad Al-Shqairi, Abdul Khaleq Hassuna, Yasser Arafat and others.

President Abdul Nasser did not talk much during the exhibition. He remained silent, intensely silent, intensely studying the portraits, moving each of them surrounded by the other attendees, all watching in solemn silence. On his departure, and I had stood by him while he was at the exhibition, he extended his hand to me and pressed my hand but did not utter a single word.

In the early fifties many Palestinian graduates and specialists departed for work in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. They endured the hardships of primitive life that existed then, to obtain a means of livelihood for themselves and their families in the refugee camps. They shared the hardships with the local citizens, working with full dedication to build the pillars of life, in its multiple fields.

Communication between parents and their children studying and working outside of Palestine did not cease. Through messages expressing intense feelings of love, affection and longing, and by their fortitude in their difficult existence at the refugee camps, parents were the best means of ameliorating the heavy toll estrangement was taking on their families in their struggle abroad for survival.

Posted by Noor al Haqiqa at 7:43 PM

River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

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