Alternative Palestinian Agenda

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Bird's labors mirror Palestinians' struggle
By Nasser Abufarha


Jibt ittin min Hittin, ya ha´ sirti, ya chasirti, ya kul ayshti, tlizzzik.

My friends, siblings and I would sing this verse to a very dear member of the family that lived with us, Sunoonu. –

Sunoonu also lived in the neighbor's house and in the houses of the other kids at the far end of the village.

To each of us, this bird (known locally as a barn swal´low) was a special friend because she had a one-on-one relationship to us - yet was a common friend to all of us in the neighborhood and the village's play yards.

Hardly any bird was safe from our sling shots as children, but the Sunoonu has an all-out immunity from children and adults. He is so appreciated, to the point that he is considered holy in some instances.

The Sunooniyeh (the female) builds her nest inside our homes in the villages of Palestine. She rolls little balls of mud, each small enough for her to carry in her beak, then attaches them inside one of our traditional mud houses.

It is a long and tedious process. When finished, the mud nest looks like a yacht.

Throughout the nesting season, the Sunooniyeh and the Sunoonu constantly patch their nest every time they notice a crack as the mud dries.

The song we sing to them translates as "I brought the mud from Hittin, oh my misery, oh my defeat, all of my life is patching."

The last word - "tlizzzik," which means 'patching' - is made to sound like the bird singing.

My mom used to sing this same song to herself, when experiencing hardship. Hittin is one of the over 400 Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948.

Perhaps the Palestinian fellahin (villagers) shared more than living space with the Sunoonu. They shared a way of life that requires tedious work, patience and continuous patching.

Every fall, we would sift dirt and mix it with tibin (crushed hay), turning it into mud to cover the roofs of the mud rooms before the first
rain, in case of any cracks from the past summer.

The Sunoonu prefers our old traditional mud houses (bayt) for living for many reasons. The bayt is a fairly large single room, nearly 10 by 8 meters, which makes flying inside not so confining. It has a high ceiling (about 5 meters).

It is perfect for nesting and, most important, the bayt has a taqa (small open window) close to the ceiling that is open in all seasons - making the home accessible to its Sunoonu inhabitants year- round.

Sidi (grandpa) Rada still lives in his traditional mud bayt. I very much adore my visits with him, when I visit Palestine. He is in his 90s.

Lying down on a wool mattress, leaning over a misnad (firm solid pillow made of hay) topped with a wool pillow, sipping tea and listening to tales of the past while the Sunoonu zaq ziq in the ceiling and fly in and out of the bayt - to me, these are moments of experiencing the purity of Palestine.

I recently received a letter from Palestine, carrying an Israeli postal stamp that had a picture of the Sunoonu on it.

I wonder if the Israeli postmaster knows anything about the relationship between the Palestinians and the Sunoonu. I wonder if it's known that some Palestinians hope that someday the Sunoonu would arm up and fight the Israeli soldiers on their behalf.

Maybe the Sunoonu, to the Israeli postmaster, is merely a unique shape. It is black on the back, brown on the bottom and - unlike most birds - has a fork-like tail.

But to me, this was a severe assault on Palestine purity and an assault on the lifelong bond of companionship and cherishing between us and the Sunoonu.

As I sat with my children (Canaan, 8, and Karmel, 5) at a Madison restaurant recently, the Sunoonu hovered around us and I told my children the story of this bird.

Then I told them that I was hurt to see the picture of the Sunoonu on the Israeli stamp.

Canaan's reply was, "Baba, that is kind of mean, but if you look at it a different way, since the Sunoonu is the falastini (Palestinian) friend, the Israelis are putting the picture of a falastini friend on their stamp."

My son is hopeful that maybe the Israelis are trying to get closer to the Palestinians by appreciating their friend.

Could this innocent thinking become true of Israel at some point?

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