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Palestine: Planning a Virtual Funeral

It is extremely difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to visit Israel, and for political reasons it is impossible for most other Arabs to do so, because Israel is not recognised as a state by the majority of Arab countries. At the same time, Palestinian citizens of Israel (approximately 20% of the population) are unable to travel to much of the Arab world, because they have Israeli passports.

Rasha Hilwi, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, has been reflecting on how these restrictions on movement will affect her – after she dies.

In a post on her blog, Zaghroda (which means “ululations”), Rasha writes [ar]:

Akka sunset. Image by Flickr user yanivba (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Akka sunset. Image by Flickr user yanivba (CC BY-SA 2.0).

فجأة، تشعرين أن الموت خيّم فوق هذه السماء. بالرغم من أنه لم يتركها يوماً ما.
لا الموت فقط، لكن “هداك المرض” أيضاً، كما يسمونه. وصديقي يطلق على برجه أيضاً إسم “هداك البرج”. يعني السرطان، ودائماً حين يصل الموت بأسبابه العديدة. أسأل نفسي كلّ مرة من جديد: “أنا لشو بتفاجئ يعني؟” وتعود قيمة الحياة من جديد، لأكم يوم بس.
مش مهم.. لكن منذ فترة، قررت أن أكتب وصيتي.
على فكرة، لا أقصد من هذه الوصية أن أكون متشائمة. يعني الموت هو أمر طبيعي. أو هكذا أعتقد. ولأنه طبيعي فأنا أكتب عنه. وحسبما جدتي، أو جدتَك أو جدتِك تقول: “ما حدا بعرف بكرا شو بصير معه!”.
Suddenly you feel that death has been hovering in this sky, even though it never really left it. Not just death, but also “that disease”, as it’s known. (My friend even calls his star sign “that sign”.) That is, cancer.
And whenever death arrives, with its many reasons, I ask myself, “Why am I surprised?” Then I value life anew – for a few days.
Anyway, that’s not important…
A while ago I decided to write my will.
By the way, I don’t mean to be pessimistic by doing so. Death is something natural. That’s at least what I believe. And because it’s natural I am writing about it. As my grandmother says, or your grandmothers say, “No one knows what tomorrow will bring!”

She continues:

قبل أشهر قليلة عدت من القاهرة. وبعدما عدت بيومين فقدت صديقاً عزيزاً. ذهب إلى مكان بعيد. مكان لا أحد يعرفه، ويجهله كلّ من يقرأ هذه الأسطر الآن.. بتأمل!
لن أطيل الحديث عليكم. لكن لدي بعض الأسئلة المتعلقة بالموت وطقوسه. يعني، عندما أذهب غداً إلى المكان البعيد. الذي لا يعرفه أحد، من الطبيعي أن تقام جنازتي في عكّا- لا بيت لي سواها- هكذا يقول لي أبي. وبالتأكيد سوف أدفن فيها. صحّ؟
لكن، تقتلني فكرة أن أموت ولا زال الاحتلال قاعد على قلبي! كيف سيصل أصدقائي وصديقاتي من رام الله والقاهرة ودمشق وبيروت وعمان وتونس والمغرب وصنعاء وبغداد وطرابلس لوداعي الأخير؟
A few months ago I returned from Cairo. Two days after I came back I lost a dear friend; he departed for a faraway place, unknown to all who read these lines… I hope!
I won’t make this a long story for you all. However, I have some questions relating to death and its rituals. When I leave tomorrow for that unknown, faraway place, my funeral will naturally be held in Akka – I have no other home – so says my father. I will certainly be buried there. Right?
But the idea tortures me that I will die and the [Israeli] occupation will still be sitting on my heart! How will my friends from Ramallah, Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Tunisia, Morocco, Sana’a, Baghdad and Tripoli come to say their final goodbye?

Rasha wonders:

يعني، هل برأيكم ممكن أن تكون وصيتي بإصدار تصاريح لأصدقائي في رام الله حتى يأتون لوداعي في التابوت؟ ياه ما أبشع الفكرة: إصدار تصاريح من الاحتلال حتى يروني وأنا ميتة! لكن، لربما ستكون هذه هي فرصتهم أن يزوروا عكّا وبالمقابل يأتوا لوداعي..
لكن ماذا عن أحبائي في القاهرة وبيروت وعمان؟
يعني، هل ممكن.. مثلاً.. مثلاً.. إن تكون وصيتي بحرق جثتي وإرسال القليل من الرماد إلى أصدقائي هُناك؟ وتنظيم أمسية موسيقية وأدبية بدلاً عن الجنازة التقليدية؟ طيب، هل ممكن أن تكون جنازتي عبر “الفيديو كونفرنس”؟ أو حتى “السكايب”؟ ماله السكايب؟ على الأقل مجاني. هكذا يكون بث مباشر لجنازتي من عكّا إلى بيروت والقاهرة وعمان وتونس ورام الله وغزة!أو لشو كلّ هالتعقيد؟ ممكن أن تكون وصيتي أن يحملوا تابوتي إليهم؟ أعتقد أن تصريح عبور لشخص ميت سوف يكون أسهل. والأهم، إنه لا يحتاج إلى فيزا. هكذا سيكون بمقدوري أن أرى بيروت. مين بعرف؟ ممكن أكون قادرة أشوفها وقتها.

Do you think I can put in my will that permits should be issued for my friends in Ramallah to come and say farewell to my coffin? What a horrible idea: a permit being issued by the occupation authorities in order for my friends to see me when I’m dead! But maybe it would be their chance to visit Akka, in exchange for saying farewell to me…
But what about my dear friends in Cairo, Beirut and Amman?
Is it possible – for example – for my will to state that my body should be burnt and that a little of my ashes should be sent to my friends in those places? And that a musical and literary gathering should be held rather than a conventional funeral? Is it possible for my funeral to be relayed by video conference? Or even by Skype? What’s wrong with Skype? At least it’s free. That way there would be a direct broadcast of my funeral from Akka to Beirut, Cairo, Amman, Tunis, Ramallah and Gaza!
But why complicate things? Maybe I can state in my will that my coffin should be carried to them. I think the permission for a dead person to cross the border will be easier [than for the living]. Most importantly, it wouldn’t require a visa. That way I would be able to see Beirut. Who knows? Perhaps I will get to see it then.
  • Pingback: PALESTINE NEWS | Dec 20, 2011 | Occupied Palestine | فلسطين

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  • Barry Berger

    Dear Rasha Hilwi, “who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel” …

    I empathize with your plight, but with a few comments and / or corrections:

    First, some terminology … you are an “Israeli citizen with Palestinian identity”, or perhaps a “Moslem citizen of Israel”. I doubt that you have any papers showing that you are a “Palestinian citizen of israel”, though when and if (insha’allah) a two-state solution is approved, such a status could be an option.

    Second, re: difficulties in crossing the borders in both directions … of course you are right. Again, when and if (insha’allah) peace comes to our region and Israel recognizes all Arab states and entities, and all Arab states and entities recognize Israel, this problem will be solved.

    Of course, I hope and pray that your talk of your death and funeral will not come for a very long time, and I wish you a long and healthy life – certainly long enough for my two points above to be fulfilled.

    Barry Berger

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