Book Review of Jacob J. Nammar’s ‘Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian’
Devoid of any endless visions or boundaries of self respect, self existence and freedom, albeit from within the corners of one's mind, a Palestinian's personal experience of disaster, tragedy or the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 then and now, is rather profoundly a spectral travesty of universal injustice.
This timely autobiographical story, Born in Jerusalem. Born a Palestinian, written by Jacob Nammar, a Palestinian Christian recounts his bittersweet yet, fervent family life memories and his despondent world of experiences as a youth. Nammar's spiritual ethos recaptures and etches out his visions firmly throughout the archives of his personal and family history, during, before and after the 1948 Nakba.
During Jacob's formative years of growing up in his beloved Palestinian homeland, Palestine, and the the city of Al-Quds, Jerusalem, his vivid mind is reminiscent of a city in which the Nammar family prospered and owned several tracts of valuable properties in Haret Al-Nasara (the Christian Quarter). It was in the city of Jerusalem where the Nammar family clan had good relationships with the Jewish people, even to the extent of contributing during the nineteenth century, two hundred Ottoman coins to help renovate a Jewish synagogue. Historically, Nammar, adds, “That was our relationship.”
However, as years of acceptance and mutual respect passed on, a total rein of terror eclipsed over Palestine during the Nakba of 1948. Unfortunately, gone were the days of a prosperous economy, social harmony, acceptance and a peaceful Palestinian society, which was replaced by an immoral
and decadent Israeli military government occupation of Palestine. A Palestinian steadfast life of self existence, survival and a cohesive family was now the norm.
Jacob, witnessed his own family's fear and trauma, as well as many prominent and well to do Palestinian families in Jerusalem as they were forced to leave their homes, had their property confiscated, and even having to emotionally endure male family members being tortured, imprisoned or taken away, just because they were peaceful Palestinians and no other reason. Jacob's father and brother were also the victims of these blatant Israeli military government's human rights violations.
According to Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor attacks upon his honour, and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the laws against such interference or attacks.” Needless to say, once the reader walks away after reading Jacob's story, I am sure they will ask why was this human tragedy not resolved now by world leaders, for the Nammar family and all Palestinians who have been denied their fundamental rights and the right to return to their homes.
One can assume that it is fate and destiny that will change the course on of one's life.
This holds true for Jacob's mom, who was born in Armenia and as a young child witnessed the massacre of her entire family under the Ottoman Turks and eventually ended up in Lebanon.
For Jacob, the experience of the Nakba and the constant violence for Palestinians living under an Israeli military occupation was now bellowing in his faith and belief that God was always with him. Thus began his daily visits to the YMCA in Jerusalem. It was at the YMCA that Jacob found his peace of mind and self-acceptance especially, while participating in many types of sports.. At the YMCA, he made many international friends who also excelled in swimming and basketball as he did. Ironically, Jacob was asked to join the Israeli basketball team and went on to become the only non Jewish player in the league. In fact, he was one of the most valued and most promising basketball players on the team.
However, much to Jacob's surprise, he was automatically dropped from the team. Jacob explains that since the team was funded by Jewish Americans, “They felt that is was unacceptable for a Palestinian to represent Israel in the upcoming Olympics. I felt betrayed and humiliated.”
After reading Chapter 10, 'You Do Not Belong Here”, the readers of this story should be able to deduce the implications and the effects of inhumane practices on any society, its religion, culture and politics.
Ironically, this is a story of Jacob 's altruistic world as foretold in the archives of his personal Nakba, of fate, destiny and karma ( dignity).
I would hope that everyone who reads Born In Jerusalem, Born Palestinian will acknowledge and commend Jacob's hopeful and profound belief that, “Jerusalem shaped my spirit, religion, heritage, identity and earthly consciousness.”
I personally believe, as a Palestinian, Jacob's story will eventually be recognized as a tribute and evocation of contemporary human beings who have suffered under ethic cleansing and in particular the Palestinian experience of separate and unequal laws of injustice and racism.
As a child born in Jerusalem and born in Palestine, the teachings of Jacob's parents hold true in
his heart today. “We are all God's children and spiritual descendents of the Prophet Abraham.”
Someday, if there is justice on Earth or in Heaven, there will be a right to return for thousands of exiled Palestinians like Jacob, and for those of us who have had our land, our history, our culture and our lives destroyed by the brutal occupation. And it is the hope of Jacob, that once again we will be at home in our Palestine.
Leila Diab is a Palestinian American freelance journalist.