Interview with Nahida H. Gordon, Ph.D., by Dominic Marchionda (2007)

What was it like during the 1948 War, and what happened to you?

In 1948, we were living in Jafa north of which was a Jewish suburb, then called Tel Aviv.  Now Jafa is in tatters and Tel Aviv is a large modern city.  Our house was near the waterfront a few hundred yards from the lighthouse.  Its sweeping light kept me company at night when I was falling asleep.  Into my memory creeps the tension amongst the adults and the visitors to my parents.  At night we fell asleep to the sound of bombs.  These bombs were the small Israeli air force bombing the civilian areas of Jafa. One night the Church across the street was bombed and lost its roof.  My father was wounded in one such air raid. Israeli armored cars equipped with machine guns would come to the top of our street and shower the street with a hail of bullets.  Because of this violence, we were never allowed outside our house unless adults escorted us.  I was always driven to school, which was a short two blocks away from home.

How old were you during this refuge?

I was eight years old when we were forced out of our home.

Who did you leave with, and what were some of your memories about the people around you and their attitudes at this time?

I left with my family.  I described some of my memories in the answer to part 1.  I think everybody was afraid for their lives and the lives of their children.  The Israeli’s on many occasions were committing massacres in small towns and villages to make the inhabitants flee for their lives.  Work spread about these massacres and that frightened people even more.

How long were you in refuge?

I still consider myself a refugee even though I am settled.  We did not leave Palestine willingly.  We left to save our lives.  And we were never allowed, contrary to international law, to return to our homes.

Where did you refuge?

We first went to Beirut, Lebanon where we lived for three years.  After that we emigrated to the United States.

How do the Host countries that Palestinian’s find refuge feel/treat the Palestinians?

In Lebanon, Palestinians have never been treated well unless they had sufficient financial means to live independently.  The majority ended up in refugee camps where they and their children still live.

As a Palestinian-American, living in the United States, it is difficult psychologically because the United States government under all its past presidents has been uninspired to insists that Israel, its client state, follow international law and the countless UN resolutions calling for the return of refugees to their homes and the withdrawal from occupied territories it unlawfully seized.

What do you think needs to be done to solve this conflict between the Palestinians and Israeli’s?

The conflict involves more than the Palestinians and the Israelis.  If left to the people of Israel and Palestine, there would have been peace a long time ago.  The government of Israel has reneged on all its agreements.  The solution is simple, according to President Jimmy Carter in his book Palestine: Peace, Justice and not Apartheid, Israel must follow international law and abide by UN Security Council resolutions on the conflict.

Do you know anyone still in refuge?

Yes, I know many who are still refugees.  As I said previously, I consider myself a refugee because I did not leave Palestine willingly.

Have the Palestinian refugees been compensated for their property losses?

No – not a single one.

Can’t the Palestinian refugee crisis be resolved through financial compensation to alleviate the poverty?

It would go a long way in solving the problem; however Israel is uninclined to compensate any of the refugees for to do so would imply recognition of Israel’s responsibility for the refugee crisis.  And it still refuses to recognize its responsibility – – a responsibility recognized by international law.

What do you think needs to be done in order to solve the conflict today?

The Israeli government has to be willing to live alongside the Palestinians.  They want a country that is 100% Jewish and there is much talk in the Israeli press about how to complete the job of ethnic cleansing.  This kind of talk has to stop and Palestinian hard liners who think they can get rid of Israel have to change their thinking.  I think the only way to solve the situation is for both people to realize that they have to live together.  This will never happen as long as the US government continues to support Israeli aggression in all its forms – both violence and expanded settlements in the West Bank.

What would you tell people today who are interested in solving this conflict between the Israeli’s and Palestinians?  What steps could they take to making some sort of contribution?

As long as the U. S. government, including both the President and Congress, allows Israel to violate international and humanitarian law and UN Resolutions, there is no just solution.  So the contribution that is needed to bring about a just solution is to let our Congressional representatives and the President know that as citizens we expect our government to make support of Israel contingent on the latter’s compliance with international and humanitarian law and the UN Resolutions that pertain to the conflict.

My Personal Analysis

In the interpreting process of Dr. Nahida Gordon’s responses to my questions I found out that even after a semester of studying both Israeli and Palestinian literature, I still have a lot to learn.  I was forced to use and correlate elements of analysis that I inherited in this semester’s coursework and literature to relate with what Dr. Gordon explained in the interview.  I had to  try and accurately depict what tone Dr. Gordon was speaking in as well as what kind of mood she was trying to present (since This interview was conducted via e-mail).  Initially, I thought it would be a trying task. Yet, when I reviewed her responses a couple of times, I found a somber yet, fiery and descriptive voice speaking from deep within.

Dr. Gordon presents vivid imagery in her response to the first question of the interview when she depicts her memory of the beginning of occupation and war times of 1948 in these words,

“Our house was near the water front a few hundred yards from the light house.  Its sweeping light kept me company at night when I was falling asleep.  Into my memory creeps the tension amongst the adults and the visitors to my parents.  At night we fell asleep to the sound of bombs.  These bombs were the small Israeli air force bombing the civilian areas of Jafa. One night the Church across the street was bombed and lost its roof.  My father was wounded in one such air raid. Israeli armored cars equipped with machine guns would come to the top of our street and shower the street with a hail of bullets.  Because of this violence, we were never allowed outside our house unless adults escorted us.  I was always driven to school which was a short two blocks away from home.” (Dr. Nahida Gordon)

Detailed and illustrative words used by Dr. Gordon in the response above instilled a shocking image, and unexplainably forced me to think of myself as a young boy in the same situation.   I could not fathom not being able to walk to school, which like Dr. Gordon was only a block or two away from my house.  I could not picture even for a second not being able to roam my neighborhood looking for a pick up game of baseball or basketball alone, unaccompanied by a parent.  This sense of uncertainty and lack of safety enabled me to correlate Dr. Gordon and the rest of the Palestinian people’s situation to the situation of America immediately after the terrorist attack of 9/11.  The relation of not being able to roam your own land freely makes one realize how much they take their everyday life for granted.  You never realize what you have until its not their anymore.  And while I believe the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in America are a great way to bring my peers to a sense of relatedness- I would be doing an excessive injustice.

The attacks of 9/11 are definitely seen as a Prism of Pain for America and Americans alike.  However, it was a rapid occurrence, and cannot be compared to the occupation and loss of territory that the Palestinian’s have weathered.  Again, as a favorite musician of mine-Jack Johnson- states in one of his songs, “we used to laugh a lot, because we though that everything good always would remain,” you really do not realize what you have until its not around.  Unlike a toy, or a person, incorporating land into this saying, and the ability or lack of- to live carefree is a much greater loss.

Maybe the most intriguing element of my interview with Dr. Gordon came from the question, ” Do you know anyone still in refuge?”  and she replied that she still considers herself a refugee today even though she is settled, because she did not leave her homeland of Palestine willingly.  Even though she left her land at the young age of eight years old, there is no lack of pride in her heritage and her tradition that developed on the land she was forcefully exiled from.  I found that utterly remarkable.

Even though there unavoidably in nature deems a sense of resentment towards the Israeli occupation, I found it interesting that Dr. Gordon implied when asked what needs to be done to solve this conflict- she suggested that if it were left to the people; the Israeli’s and the Palestinians, ” there would have been peace a long time ago,” she said.  Furthermore she cited a book by former president Jimmy Carter called, Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid. That states the simple solution to the problem is, according to Dr. Nahida Gordon, “Israel to follow international law and abide by UN Security Council resolutions on the conflict.”  This directly relates to the specific literature of David Grossman in The Smile of the Lamb, which we covered this semester.  Grossman had a latent idea, which he brought to life through his characters that some Palestinians and some Israeli’s- for whatever circumstance or different situation they were in- came to realize that even though they technically are so different, they also are so similar.  In a sense, they realized that they are all in this battle and ongoing conflict together.

Furthermore, I would briefly like to mention how this interview as well as the in-class lecture presented me with very relatable instances to go along with some of the literature covered in the course material.  Besides the fact that Dr. Gordon realizes that as a Palestinian, she belives the only solution is to live together with the Israeli’s can be seen in David Grossman’s character’s Khilmi and Uri, but also in some of the poems we read at the end of the semester which emphasized hope.  My favorite is by Naomi Shihab Nye called Jerusalem which opens with, ” I’m not interested in who suffered the most.  I’m interested in people getting over it.”  To me, this goes hand in hand with what Dr. Gordon was trying to describe to me.  If she can move on after being forced out of her home the age of eight, then everyone should.  The whole underlying message is basically one that says the more we dwell on the past, the more blood that will be shed.  If they can move on, and strive for normalcy, then the blood will clot allowing them to live together in the absence of fear.

Secondly, I would like to incorporate the time Dr. Gordon spend in class and more specifically her response to one of our questions that showed a correlation with the poem Here We Shall Stay by Tawfiq Ziad which was analyzed earlier in the semester.  In class, Dr. Gordon was asked why she didn’t just move to Lebanon, or somewhere along those lines instead of cause such a fight.  Dr. Gordon, impulsively responded, ” What If I came to your house and told you to leave and move to Canada?”  This again grabbed my attention of the dynamics that Dr. Gordon possesses, which include; one her call for resolution in the form of one-state, and two- never letting her pride diminish over the years.  This just provided an echoing voice from Ziad’s poem in the following excerpt, “Here we shall stay, A wall upon your breast,
 And in your throat we shall stay,
 A piece of glass, a cactus thorn,
 And in your eyes,
 A blazing fire.”  This exhibits the relentlessness of Palestinian pride which is found in Dr. Gordon, while also underlining the ability Dr. Gordon has to remain calm, and optimistic about coming to a state of peace or resolution.  Although Tawfiq Ziad’s descriptions are strong, it is absent of violence and presents a sense of persistence.

Overall, I guess the interview really reinforced the idea that I developed through this semester that Palestine or Israel, whatever you would like to call it- is indeed in turmoil, but at the same time is full of hope.  Which I guess you can say that any situation with such chaos and history must be a strong candidate for some hope.  Yet, from analyzing literature, and real people  that are deeply involved in this conflict-  this case between the Israeli’s and Palestinians is in light of hope that will bring serious changes in the near future

This leads to the same sense of light or hope to lead to a road of resolution, and end what seems to be; perpetual battle of humankind.   This light or ray of hope is very visible in the eyes of some enlightened members of the conflict on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.  However for others, such a resolution is not practical unless some major compensation is brought forward for their suffering.  Dr. Gordon elaborates on this matter by offering her plausible solution.  She said that compensation to her Palestinian peers, “would go a long way in solving the problem; however Israel is uninclined to compensate any of the refugees for to do so would imply recognition of Israel’s responsibility for the refugee crisis.  And it still refuses to recognize its responsibility – -a responsibility recognized by international law.”

Dr. Gordon also explained after being asked if any steps of compensation were being offered by Israel was being taken.  She replied that not a single Palestinian has been compensated for what was wrongfully taken from them.  Between the two of these responses, I found it hard to believe that after so much media coverage, some type of compensation has not been offered. I find it even harder to believe that the UN and America are letting this slide.  Dr. Gordon seemed to feel the same way in her reaction to my twelfth question of the interview with,

” As long as the U. S. government, including both the President and Congress, allows Israel to violate international and humanitarian law and UN Resolutions, there is no just solution.  So the contribution that is needed to bring about a just solution is to let our Congressional representatives and the President know that as citizens we expect our government to make support of Israel contingent on the latter’s compliance with international and humanitarian law and the UN Resolutions that pertain to the conflict.”

This is where I really come to grips with how ignorant I was on the conflict presented in the middle east upon taking Dr. Metres’ course.  Originally, I was quick to side with my country and their alliance with Israel when I came across news clippings or media segments.  Now, However, I am enlightened with a feeling of bewilderment and disapproval of how my country, which I still love and respect is intentionally ignoring the absent compliance by Israel according to the international and humanitarian law that Dr. Gordon refers to in the interview.  Conversely, the more enlightened I become, I still feel for the intent Israel has to be left alone and reach a state of Zionism after all their years of oppression and suppression.   Yet, that leaves them no right whatsoever to unjustly perform the acts that caused their centuries of misfortune and place them on another unwilling culture.  This is where my compassion diminishes, and my pain thrives with the refugees of Palestine such as Dr. Gordon.

Throughout this course I tried to take in every bit of information with open arms. Concurring with Dr. Gordon, I believe her idea that resolution can only come if the Israeli government will abide to law and is willing to live alongside the Palestinians.  I understand the Israeli’s wants and desires for a separate, pure Jewish state, but how can they willingly commit such an act of ethnic cleansing after going through the very same atrocity? Whatever way one may look at this conflict to try and resolve, according to Dr. Gordon, “the only way to solve the situation is for both people to realize that they have to live together.  This will never happen as long as the US government continues to support Israeli aggression in all its forms – both violence and expanded settlements in the West Bank.”

Perhaps, over time the very possibility of this One-State solution will occur.  According to the demographics that have been mentioned in and out of class favoring the Palestinian’s- there must me a one-state solution, which will only exist if the Israeli’s and their government adapt to a life shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians and readily abide to international law as Dr. Gordon previously stated.  However, at this point in time, as optimistic as Dr. Gordon may sound, the two sides are not currently near that point of adaptation and living with each other.  Yet, it is said that time heals all wounds.  Conceivably, and with a bit of luck – this time is imminent and peace will be found.

The help of experience and the abundance of knowledge that Dr. Metres provided to our class, I feel much more knowledgeable on where I stand in this absorbing conflict.  To reiterate the essence of hope which John Blakslee, and Dan Pirchner touched in their respective presentations; this conflict can and will be resolved.