The highly varied and deeply personal stories elicited through these interviews reveal the consequences of past and present events while often exhibiting individual perseverance and triumph in the face of hard experience and profound loss. Not all participants were willing to have their stories leave the confines of the exhibit itself. Here is one story:
LAYLA HIJAB CABLE
Born: 1945, Nablus, Palestine
I was born in Nablus (Palestine), where my father grew up, and spent my first 16 years there. We moved to Jerusalem when my father was appointed a Judge. I left Jerusalem at age 18 to attend the American University in Beirut.
I was studying in Beirut when the 1967 war took place. I could not go back to Palestine because, if you were not in the country at the time of the war, Israel would not let you return. Also Lebanon would not let me leave because, to get clearance to leave, you had to prove that you were going to a country that would receive you. At this time my family was living in the Gulf. My father was helping to establish a legal system there. They had packed everything up and put it in storage with my uncle in Jerusalem, and traveled on a Jordanian passport. They did have land and a small house in the Jordan Valley. We were expecting to return to Jerusalem after the Gulf work, but we were not allowed to. We had no legal status, and were in the Diaspora without any legal residency or country. We were not counted anywhere.
And the passport we got from Jordan, when Jordan took over the West Bank, had a little phrase, “Acquired citizenship by article 2,” which meant that you were Palestinian. So everyone who opened it knew exactly who you are and where you are from.
My parents wanted to come back to the West Bank, but the Israelis had conditions. My father would have to swear allegiance to a Jewish State. My father was a judge, and he said, ”No, I won’t swear allegiance to any religious state.” So he couldn’t go home. They went to Jordan. My father never went back.
My father was invited to come to the US in 1972 to write a United Nations report. He came with another jurist, an Indian, to write on the status of the Occupied Territories. The United States said that, if this was presented, they were going to kick everybody out – the Jordanians and the Palestinians, everybody. The U.N. told him to shelve it.
He said, “Thank you very much, I am leaving.”
They said, “Why are you leaving? You get a good salary.”
He said, “I didn’t come here for the salary.” And he just packed up and left.
The Indian jurist was hopping mad and said, “We are just pawns. They are pretending that they want our opinion, but they really don’t want our opinion.”
I met my (former) husband, a student, at the American University. We came to the states briefly, then went to Saudi Arabia where he taught, and we met a lot of amazing people — Americans teaching ELS and in the Peace Corps. We lived on a farm in upstate NY briefly, and moved to Cambridge in the late 70’s. I entered the Lesley Master’s Program in ’82, got involved in doing daycare, went to Harvard and got a reading degree, was the Special Needs director for Headstart, taught Kindergarten in Cambridge, was a reading specialist in Boston, and, for the last 9 years, have been teaching Kindergarten in the same school in Boston.
In Saudi Arabia you were not allowed to talk politics. When I came here I really opened up because I realized it was a place where I could speak. It allowed me the freedom to express myself and get engaged in activism and discussions. At the same time it was hard because there were attacks by some individuals who would tell me, “Oh, you are not Palestinian because there is no Palestine.” I had to learn who I could talk to and to balance what I said. The harder part was the fact that so many disasters kept happening to Palestinians, and I would constantly get engaged in activities like a demonstration, a talk, a dialogue, showing a movie. It was almost like a job, like being a Palestinian was not something you could take a vacation from. You are a Palestinian when you wake up in the morning. Sometimes I would wake up and say, “Maybe I will be a Pole today and just won’t have anything to do.”
I used to take my children to events, either cultural events or political events, or demonstrations. One principal said to me, “These are not appropriate things for your children to witness.” I said, “I am not taking them to kill anyone or be killed; I am taking them to a demonstration down in Boston.” I did not realize that there was this opposition by some people. And some teachers were not very sensitive. I experienced some opposition to my views, but not as a person; but my children — I think that there was some opposition to them as children of a Palestinian — and they took that harder than I hoped would happen.
My daughter took this course, Facing History and Ourselves, and she wanted to discuss Palestinian, Native American, and African-American struggles. She was told, “No, that is not acceptable. This is a course specifically about the Holocaust.” But she said that this is a good opportunity to put all the struggles together, and I was surprised that a 14 year old could express herself so well.
It was kind of shocking to my son, David, after the invasion of Lebanon in ’82, to be called a terrorist. It was hard because he got called un-American. My kids are American but they have Palestinian heritage, and they didn’t think they should be discriminated against. My youngest, Umayya, was stronger, I think, because she was born here and thought she had a right to speak up. She said that she wasn’t going to be involved in politics, but, after her trip to the West Bank in 2006, she came back and changed her field from art to political science and entered a PHD program. She is a teaching assistant.
But, you know, the funny part is I think I influenced Umayya without knowing. Recently, she wrote something about me. It was a little article about her mom coming home every Friday from work, sitting on the sofa, reading books and magazines and newspapers, drinking tea, and once in a while cursing, and, she said, “I do not know why anyone would get into things that make them depressed and read them on a Friday afternoon.” And she said, “Now I have my Fridays; and I come home, lay on the sofa, drink tea, and read books, magazines, and newspapers.” (She doesn’t curse though).
I think it was good being in Cambridge because there was enough of a population that was interested and informed. There were a lot of kind people who, even if they did not understand the politics or sympathize with Palestinians politically, they understood the human part, and sympathized with me as a person, and that is why I actually learned to speak about my own personal experiences. It was easier for people to understand what happened to your grandmother, what happened to your father, what happened to your cousin in the struggle than to give them a lecture about what happened in 1980, in 1947, or 1948. That kind of opened more doors, and I got to speak to more people that way.