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Hamod: Eyeless to Gaza

posted on: May 21, 2021

File photo of Nakba 1948 Palestine

Dr. Hamode “Sam” Hamod is one of America’s most distinguished poets of Arab descent. But before he was a poet, he composed short stories. In 1956, following a trip to the Middle East, Sam penned a powerful short story called “Eyeless to Gaza.”

Sixty-five years later, at a time when Israel is decimating Gaza once again, this poignant story induces a special resonance. “Eyeless to Gaza” – edited by Sam’s son, David Hamod – is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

By: Sam Hamod / Arab America Contributing Writer

The invading force struck as a lightning bolt into the trunk of a tree, splitting and dismembering.  After the heat and flame came the ashes, and remnants were helplessly strewn over the countryside.

So it was in May of 1948, as the Israeli Army slashed into Arab Palestine – overwhelming its defenders – routing them in confusion amidst fire, slaughter, and hysteria – scattering refugees and destroying two thousand years of life.

Dismembered branches were turned into ash, with only death remaining.  Moving on – following the age-old path of dry sand – hoping to cheat death for now . . . and to someday return to replant the roots which had once been in peace with the earth.

Ali Hamid moved into the desert with his wife and child.  The little boy cried, as did his mother.  Ali didn’t cry, but inside him, something was broken, something that could never again be mended until he returned to his home and his lands.  By nightfall, Ali had reached the camp of the dispossessed.  Ali now became one of many.

It was called Gaza, a city of tents and refugees, where the sun shone hot off the Mediterranean Sea in the summer, then dropped from its 135-degree heat during the chill of winter.

In 1947, I had visited Ali in his Palestine home.  I was then a correspondent for the AP Wire Service.  In those days, Ali was a short man with the body of a bull; a diminutive Paul Bunyan.  His down-to-earth humor reminded me of Uncle Remus stories, and his jet-black hair and Roman nose suited him well.

His wife was a woman who typified the beauty of the Middle East: a short, slender girl, with raven hair and aquiline features.  She had a smile that came as easily as the cold drinking water from a brook on a spring day.

The son was the pride of both parents.  Eventually, he was to look like his father, but for now, he still had that chubby look of a four-year-old, with his curly hair and button nose.  When little Ahmed smiled, it quickly turned into a high-pitched giggle; he was a tiny ball of energy that might be rolled along the ground with the slightest push.

Ali and I had stood there in his fruit orchard on an August day in 1947 – with apples, plums, pears, and oranges spreading their sweet smell about us.  Shade afforded by ancient trees and fresh green shoots cooled us under the blazing sun.

We joked and laughed, as I had done with many of my American friends back home in Chicago.  There we stood: Steadfast Ali, with his roly-poly son, and the dainty young wife standing beside her men.  

Ali picked up his son playfully and raised him into the air.  He laughed proudly as his voice boomed, “Well, doctor, in a few years, when your father is a gray old man, this will be all yours, all this land here.  My father gave me this house; I will pass along this house and garden, and may you gain much more to pass on to your son!”

With that, Ali and his wife repeated the phrases and prayer that I had heard so many times when we fought side-by-side against the Germans:

InShaAllah kullun emmleeah . . .  “If God be willing in his mercy.”

That was 1947, when we tasted the juicy apples, cool and succulent in the shade.  Now we faced each other once again – but the year was 1956, as we stood together in the hot, dry sand. 

The sun beat down on myriad tents, the stench of garbage and feces mixing pungently with the acrid smell of sun-cooked urine pools.  Thousands of flies buzzed incessantly around the mire, while underfoot the vermin crept and slithered.

Those nine long years had taken their toll.  Ali ran up to embrace me, impulsively, as he used to do in Germany and in his home in Palestine.  But now he stopped, coughed, and spit blood on the waterless sand.

When I looked around, I saw Alis all over – some younger and some older, but all of them were Ali Hamid.  The proud trees were now gnarled and defenseless against the blazing sun. 

Ali and his family lived in a cloth tent that kept out neither the summer heat, nor the wet chill of winter.  The stench was pervasive, and there was no work to be had on the desert sands. 

Some had talked of irrigation, but water was scarce, and seeds were scarcer.  Some had talked of fighting for their homes: “Return!” they had said, only to be mowed down when they tried to regain their stolen homes.  Some had talked of migration, but who would take them? 

Ali wanted to leave this fetid, desolate place and to return home.  What right did the Israelis have to drive him out of his home?  He was a farmer, not a fighter, and what good is a farmer without his land?  The United Nations sanctioned the Israeli attack on innocent people, then tried to rectify the matter by giving the refugees one-and-a-half cents’ worth of food per day. 

Over time, Ali – like the others – slipped into despair and despondency.

There was no going home.  The weeks turned to months, and the months turned to years.  Even the comfort of his wife proved elusive; Ali was afraid to lie in bed with her for fear of bringing another child into this burning Hell on Earth.

Then, what was bad became worse.  Little Ahmed had developed a case of rickets.  And while playing with some of the other children, he contracted tuberculosis.  Ali had tried to protect his son, but with a million people packed into 30 smothering miles, disease was rampant.

Ali had run from one end of the camp to the other, searching desperately for help.  But it was all in vain: “There are too many cases of TB here.  And besides, where is the money to take care of your son?  Medications cost money; you have none, and neither do we.”

In the end, the beautiful young sapling succumbed to the desert.

From that day on, the smile left Ali’s lips.  Tears flowed daily, and his powerful physique wasted away.

After little Ahmed’s passing, the once-beautiful wife grew sickly from the squalor of Gaza.  Until one day, the desert claimed another victim as the bubbling brook dried into the sand.

Ali was now alone to contend with the suffering and heartbreak of Gaza, and the sun beat down mercilessly.  As the days got longer – and the nights turned into days – Ali consumed his soul with grief.

He was a weary victim of life’s misfortunes.  What had he done wrong, or his wife, or his child, to deserve a fate like this?  His God did not answer him on Earth.  Perhaps He would do so in death.

Ya Allah . . . “Oh God” . . .

Alis throughout Gaza were asking the same questions: Why had the Great Powers turned their backs on Palestine, allowing a ruthless army to crush their lives and their groves of olive and orange?

Ya Allah . . . “Where are our great deliverers?”  Eyeless to Gaza . . . .

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