He cannot remember where he puts his cellphone, but he can never bring himself to forget the details of what happened on a particular July day, 65 years ago.
I remember him telling my brothers and me stories about that day, but never, ever, did I/we listen. It sounded surreal, far away, and too dramatic. I preferred funny stories from his college years. But now that I am few days away from being in Lod myself, for the first time in my life, and on a human rights delegation, I ask him… I listen to him.
He started drawing lines on a piece of paper, then paused to say “Khamees! Yes, that’s his name. I can’t remember his last name, but I remember his deep blue eyes, his rosy cheeks and cap, he always wore a cap.”
I almost rolled my eyes at him; thinking to myself… there he goes, who the heck is Khamees, and why should I care? I just want to know how to get to my grandfather’s house using this map, but I didn’t want to distract his line of thought, so I blink my eye roll away.
My father went on with his story about this young man in his early 20s, who was known amongst the neighbors as “the rebel.”
He suddenly stops to draw more lines. He fills the squares with family names… Kayyali’s house, Hunaidi’s house, Anabtawi’s house….
“The British army would kill any Arab caught with a single bullet… a single bullet!” he repeats, “Khamees didn’t have any bullets, he was an organizer.”
More squares fill with names… Abu Tamim’s house, Abu Nizar’s house, Ejel’s house…
He draws a mark at an intersection, “This is where I saw Khamees alive for the last time,” he says.
At that intersection the neighborhood men would gather every night to discuss the political situation, the massacres in neighboring villages, the horrific stories of women being raped by Jewish gangs, and how disappointed they were in Arabs in general and the Jordanian army in particular for disappearing after a brief showcase of military power at the town’s center few weeks earlier.
My father fills the last box on the map; it’s the one by that intersection, Khatib’s house.
This is it. This is my grandfather’s house.
It’s where my father and all my aunts and uncles were born, it’s where I and my brothers and 53 cousins are not allowed to live. It’s why I don’t know half of my family. And, it’s what I have in common with all of them.
I turn to my father, speechless. But when I notice tears pouring down his face, I gaze away shyly. Why would such a distant memory make him cry? Better yet, why would seeing my family’s name inside a box on a piece of paper stir so many emotions in me?
The rest of the story is as follows. The next morning the Mukhtar (the head of the town) bolts to the outskirts of Lod, after hearing news about the Jordanian Arab army marching back into Lod, to save his people from inevitable, unbalanced war and potential massacre. But in no time, he finds himself and the entire town surrounded by massive amounts of armed Jewish gangsters, dressed up in Jordanian army uniform. They quickly take over the town at gunpoint, and since residents don’t own ammunition, they do not retaliate.
The Jewish gangs’ first move is to kill Khamees “the planner.” They tie his dead body into their jeep and drag it around the neighborhood, forcing everyone to watch.
Their second move is to round up senior males to build barricades. I imagine my grandfather carrying the heavy sand bags on his back, in the heat of July. I wonder what was going through his head.
I imagine my aunts watching their strong, overly handsome father so humiliated by a bunch of boys with guns.
I think that my father’s tears 65 years later were not about the memory of Khamees’ blue eyes throbbing with life for the last time, but the memory of his father being invincible for the last time.
My heart skips a beat every time I think about being in Lod myself.