Palestein in my house

So our favorite “smart and funny” Arab, Amer Zahr, gave you a utopian society in which Palestinians and Israelis get rich together, share the same food, and cultivate those olive branches with peace  in a land known as “Palestein.” Impossible, right? Well, not in my family.

My father told me stories of Palestine before 1948. In that Palestine, my great-uncles, Muslim Palestinians, co-owned a butcher shop with Palestinian Jews. It was a Kosher-Halal marriage. During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, my father, thirteen at the time, would sit under the tent day after day with his Jewish Palestinian friends until the rain came to feed the earth. When it was Easter, his Christian friends would invite their peers (Jewish and Muslim alike) to decorate eggs with onion peels, spinach leaves and red currants. During Ramadan, my great-uncles would fast, and their Jewish partners would starve in solidarity. On Yom Kippur, the whole village shut down in observance. During World War II, Muslim Palestinians opened their homes to Jewish families fleeing persecution in Poland and elsewhere. My father remembers how smitten he and his friends were with the blonde-haired, blue-eyed European girls.

Not everyone is as fond of my father’s stories. Some refuse to believe them, and others remark that today the region “is not your father’s Palestine!” Maybe not, but my home is, and has been for nearly 18 years. Yup! Although my father’s stories sound like far-gone nostalgia, fast forward about 50 years, and to me, it sounds like a place me, my husband, and our five children call home.

Somewhere in a corner of this crazy world of separation walls lays a house with a white picket fence (literally, it’s nauseatingly American-dream-esque) is our own version of “Palestein.” There, my husband (raised Jewish) knows more about Islam than I do, and he jokes “You’re a better Jew than me.” (I make a mean latke!) My front door has a mezuzah on one side and ayn il hasud mas’baha on the other. My children know better than to use the toaster to heat Arabic pita bread. Only an open flame on the stove will do. My husband’s blond-haired, blue-eyed niece (without a lick of Arab in her) comes to my house to eat labneh with zayt-zaytoon (“and mint please, Aunt Shirin!”). My children would not be caught dead eating “Sabra Hummus,” no matter what DJ Khaled says. And when we go shopping they whip out the “buycott” app on their smartphones reminding me what is and isn’t on the BDS list (Oh, Gap and Old Navy how I’ve missed you!).

I guess you could say that my great-uncles and their partners brought Muslim and Jewish meat together. And so have me and my husband.

During Passover, we eat our hummus with matzah and when we light the candles for Channukah, I attempt to convince my children that it had to be olive oil because there is nothing that shit can’t fix. During Easter, we still color eggs and try to answer the same awkward question that our children ask, “What do eggs have to do with the Easter Bunny?” The kids remain on their best behavior during December (because they believe in Santa) and we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus, (Peace be upon him), who happens to be praised in the Quran more than the Bible. We all celebrate the Feast of Ramadan, and honor Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), who declared in “The Charter of Medina”:

Non-Muslim minorities (Jews) have the same right of life protection (like Muslims).

THAT was the 7th century. Back then, everyone was a Jew, even Muslims, because Islam, like Christianity, came from Judaism, and Muhammad, like Jesus, was fully aware of his roots.

Do we argue? Of course! We still cannot agree on who has cornered the market on falafel and who makes better Shawarma (my father, hands down). But ask my children what they celebrate and they will say, “Respect.” Ask them what their religion is and they will break out in Ziggy Marley’s, “Love is my religion.” Our parents (Teta and Jiddo, and Momo and Poppy, as they are known to us and each other) couldn’t be prouder (hippies!).

So, is the extended family in awe of the “Palestein” we created? Some are, and some aren’t. And some pretend to be ok with it until they become a “born-again Muslim,” where their distorted version of Islam doesn’t allow it. Of course, Muslims aren’t the only ones who have difficulty understanding our “arrangement.” If Zionists and/or “#Trumpenyahu” supporters run the numbers, the demographics would have settlers with pitch forks chanting “Death to Arabia!” Generally, my interethnic clan is not something I talk about for that reason. I am well aware that we are Bibi’s worst nightmare.

Sorry Bibi, I know the thought of Palestein has caused you many a restless night. But those of us who have been to my father’s Palestine? Well, we sleep just fine.

About Shirin Zarqa-Lederman 16 Articles
Shirin Zarqa-Lederman was raised in NJ by her Palestinian Muslim parents and later married her Russian Jewish husband. Together they have five interethnic children who experience the traditional customs of both cultures with their extended interethnic relatives. Shirin is also Licensed Professional Counselor, focusing on Child & Adolescent Psychology, and has written her own children’s picture book series, "The Trotters of Tweeville," which is focused on demonstrating kindness to children. The series is available wherever books are sold.

1 Comment

  1. I followed your link to the article on the Evil Eye – lol. I haven’t encountered this amongst Lebanese people yet (of which I am one). However we Lebanese women tend to be *very* effusive w/ our affectionate praise of people’s children & the beauty of friends & women we meet & their cooking & decorating & craft skills & education etc.; yet I have noticed w/ Saudi women there is a reserve when one compliments them. Perhaps this is behind it. For example I’ve experienced their not saying “Thank you” in response – which previously puzzled me. My family are indigenous Aramaen mountain Christians from Marjeyoun – so perhaps that explains the divergence in etiquette (?).

    My mother did give me a large blue glass eye when I was younger. (It is not at all part of her German culture/custom but she celebrated many Lebanese customs on our behalf). I hung this near my door & it did not seem to alter the evil behaviour of my landlord’s foot soldiers (super & management supporting his illegal behaviour). Perhaps landlords & their like are immune to amulets!

    For the rest I hear you. As I wrote above on my mother’s side we are from Berlin (& not Lebanese/Syrian/Arab) & had two family members murdered by the Nazi govt; one Jewish – the husband of my mum’s aunt – one not. On my father’s side we are from South Lebanon; occupied & frequently bombed by the Israeli govt – 1996 & 2006 being the worst of those. So of course I am pro-Palestinian & Lebanese & BDS etc. whilst also calling people out on their antisemitism; including when they say “Jews” vs “Israeli govt/State/policy” etc. In my life those people have not been Palestinian or Lebanese or Arab but rather people who believe themselves to be pro-Palestinian whilst listening to non-Arab conspiracy theorists vs listening to Palestinians & Lebanese. I tell them they are hurting us rather than helping us & of course they refuse to listen.

    God bless your family. xxx

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