Saturday, August 2, 2014

Oh, Jerusalem!

It was midnight.  27 Nov 1917.

Khalil al-Sakakini had put aside the book he was reading and was getting ready to go to bed when a knock on the door of his home in the Katamon area of Jerusalem jolted him, gentle though the knock was. 

“Alter Levin!” gasped Khalil on seeing his midnight visitor.  Levin was known to Khalil as an American citizen, an insurance agent, and also a poet of some repute. 

Worse, Levin was a Jew. 

“Give me refuge,” pleaded Levin.  As an American citizen, he had been ordered to surrender himself to the Ottoman authorities. 

The War was going on.  Khalil could hear the rumble of artillery around Jerusalem rolling like reverberating thunder.  The British troops were closing in.  Any foreigner who failed to surrender to the authorities would be considered a spy, as would anyone sheltering one.

Here was a Jew seeking refuge at the door of a Muslim.

Khalil was not a bigot. Rather, he was a scholar, an educator and a writer. 

“If I accept him, I’m a traitor to my government; and if I refuse him, I’m a traitor to my language,” Khalil wrote in his diary later.  By “language” he meant his Arab identity and loyalty to it.  “I told myself that he wasn’t appealing simply to me for refuge, but to my whole people as represented in me.  He was appealing to the literature expressed in my language, before the coming of Islam and after it.  He was appealing to that ancient Bedouin who sheltered a hyena fleeing from its pursuers and entering his tent.  And I should add that he had bestowed a great honour on me by coming to me for refuge.”

He opened his door to the virtual enemy.

A week passed.  Khalil was beginning to feel confident about the safety of his guest as well as himself when another midnight knock on his door jolted him.

The police had tracked Levin down.  They had arrested and beaten up a Jewish woman who had been asked by Levin to smuggle kosher food to him.  

“Man, why didn’t you eat our food, God forgive you?  If you thought our food was impure, then we must be impure too...  So how could you take refuge with us?  Oh, religions!  Oh, foolish minds, rather!  How many victims have you claimed?”  We read in Khalil’s diary.  [Highlight added]

Death was the penalty for treason.  Both Khalil and Levin counted the moments left to them. 

But the Ottoman Empire was in the throes of death.  Chaos prevailed over Jerusalem. 

"Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”  Jesus had cried two millennia ago.

Khalil and his Judas, both spent 40 days in prison before being released.  Khalil joined the Arab Revolt forces which were fighting with the British forces in the World War. 

When the War was over, in 1919, Khalil and Levin met each other in Jerusalem.  Levin bowed his head in gratitude. 

In 1933, Levin committed suicide apparently because his business was in trouble.

Khalil al-Sakakini died in Cairo in 1953 as an exile.  His diary, Such Am I, O World, describes the formative period of Palestinian resistance to Zionism.  It illustrates the shattering of Arab nationalist hopes, the sharpening of Palestinian identity, and the growing despair and militancy of Palestinians as they watched their land being bought up and settled by Jewish immigrants.

Note: I have adapted the post from Anton La Guardia’s book, Holy Land, Unholy War: Israelis and Palestinians, London: John Murray, 2002.  I bow my head in shame and grief over the killings going on in Gaza.  


  1. So much hatred, intolerance & unspoken pain around.

    1. Until people understand the futility of some of their beliefs and notions, the situation won't improve.

  2. Levin committed suicide. All the kosher food and the observance of his religious laws could not save him from despair. That is how religion fails. Your highlight is the central message of this incident from history. Religions kill rather than save people.

    1. True religion is yet to be taught, though learned within by every individual.
      Till such time art of teaching religion is mastered, teaching it should be banned.

    2. Banning will only make it more potent, I think. Such is the power of religion over the human psyche. Each one of us can and should keep trying to raise the consciousness level of people: that's the remedy I can see.

  3. Replies
    1. Glad you could find in it profundity, Sharmila.

  4. Replies
    1. Globalisation is all about commerce. Both America and UK mint billions by selling arms to Israel. That's globalisation.

  5. I've read somewhere prior to 1946 - palestine consisted major part of now what is Jordan

    1. Nandini, Please read the following link to understand the politics behind American statements about Palestine being Jordan:

  6. When I read about such times, I feel gratitude that I am living in a peaceful surroundings. But then I think what if I have reborn from such times.. What if I was in a camp like Annie frank or I was a sikh migrant during partition. And what if I die to be in such times.. And then again, I think thankfully, I am right now in a peaceful surroundings and pray for those who are not..

    1. Your peace could be ephemeral, Roohi, if somebody in India decides to do what Israel is doing in Gaza right now. Revanchism. Trying to reclaim land that their ancestors lived in centuries ago... What if somebody in India decides to do the same and starts dropping bombs or doing something similar with the intention of making India a single-religion country?

    2. Yes you are absolutely right.. that's why I savor this peace as it is as you call, ephemeral :) I pray for peace in Gaza and everywhere..

  7. very nice post Sir! I think this problem is a very sad fact y'de I was reading some forums in wich comments were like...'as jews are cursed that they'll nvr get a homeland as per holy book & they know it, so they r using ghastly force 2 cling on to this land...till end of time they r bound 2 remain stateless'...

    Is there really this religious angle to it? Coz USA backing it steadfastly is due to powerful rich Zionist lobby in using Israel fr its own national interests & funding it heavily...

    But this is so completely unfair 2 Palestinians...Pan-Arabism also seems inactive Muslim states r raising their voices wich seems very unreal...

    1. There definitely is a religious angle to the issue, Amrita. Israel is the land promised to the Jews by their God, according to the Old Testament of the Bible (which the Jews too accept as their holy scriptures). It's also a fact that the Jews were a "wandering people" for many centuries, so much so that many people believed they were an accursed lot. Christianity labelled them as the killers of Jesus and no lost opportunity to persecute them for that very reason.

      The Arab politics is controlled by America and its oil business. Many of the rulers and powerful Arabs are puppets of America. That's why Palestinians don't have supporters except the fundamentalists and terrorists.


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