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"In My Mother's Footsteps" by Mona Hajjar Halaby layers the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict with honest recollections of a Palestinian mother and daughter who both lived in their homeland at different times. Leaving California to spend a year teaching conflict resolution to schoolchildren in Ramallah, Halaby keeps a journal of her observations, feelings, experiences, and impressions of the challenges of living in a militarized, occupied town.
This sabbatical gives her a chance to claim a homeland where she'd never lived.: “For me—a Palestinian in the Diaspora, whose mother has been denied the right to return to her home lost in 1948—my coming back and living in Palestine was a way of reinstating my connection to the land of my mother and grandparents. Like a homing pigeon who always returns to its coop, it was a way of saying, 'I might be far away geographically, but I still belong here.'” Then, after 59 years of exile, Mona's mother also returns to Jerusalem where, in a poetic role reversal, Mona would guide her through the narrow cobblestone alleys of the Old City where she grew up.
Throughout the book, Halaby recounts seminal political decisions, such as the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate for Palestine, all etching a deep and long-lasting mark on the country and her family. Ultimately, however, she has much deeper reasons for raising her voice: “I cannot turn a blind eye to the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians, or to any dispossessed or subjugated people. Can I forgive, or forget, what was, and is still being done to the Palestinians? With work, forgiving is doable, but forgetting is unthinkable. I cannot and do not want to forget the tragedies that have shaped my family and my people’s lives. I want to honor the memory of their forced exile and share their story with the rest of the world.”
QUOTES FROM HALABY
- “Jerusalem was known to be one of the most tolerant places in the world, where different cultures and religions lived side by side, and respected one another, living in balance and harmony.”
- “Mama was larger than life. The puffiness of her palm reminded me of a loaf of warm pita bread, and when she laced her fingers into mine like a pretzel, I felt safe. I would have walked with her to the ends of the earth.”
- “Refugees are like seeds that scatter in the wind, and land on different soils that become their reluctant homes.”
- “I kept trying to imagine what the Ramallah siege must have felt like for younger children...I would have anticipated the opposite. I always assumed that children experiencing trauma and military violence grow up too fast.”
- “Palestinians are strong and tough, like sabir, the cactus plant growing in their indigenous land, and which also means “patience” and “endurance” in Arabic. Not only have they survived the indignity and brutality of the Occupation, but they have also done it with dignity and pride. They will not surrender their struggle for Liberation.”
- “It’s not a conflict about ancient hatred, or religion, as it is a modern struggle over land and who gets to live on that land.”
- Watch “Jerusalem, We Are Here,” a virtual tour created by displaced Palestinians, including Mona Halaby as English narrator.
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