He was born there sometime around the turn of the Century. His family lived in Romema “off Jaffa Road.” His father, Hanna Mousa, was a salesman who traveled sometimes to fairs and expositions around the world.
My dad had five brothers and two sisters. His oldest brothers Mousa and Yousef were his inspiration. And he had younger brothers Edward, Khamis and Farid.
Sometime in the early 1920s, his oldest brother Mousa immigrated to the United States. Like many immigrants, he easily found work and excelled as a chef.
My dad worked at the Jerusalem Post Office and went to school at night studying law. We had a relative, Hanania Hanania, who was a judge and who inspired many not just in my family but among all those who lived in Jerusalem. He was a very fair person.
The new British occupiers were as tough on Palestinians as they were on the Jewish immigrants who trickled in during the early years. But they were far better than the Ottoman Turks, the Muslim dynasty of oppression and remnants of an empire in severe decay.
But tragedy struck in April 1926. Yousef, the second oldest son, was swimming at a quarry near Jerusalem. I don’t have the exact location as places in Palestine were often referred to by location rather than a street address or intersection.
For some unexplained reason, Yousef found himself in trouble and he called out to people on the shoreline for help. He drowned that day.
According to the British Mandate Police reports at the time and notes my father kept in his collection, Yousef’s calls were ignored. Arabs thought he was a Jew. Jews thought he was an Arab.
Within a few months, my father decided to leave that troubled land and join his brother in Chicago. The British Mandate Government gave my father a Provisional Palestinian Passport that identified him as a “Palestinian,” a fact that some insist on ignoring.
Palestine was more than just a word. It had meaning for my father and his people, the same intensity that the name held for Jews who fled anti-Semitism in Europe and the growing Nazi movement.
He left behind his father, mother, sisters and remaining brothers to find a new life.
Next year in Jerusalem
My father enjoyed living in Chicago and he traveled often home to see his family. My father got his American citizenship without trouble and always wrote back to his family that America was a great place to live. Where “people were free to think and pursue their dreams and live without fear of oppression,” he wrote in one paper.
Even before the Imperial Japanese air force attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, my dad and his brother decided to do something to help their new adopted country. Although the United States had not yet formally entered the war, many Americans were already enlisting.
My dad and his brother enlisted, too. Dad was assigned to the 5th Army where he served as a Middle East specialist later assigned to the O.S.S., which after the war became the C.I.A.
His brother was assigned to the Navy, because the military officers thought that maybe someone named “Moses” could part the seas.
They served through the end of the war, more than four years, my dad fighting the Nazis, my uncle fighting the Japanese Imperial fleet.
And then there was al-Nakba, the Palestinian tragedy, in 1948. Even before Israel had declared itself a state, the Palestinian and Jewish undergrounds were battling across Palestine. The Partition was just a meaningless thing outsiders were imposing on all.
During the pre-state fighting, most of the Palestinians in West Jerusalem fled, just as most Jews fled East Jerusalem. My father’s family found themselves in a refugee camp in Jordan where they stayed for several years. In the 1950s, they immigrated to Chicago.
My mother’s family lived in Bethlehem. Though the fighting was always near, they remained there for many years.
Although wars continue to wage, life goes on. But my dad never forgot Jerusalem. We would always remember the city at dinner, wishing one day he could return.
Dad would tell us that although he left of his own free will to make money to help his family, the idea that he could never return after the war was painful, but toughened his desire to go back.
He was never permitted to enter West Jerusalem while it was under Israeli control, just as Jews were not permitted to enter East Jerusalem when it was under Jordanian control. It was an unending war. An Armistice is not the same as a ceasefire.
Dad died in 1970, never seeing his city again.
That’s why I feel so lucky. I’ve been there many times, because I have an American passport. Most of my cousins and relatives cannot return or even visit. Dad’s relatives lived in the Old City, like his cousin who is a pharmacist. Still others lived south in Givat Hanania.
Growing up after my father died, I met only one other person who loved Jerusalem as much as my dad. I was a young writer and I was invited to “debate” the Arab Israeli conflict with Abba Eban, who was then Israel’s foreign minister.
It was less of a debate and more of a discussion though on the national public television station at the time. Eban was very articulate. And I admired that. We engaged each other and I remember asking him why he could come and go through Jerusalem even though he was born in South Africa, yet my father, who was born in Jerusalem, could never go back after 1948.
Eban responded by telling me how to properly pronounce my name with the hard “cha” sound. And that it was a Hebrew word that meant “God has been gracious,” although I know there are other translations.
Despite the challenges that separated us, we got along. And I even got Eban’s autograph. He told me I was the first Palestinian to ask him to autograph one of his books.
He even said he would let me “return” to Jerusalem. And I almost took him up on it.
Palestinians and Israelis have so much history together. We can either denigrate each other’s rights in the hopes of pretending to make ourselves better, or, we can respect those histories and someday find a way to live together.
I’d love to move back there one day.
As my dad would say, “Next year, insha’Allah, in Jerusalem.”
For everyone, I hope.
Ray Hanania was named the Best Ethnic American Columnist 2006/2007 by the New America Media. He can be reached at www.hanania.com