The tragic death of American peace activist Rachel Corrie in Rafah refugee camp, killed when an Israeli bulldozer ran over her, came one day after millions of Americans demonstrated peacefully against war in Iraq, and only one day after I received similar tragic news from my family.
That day, I marched with my seven-year old daughter among the thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Columbia, Missouri, holding a model of the peace dove in a gesture of solidarity with the Iraqi people.
It was a sunny spring day and my daughter’s birthday, so we walked back home at the end of the rally, singing peace songs in Arabic.
When we walked into the apartment, I found a voice mail message from my brother, a physician in Germany, wishing my daughter a happy birthday and asking me to call him as soon as possible.
When I got in touch with him, my brother could barely speak. “The Israeli army has bulldozed our land,” he said.
“They uprooted all the olive and orange trees. Worst of all, they destroyed our father’s grave,” my brother cried. “The bulldozers just ran over everything. There is nothing left for us.”
Oh my dear father, they desecrated your grave and uprooted your land. I am grief-stricken.
I can still see you, how you used to wake up in the morning, drive your car to the field, and water those trees. Over time, with your loving care, the baby trees became huge ones, more than 30 years old.
Memories pass through my mind, memories of how my brothers, sisters, and I used to play on this land. We watered the trees and lived the best days of our childhood, playing in their shade, listening to the singing of the birds in their nests.
In seven hours, the Israeli army erased our memories. They even erased what remained of you, Daddy.
They cannot bear seeing us, either living or dead. Their racism is at its utmost when they uproot the land and graves.
I called my mother in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. Her voice was strong, “Do not be sad, dear,” she said. “God will compensate us.”
My mother is a strong, great woman, like all Palestinian women. I have always wondered where they get their strength from.
Your grave, Daddy, was very beautiful, with your name in curving script on the grey marble stone, surrounded by colorful roses and flowers that my mother planted. She always took care of your grave.
My Mom said, “We will build the grave stone again and keep visiting your father every Friday evening as we always used to do. We will tell him that you are all safe and well.”
My brothers and sisters will plant the olive and orange trees again.
“Why are Palestinians so attached to the land?” I asked myself. “Why are they so attached to the olive trees?”
It is because they belong to the land and because they are deeply rooted in the land like an olive tree.
To you, my dear daughter, I say, “What happened to your grandfather’s land will not stop us from holding the doves of peace and walk in peaceful demonstrations. I will always talk to you about peace and teach you how to respect the human being and protect one life and death.”
“We can only think of our humanity and security. And those who believe in justice will protect us and our land.”
And to my mother, sisters, and brothers, I say, “God bless you and may He give you the strength of justice”.
And you, Rachel Corrie, may your soul rest in Peace.
Benaz Somiry-Batrawi is a Palestinian media professional working as the director of the Media and Gender Department, Institute of Modern Media/Al-Quds Univeisrity. She is curently in the US as a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism.