Thursday, 14 July 2011

Chapter 68 What's in a name? Lots...

"My dad is from Lebanon and my mom is from Palestinia." Says my friend's daughter as she taps away on her father's iPad.

At 5 and a half she is already exponentially more sophisticated than I was at her age with very serious opinions on marriage and 'kissing on the mouth'.

"My cousins live in Canada and that's far away. Look..." she points at the atlas and reads the name carefully, sounding out the letters.

"Why do you live in Palestinia?"

"Because that's where my job is."

"Ok... Where is Palestinia?"

"It's next to Lebanon." I reply unthinkingly. 

She begins looking around the area for a 'P'.

"Sasa I can't find it."

It wasn't until that moment that I realized the conversation I had inadvertently found myself in the middle of.

As she stared at me unblinkingly and I floundered with fillers, I began to wish I had been given the 'where do babies come from?' question instead.

I go for simplicity and point vaguely at the map: "It's over here habibti (darling)."

"But I can't see it."

"I know, but this is where it is."

"But it's not written anywhere."

"My goodness but you're a persistent little thing aren't you? Well... it's right over here you see. There's no name on this map but some maps have it written."


"Because... because sometimes... you see... errmm... who wants ICE CREEAAMM???"


The first time someone asked me if I had been to "forty eight" I hadn't the faintest idea what they were talking about. I thought perhaps a new restaurant and asked if it was any good.

Only later did I realize they meant the areas seized by Israel in 1948 and then understood the strange look I got in response to my question.

At the borders it's referred to as Israel, Middle Eastern newspapers speak of the Occupied Territories and to the diaspora it's Palestine. Each name representing an idea laden with a hundred years of baggage.

These are of course only the more recent ones.

Each West Bank city has its Arab name and its Hebrew name based on the biblical references.

In his giant of a novel 'The Great War for Civilization', Robert Fisk speaks of meetings at Camp David where the entire proceedings were stalled as both sides flew into rages when the other side would only refer to the territories in question using their Hebrew or Arabic names.

So much energy is expended on the big things - the demarcation of borders, security measures and various economic elements; however often times the most intense obstacles are found in the little things.


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