Akram Haniyyah was editor of the Jerusalem daily al-Sha‘b, circulation 5,000 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He was deported on December 28, 1986 to travel on an Algerian passport. He has no place of residence. This article first appeared in the Manchester Guardian Weekly, February 15, 1987.
It was 5 am. A rainy November morning. The professional hands of Israeli soldiers knocked at my door. When I opened, I glimpsed ten or more soldiers crowding the steps leading to my front door. Their commanding officer informed me that I had to accompany them to the headquarters of the military administration in Ramallah. They entered my room and fiddled with books, magazines and records. I was about to ask them if they had a search warrant, but I dismissed the idea as a waste of time. They uncovered the drafts of a collection of short stories. They scrutinized the pages, asked some indifferent questions, then tossed them aside.
They allowed me to dress before shoving me into the back seat of a car that, together with other cars belonging to the border guards, was blocking all entrances leading to my house.
At the headquarters I was met by two intelligence officers and several soldiers. One of the officers read me the order stating that I no longer had the right to stay in my homeland.
I will never forget the strange pleasure on the officer’s face as he slowly did the reading while closely watching my face. I learned later that neither the general who signed the order depriving me of my homeland, nor the intelligence officers who read it, were born there.
On the journey from Ramallah to solitary confinement I thought of everything except what deportation actually implied. I remembered the warning given to my newspaper weeks earlier, by an administrator of the military rule, that it had to reconsider its political line, or else. I recalled the endless letters from the military censor reminding me that every word intended to see the light on the pages of my paper had to be sent to him. I remembered the long hours I had to spend in my office to ensure perfect adherence to the rules of censorship. Despondent expressions of the tired reporters upon realizing that most of what they had written was not allowed to appear. I could vividly see the face of the sad young poet who came to my office carrying some new beautiful poem, only to be told that his last one was banned.
Along the way, I kept looking out to the little villages and towns about to wake up. I found myself attempting to engrave the picture of every tree, every field, every hill we passed by deep into the folds of my memory. I was endeavoring to hold on to the magical details of a beautiful homeland I was about to be denied.
For 20 hours over the following two days, I sat facing them. Three officers appointed by the same general who signed my deportation order. They were to judge my appeal against his decision. Three more from the military administration together with five intelligence officers. On my side were my lawyer, her assistant, and an interpreter.
They threw at me tens of assorted charges. My lawyer objected that it was not humanly possible for a single person to do all the things I was accused of doing.
When I was asked to reply to the charges, I declared that I confessed to only one crime. The excitement on their faces was unmaskable. I confessed to being a proud Palestinian, to my refusal to accept Israeli occupation of my homeland and to my advocation of my people’s right to freedom and independence.
I pleaded with them, “Please, gentlemen, let me be tried in front of a military court.”
The sincerity of my request crashed on their eagerness to close my file as quickly as possible. The faster it all ended, the better were their chances of a speedy promotion.
I started to feel increasingly that I was playing a pathetic part in a boring overdrawn farce, but I persisted. The military prosecutor shouted, “We have numerous ‘secret files’ that prove the guilt of the defendant.”
My lawyer challenged them to present one shred of evidence implicating me. Dared them to open those secret files.
“This is impossible,” came the reply of the appeals committee. “The exposure of the secret files endangers the security of Israel.”
Kafka’s The Trial never figured so sharply in my mind as it did at that moment.
Prison. Long days, longer nights. I continued my struggle to build in my mind the details of the magic world I was about to lose.
Into my consciousness I drew the picture of my parents’ garden. My book shelves. My desk. My office at the newspaper. The faces of my family and friends. The houses scattered alongside the road between Ramallah and Jerusalem, which I traveled to work every morning.
From my cell I monitored the news of a solidarity campaign that was gathering to save me from exile. My people started it. Individuals and groups from around the world joined in. Even some Israelis spoke out on my behalf.
One Israeli legal expert declared that all the charges against me could be summed up in one: the attempt to influence public opinion, which he stressed was an essential part of my career as a journalist and storyteller. A prominent Israeli novelist expressed his shame because “we are expelling a writer from his land.”
But the Israeli establishment seemed to have lost its sense of shame or embarrassment a long time ago. From the time it refused to recognize the existence of the Palestinians and their rights, and proceeded to occupy their land, uproot them and work to destroy their identity. That establishment was in no mood to listen to voices of sanity from inside or outside Israel.
The Red Cross worked to find me a shelter in exile. The list of countries willing to receive a Palestinian expelled by Israel was very short. The choice was made simple.
On the steps of the Swissair plane I took a final look behind me. I could only see the heavily armed soldiers surrounding the plane. The Red Cross representative commented that it must be an historical moment in my life.
It was a record-breaking moment. The darkest. The bleakest. The saddest. It was the start of a journey to the unknown, whose pains and torment are perhaps unknown to all except the Palestinians and those who are ejected to exile.
I arrived in Geneva moments after the plane I was supposed to board to Algiers had departed. It was my first taste of being a banished Palestinian. I possessed a Red Cross document valid for only one day. A “citizen of the world” for one day, yet the Swiss refused me entry. On a transit lounge bench I had to spend that first night. That relentless unforgiving night.
Foremost in my mind was the quest for a place that would accept me to live in. A place to die and be buried in.
Here I am. Moving from one country to the next, or the one further away. Getting used to the inconvenience of hotel rooms. The agony of taxi meters ticking during rush hour. The anxiety that sticks itself to Palestinians when crossing borders or arriving at airports.
I travel to explain my case: a Palestinian writer expelled from his homeland for things he wrote and things he said. I travel to find support for my return, or to stop more of my people from facing the same fate.
Yet in all my wandering I cannot forget that I am only a Palestinian, and not a Russian dissident. That my name is Akram Haniyyah and not Anatoly Scharansky. I do realize that doors will not open to me as they open to him, that my case will never be met with the same enthusiasm his has been met.
My journey through the “diaspora” continues, yet, despite my expulsion, Jerusalem seems somehow closer.