Losing Paradise

A Palestinian-Israeli traces the history of her village through the story of one woman.

    Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker Ebtisam Mara'ana grew up in Paradise (Fureidis in Arabic) - a small fishing village overlooking the Mediterranean.

    One of the few Arab villages remaining after the 1948 war, Paradise became culturally and politically isolated as Jewish settlements sprung up around it. Today, it is a place defined by silence.

    In her film, Paradise Lost, Mara'ana attempts to recreate the lost history of her village, but is met by strong resistance from family and friends who warn her not to become like Suaad, the infamous village bad girl who was imprisoned for being a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) activist in the 1970s.

    But for young women who take pride in their Palestinian identity, Suaad became a role model.

    Here Ebtisam Mara'ana writes about her village and the woman who inspired her.

    I can't remember when I first met Suaad or heard of her. She has been well known
    in our village for as long as I can remember. We have often discussed her.

    In 1979, Suaad was imprisoned for the first time. They said she disgraced her family, making the village infamous.

    As for me, she always seemed greater than life, the life of our small village.

    Suaad and I were born and bred in the same village.

    My bedroom window overlooks the Mediterranean. Bending palm trees, fishermen selling their night's capture, thrilling sunsets.

    One might believe that my village lives up to its name - Paradise.

    At times I do believe it was once a real paradise, but Paradise is a sealed and
    conservative place, haunted by its past and futureless.

    After the 1948 war, especially after villagers were evicted from the neighbouring Arab villages, our village remained isolated.

    Over the years more Jewish settlements were built around it, adding to its cultural and political isolation.

    This is a village whose men are unemployed, the women tend to the household chores, and the Islamic Movement builds its strength among the disheartened youngsters. Paradise is my home.


    Paradise is a small fishing village overlooking the Mediterranean 

    Suaad was born in 1957 in Paradise. In 1975, the year I was born, she founded the village's theatre circle.

    In 1979, Suaad joined the Black Panther squad, which in those days was affiliated to the PLO.

    She believed in her right to belong to the struggle for Palestine's liberation.

    After having been released from prison, she applied to Israeli universities but was turned down due to her "past". So she went to study law in Italy.

    Each time she tried to visit Israel she was apprehended at the airport by the general security services and imprisoned for several months on the grounds of meeting with foreign agents.

    Each time she returned and got arrested, the entire village would swarm around
    her parents' house.

    When in prison, Suaad was regarded as dead by her family. I remember the village darkened, the nights became cold and the whole village talked about Suaad and her misfortune.


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    In 1991, Suaad did her postgraduate degree in law at the University of Bologna in Italy.

    That was the year I passed up to eleventh grade, and for the first time dared to draw the Palestinian flag on my jeans. My mother struck me, shouting that she won't have me like Suaad.

    At that time Suaad was an active PLO member.

    At Bologna University she met Tauffic - a Palestinian-Israeli. He was ten years
    her junior, but still they became involved and decided to get married.

    Suaad returned to the village with her Palestinian betrothed to have her engagement
    party thrown there, for all the villagers to celebrate and talk about.

    She also made sure the event was videotaped. She needed to prove that after being the village's tragic figure, her fate had been reversed.

    But, a short while after the engagement, 33-year-old Suaad was re-imprisoned, this
    time for two years.

    Her future husband turned out to be a collaborator and his romantic involvement with Suaad a wild idea his operators concocted.


    Surrounded by Jewish settlements, Paradise is growing increasingly religiously conservative 

    Instead of breaking down mentally, Suaad took it all out on paper.

    In her book, Memories of the Cell, she describes jail experiences of violence, torture and rape, but lingers on the few rays of freedom she had lived.

    "I'm sitting in my death-row cell waiting for the executioner," she wrote.

    But after every fall she pulled herself together and got back on her feet.

    Suaad became the village's tragedy.

    In 1993 she came out of prison and decided to end all her political activities and complete her law Ph.D. degree in England.

    In 1995, in London, she met Allen, a Christian school teacher, and married him. In 1997 they had a son, Wassim.

    Every year she visits Paradise with her family. Being far away from her family is hard on her. But, living in a conservative village with her British husband and son
    seemed unrealistic.

    A few years ago, during one of her visits, I dared to speak to her, asking her how the impossible existential cycle into which we were born can be broken.


    I'm now 27, single and still live with my mother in the village.

    My society has many codes of conduct and restrictions I am bound by: No going out after dark, tight clothes aren't respectable, sitting in a cafe is forbidden, going abroad is not accepted, going to a movie is intimidating, marrying a non-Muslim is out of the

    I could put up with that over the years, but could not put up with my village's silence.

    Since 1948, hardly anybody spoke of the 1948 war.

    My father, then a 10-year-old boy, was sent to dig the graves for the Tantura villagers.

    "You must never speak of this or else they will imprison you and rape you," he used to tell me.

    My impulse to know the history of my village has made me resent my parents' generation. I did not want them to leave this life without leaving their legacy behind. I need to hear that they fought for this piece of land.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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