Depriving people of the simplest right — to see the sea — is a crime of the Israeli occupation. An entire generation in Palestine grew up not knowing what the sea means.
JAFFA AND THE SEA, AUGUST 8, 2020 (PHOTO: DAREEN TATOUR)
On the 8th of August news began to leak out about hundreds of my Palestinian people from the West Bank “smuggling” their way in to visit their country that was occupied in 1948; especially the coastal cities in Palestine — Jaffa, Acre, and Haifa. They were going to travel through openings in the apartheid wall – not at a checkpoint, just an opening in the apartheid wall. I decided to go and document a moment that may not be repeated often, or perhaps ever, as long as the occupation exists on this earth! Thus, without thinking long, I decided to document the moment when these Palestinians met their country’s sea for the first time in their life, to document their emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
I traveled from Reineh, my small village in the Nazareth area, to Jaffa. As soon as I arrived, I headed towards the beach with three cameras. I was so drawn to this moment and this rare event that I did not care about the weight I was carrying, and the difficulty to take photos and videos at the same time on my own.
I started walking the streets of Jaffa and moving between its beaches and parks. I was very touched by what I saw. I had never seen Jaffa like this before – the majority of those I saw were Palestinians. In all the places I wandered in, the overwhelming conversation among people was in Arabic. Whenever I looked around I saw Palestinians, as if I was living in a different time period than the one in which I live. I saw women wearing Palestinian clothes and jilbabs with the hijab everywhere. I saw people and children playing and having fun, listening to music, and contemplating nature. They spread their food on the grass and beach sand spontaneously. I smelled Palestinian maqluba, I turned to the aroma and saw about ten people sitting around a large saucepan. A woman turns the dish onto a large tray and spreads the sweet scent in the Jaffa air. I walked further ahead and saw a group of young men preparing hookah and placing in front of them a plate of yogurt soaked in olive oil, next to it a plate of pickled green olives and a bowl of watermelon.
As I walked more along the way I saw should be common in this country — the sights and smells of the Palestinian presence. To see Jaffa crowded with its original inhabitants.
As I walked I asked everyone who passed in front of me about their feelings about the moment. Tears flowed from my eyes from the intensity of the scene, I cried without knowing the true reason for my crying! Was I affected by the scene, by the pain over Jaffa and its Nakba, or was it joy and hope for a different future?
Depriving the Palestinian people of the simplest right in their country of birth, which is to see the sea and enjoy nature, is a crime of the Israeli Zionist occupation against the Palestinian people in the West Bank. An entire generation in Palestine grew up and did not know what the sea means, the meaning of swimming in its waters and feeling its salt.
Now that I was with the hearts of women, children, men, boys, and girls seeing the sea for the first time in their lives, my feelings went away. With their eyes and their feelings I moved from place to place. I talked, ate, exchanged smiles, tears, and laughter with them. I played ball with the kids on the beach and whoever asked me to take a photo of them, I did so immediately. The sights and moments were touching and full of stories and meanings.
I saw with my eyes those who cried in front of the sea. I saw those who stood in front of me in astonishment for a few minutes without being able to speak any word in front of the camera. I saw those who laughed, and those who suffered, I saw and lived with them all the contradictory feelings that a Palestinian experiences on their land.
Mahmoud from Nablus, 45 years old, stands close to the wall near the port with his wife, daughter, and son. Looking at the sea, time and time again, watching the laughter of his two children as they stand near it. A strong, loud wave strikes the wall so the two children run from it, then return to stand again at the wall, waiting for another wave, and the sound of their laughter overwhelms all around. I approached this family and took several photos for them and asked Mahmoud to tell me about his feelings and the experience he went through in order to reach Jaffa and the sea. He said, “I came by ‘smuggling’ [without permission] just from an opening [an opening in the apartheid wall]. Me, my wife, and my children. We got off at 5:00 in the morning, and after the bus moved, we heard gunfire and stun grenades. I am 45 years old, I have a daughter and a son. We are seeing the sea for the first time in our lives. All my life I have not smelled the smell of the sea nor felt its salt. Until this moment. I was prevented from entering here for security reasons, because I was a prisoner and spent 8 years in prison, all my life and until this moment I did not see my city, Jaffa, I am from here, I am from Jaffa. I cannot believe that I am actually in and around Jaffa . . . Jaffa that I heard a lot about from my parents, my grandfather and my grandmother. I got a call now, I was told that the opening we entered through was closed by the army.”
The moment I learned that he was a released prisoner, and was denied entry for security reasons, I turned off the camera and I continued writing what he said, he was talking to me with a beautiful smile and a voice full of anxiety.
I asked him, “Are you afraid to return to the West Bank?”
He answered, “I don’t know what will happen, but I am happy with the moment I’m living now and I am in my city for the first time in my life. I don’t want to think about the things to come. It is enough for me to see now the joy of my son and daughter. I am so happy that my children saw the sea in their childhood, I grew up and did not know what the sea was until this moment.”
I smiled and asked, “What do you think of Jaffa?”
He replied, “Jaffa . . . I cannot find any word to describe it, and there are no words that can describe my feeling at this moment.”
I took out some sweets from my bag, gave them to the two children, said goodbye to this family, and promised them that the pictures would remain with me without publishing them for their safety, and that I would only send them to them. We exchanged phone numbers and I continued walking towards the beach in the Manshiyyaneighborhood.
While walking, I remembered being denied seeing the sea for three years during my detention and imprisonment. I had visited it every week before my arrest. This experience made me feel every word that these people shared with me. The sea gives a beautiful feeling and psychological comfort to those who suffer from constant pressures in life, especially when they are caused by the occupation that has continued for all these years.
I reached the beach in the Manshiyyaneighbourhood, a neighborhood that was turned into a park after it was completely destroyed in 1948. Nothing was left but a single Palestinian building that was later transformed by the Israeli authorities into a museum called the “Etzel Museum”, which celebrates the Zionist militia that destroyed the neighborhood and ethnically cleansed it of Palestinians during the Nakba. I took off my shoes and started walking barefoot on the sand.
My eyes stopped at Samah, 32 years old, as she was sitting on the sand in her black jilbab, looking at the sea as the waves smacked in front of her from moment to moment. When I approached her and asked that she talk to me about the moment that she was in, she immediately asked me to stop filming, saying, “Write and do not film.” I respected her request and turned off the camera and went back to the notebook and pen again. I asked her, “Is this the first time in your life that you saw the sea?”
She replied, “Yes, this is the first time in my life that I am seeing the sea and entering our country from ‘48. I am from Tulkarm, my husband is a martyr, and I am banned from entering for security reasons. My husband was killed while returning from work in Jaffa, he was returning to Tulkarm through a forbidden road. The army saw him, he was afraid that they would arrest him, because he got in and out without a permit, so he ran away. The army shot him.”
She paused and started crying, then continued, “This is the first time that I discovered that seawater tastes like the taste of a tear that has flowed from my eyes now.”
I took a deep breath, and along with her words I felt a lump in my heart. I could not complete the conversation with her. What she said was sufficient to summarize the reality and the story. I kissed her forehead and said to her: “Welcome to your homeland in Jaffa.” She smiled and started playing with the waves of the sea. I left her and kept walking, looking for another story or another tear of the salt of this sea.
I documented many scenes with my cameras, and wrote many memories with my pen, all of which are moments full of feelings and stories. But the most important story that must be told every time and everywhere is that we are a people who love life. And that all this land from the river to the sea is called Palestine. And that the world’s silence on this occupation and against this people is the major crime. The sight of our cities on the Palestinian coast, such as Jaffa, Acre, Haifa, and Umm Khaled “Netanya”, which are full of their original inhabitants, and is the natural landscape that should be in this homeland.