Editor’s introductory note
Ai Weiwei has said recently in an interview published by the i newspaper that he lost his home from the day he was born. “Home never existed for me. My father said it is wherever our legs take us, which I accept.” Today he considers himself a citizen of Europe but he has still not found a place he can call home. However, he believes that he can’t feel loss over something he has never had.
This short piece is written by a good friend of mine, Andrée Ryan. I consider her one of those who we can readily label inspirational. She has stood up for right all her life, protested and demonstrated and initiated a number of projects both in London and in Palestine, which have benefited many people enormously. She set up Hanwell Friends of Sabastiya, HAFSA, which has provided friendship and support for the people of Sabastiya for over a decade. Andrée dealt stoically and determinedly with breast cancer and, when I visited her in the Royal Marsden Hospital, I realised she was tackling cancer in her own inimitable way. She even brought bright sunflower-covered bedding in to replace the standard hospital sheets and pillowcases.
She is an independent thinker, and her friends may disagree with her on some subjects, but her warm generous heart and adventurous spirit never cease to amaze us. She is honest, frank, open and loyal.
I was born in Lebanon and moved to the UK to train as a nurse in 1973. In 2007 I spent three months as an ecumenical accompanier in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). I was posted with my team in the hamlet of Yanoun, nestled in the hills surrounding Nablus (Palestine). We were there to offer a protective presence against the violent illegal Israeli settlers surrounding the village. Back in the UK I wrote this piece.
The importance of them…or not.
Olive trees… all twisted and knobbly, but strong and well rooted, part of this landscape for more than 2,000 years, here to stay. The Palestinian women know them all, one by one, and to which family each one belongs; they use the trees to orientate themselves.
The women of this village are deeply rooted, some of them are more than 90 years old, looking like their olive trees. They have lived through a lot, and, despite their daily troubles on this land, they look serene and powerful. They know when to pick the olives, when to sow the wheat, when the rain has stopped for another year, when their animals will give birth, when the bread is ready. They don’t need clocks or calendars.
I am thinking… maybe they are powerful and contented because they are so well-rooted; they have belonged to this land for generations.
Me, I have no roots, coming from a well-rooted old Syrian Jewish family, but the creation of the Zionist state meant that we had to move about. My roots are thin and weak from having been pulled out and replanted many times.
Living with these women for three months, I felt loved and at home. Back in the UK my roots are soggy and fragile again, and I wonder where I belong.
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