My father (Baba) was raised on stories of the sweetness of the grapes in Sarise. I, however, was raised on Baba stories about his life in a Palestinian refugee camp.
Hammad on his skateboard in Detroit, MI.
Sarise is the name of my father's village, which was just on the outskirts of Jerusalem and ethnically cleansed 70 years ago by Israeli paramilitary forces. Sarise was rendered non-existent. In its place is an Israeli city called Shoresh, which hosts a retirement home for old English-speaking Israeli Jews and a McDonald's. Inevitably, Qalandia refugee camp became my father's de facto home for Baba and his 10 siblings.
One such Baba story that stuck with me was an anecdote about his journeys selling fruit in Jerusalem's Old City. He told me he would ride his bicycle to Beit Dukku, a village some 20km from the camp, to pick grapes and other fruits. He would then ride his bike to Jerusalem's old city to sell the grapes throughout the week in order to support his family.
I live in Palestine now, not too far from the refugee camp that raised my father. Last month Baba visited me in the West Bank. While bidding adieu to his motherland, he headed to Jerusalem's Old City. At Qalandia checkpoint, an 18 year-old-something Israeli soldier refused him entry because it was the Jewish holiday of Passover.
We met up that day over some ice cream and he spoke to me about his frustration over that incident. He had been denied entry as a 62-year-old man to the city of his ancestors. Like clockwork, Baba received his overdue reminder that this land is unjust. He told me, "Maen, as a kid I used to ride my bike to Jerusalem and sell grapes." I looked at him, letting him know I read his frustration. I thought to myself, jokingly, "I wonder if I could skate through the checkpoint and sell grapes instead [of him]. For Baba, you know?"
Hammad at Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank, Palestine, with grapes and his skateboard. Photo credit: Tanya Habjouqa (@thabjouqa on Twitter and @habjouqa on Instagram)
We caught up with Hammad and asked him a few questions.
La Formoisie: What exactly is "Qalandia," and what does it mean to Palestinians?
Hammad: Qalandia is twofold: a refugee camp that houses Palestinian refugees who historically are from the villages around Jerusalem, and also, a checkpoint- the main checkpoint between the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.
LF: Thanks for that. So, we take it you did not make it through the checkpoint?
Hammad: It was more of, like, an abstract idea. Not something I tried.
LF: What do you think would have happened if you tried to go through the gate with your skateboard in one hand and grapes in the other?
Hammad: I would have never made it in. I have a West Bank ID which means I am not allowed into Israel.
LF: You've been to Israel before. But you're saying that now that you have the West Bank ID, you can't go back to Israel? When did you get that ID?
Hammad: I've always had the West Bank ID. I only can go in with a Tasreeh (an entry permit).
LF: How difficult is it to obtain a Tasreeh?
Hammad: Tasreeh is very difficult to get. Essentially only for medical reasons people can get it, or during Ramadan. I have one from workBut that is because it is from an INGO [a prominent human rights organization].
LF: Thanks for sharing all of this. We appreciate the post, which can also be found on Maen Hammad's Instagram account. To our readers: make sure to check out Hammad's documentaries (linked below). They really are excellent.
Maen Hammad is a graduate of the Elliot School of International Affairs at Georgetown University and producer of the short films Kickflips Over Occupation, which details the lives of Palestinian skateboarders in the West Bank, and America's Syrians. Hammad gave a TEDx talk at Michigan State University, titled "Pushing Borders: Skateboarding in Palestine."