Monday, March 11, 2013

What Haifa Taught Me

It has crossed my mind on several occasions during my lifetime that Haifa is the city I could one day live in. Diverse, lively and has a great beach.

After all, I grew up with countless stories about Haifa’s golden days pre-1948: The hustle and bustle of the Horse and Carriage Square (Sa7et El 7anatir) and the life of comfort Palestinians lived there before they became refugees. I’ve heard stories about restaurants, picnics, weddings, and graduations among others. Always happy memories of a life lived before it was harshly interrupted in 1948 by the establishment of the state of Israel. I don’t recall any sad or challenging stories prior to the Nakba (Calamity of 1948 as Arabs refer to it). It always seemed to me that life was perfect then and in the blink of an eye it just ceased to exist. I’ve seen actual keys to homes left behind and I’ve read documents of ownership for businesses, land and properties. I’ve seen identity cards with Palestine listed as a country before Palestinians were reduced to refugee numbers on UNRWA ration cards.

Then the awakening came at my first meeting with a current Haifa resident more than twenty years ago. My first impression was disbelief that an Arab, Christian-Maronite actually resides in Haifa after all the atrocities committed and the complete takeover of the land and displacement of its original people. “I know people from there,” I said. I listed all the locations that grew dear to my heart over the years: Saint Elias Church, Mount Carmel, College Des Freres school, Selizian School, Wadi al-Nasnas.. To my surprise, they were all still there and flourishing with fresh new generations of Palestinians. I later met a Jewish family from Haifa and got to know a different side of the story of the majestic city. I learned about the Hadar area, Hertzel Street and Ben Gurion Boulevard. From the Druze of Haifa I learned about Isifya and Daliya village on Mount Carmel. Not to forget the Muslim community of Haifa which can be found everywhere in the Arab sections and the very prominent Baha’I faith with its majestic gardens and Abbas Dome, one of the most beautiful gardens and architectural structure in the world.

For some reason, Haifa was always a common denominator and it kept creeping up into my world, as the example of how integrated living between -- not just Arabs and Israelis would look like -- but also how the harmony among Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Baha’is and Jews can be exemplified.

During a recent visit to this great city, I learned that indeed Haifa is a symbol of tolerance and co-existence. Palestinians, while treated as second-class citizens at many levels, have mastered ways to utilize the system to their advantage and participate effectively in all aspects of life towards the betterment of their Arab heritage and Palestinian identity.  Haifa taught me that a rightful cause doesn’t die if people keep working hard at improving themselves and forging ahead in their life without succumbing to intimidation or bullying. In Haifa I learned that most people live their life just like any other place on earth. As Haifa blogger Abeer Khshiboon told me, “Here, we live together and we deal with each other on a daily basis. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not part of our daily conversation or woes.” Khshiboon and many other young Palestinians are very attached to their Palestinian identity and they project it well. Highly intellectual, she speaks both Arabic and Hebrew fluently, fully integrated in her society but knows very well the limits and challenges being a Palestinian woman come with and lives her life accordingly.

People who still believe in the military struggle as the only way to Palestine should learn a lesson from Haifa. Peaceful Palestinians have found a way to protect the land and safeguard it despite all the pressures and abuses. By doing so, those Palestinians are growing demographically and doing well socially creating one of the biggest threats to the state of Israel. It is a threat that is much louder and much more difficult to crush than any military attack.

I know a little boy who was baptized in the Saint Elias Maronite Church in Carmel some seventy years ago. He might never see that church again, but it must be comforting for him to know that it is still standing and brings together Muslims, Christians, Jews and Druze for worship and for lessons in co-existence only Haifa can offer!


Keep the conversation going...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Sad fact that t""he world as we know it has biases. In reality, people are people. But the biases that exist in Haifa are really symptomatic of an evil that has, like a cancer, has infected the human race. Much of that evil has been held back at the borders of Israel. But I'm convinced that one day the evil will completely disappear. I'm quite convinced that One day Jews and Muslims will come to realize that Jesus is their Messiah who died for them and rose from the dead. Sadly many people respond viscerally to that statement. It would be better if they would choose to debate or, better yet, investigate its veracity.

On that day, however, the "tolerance" that marks Haifa will be replaced by genuine love between people regardless of their backgrounds. That's the kind of world I want to live in.

March 13, 2013 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Samson said...

Did you watch Vatican Election, how they were united,unfortunately in the Arabic world, they don't need enemies, it is within, look at the Puppets of the Zionist Warmongers , what they will do when oil finished, do they still supply the arms and hater between different branch's of Islam, which initially has been created by Imperialists to keep them under controle .
Look what they have done to the Libya, which began to backfire ,it is exactly as the proverb: whatever you put in your soup , it comes into your spoon .
Why not Human beings to live under one Flag= HUMANITY, do they see those hungry children of Africa, poor population of Asia ? instead of destroying so much wealth ,it should be spend to find cure for disease , Cancer, Poverty etc..

March 15, 2013 at 12:58 PM  

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