Yusuf: a Fable

©  Jordan White Enterprises

November 22, 1999



            There once was a boy named Yusuf.


            He lived in a land that his family, and everyone he knew, called “Palestine”.


            Other people did not call that land by that name.  Those people called it “Israel”.


            Yusuf was taught by his family that these people did not have claim to those lands.  They just had arms and power, most of it given to them by people who hoped to get rich because they had a stake in creating a stage in another part of the world to act out their own power-plays.


            Yusuf’s family got poorer and poorer, as these people continued to lay claim to his people’s lands and holdings.  Once they had been well-off, not rich.  Not rich, because they didn’t take more than they felt that they deserved.  They were well-educated people, and they had a comfortable life.   His father was a lawyer, which meant he made a living bringing honor to the law and to himself by interpreting the law in a way that showed that, as a civilised people, they loved the law and the fair, equal protection it gave to all the people of the land.


            But when the Israelis came in, they did not care for the beauty of the law.


            They did not care for the age-old traditions of the Palestinian people.


            Their hand-made tiles were ripped up and thrown away.

            Their ancient olive orchards were torn up by the roots,  the trees put on trucks, and driven away to be dumped as one would dump trash, worthless stuff.

            Their beautiful homes, many dating back to Ottoman times, quality homes, hand-built stone homes, labored over by a father and husband with his careful calculations, were taken away and carved into apartments for the interlopers, who decided that they were the ones deserving of this lovely architecture, not the families of the men who built them, although those families were the ones they were thinking of when they labored far into the night to construct those priceless structures.


            Yusuf grew up on a refugee camp, because his lawyer father’s hand-built home had been appropriated by the interlopers, and they had no place to go.


            Yusuf’s family became very poor.


            They had to do without so much.  International agencies gave them food like sugar, flour, rice.  They almost never had meat.   Their clothing came from charity, collected in big barrels from places like England and the United States.  It didn’t always fit very well, but Yusuf and his brothers and sisters did not complain.  It was better than being cold.


            Yusuf’s father and his brother built a new home for the family in the camp.  It was not beautiful like their old one because they had only cement blocks to work with.  It was much smaller, too.  But it felt a little bit like home once they put in the furniture they had managed to salvage and covered the bare floor with the beautiful carpet that had been in the family for generations.


            Yusuf went to school.  He went to mosque and learnt how to be a good Muslim.


            He did not spend his time thinking of what could have been.  He did not spend time feeling sorry for himself or his family.


            Instead, Yusuf studied hard and planned what he would do when he was old enough.  He did not want to fight the Israelis, but he knew he would do it  if he had to.


            In school, he learnt about computers and communications devices that let people, even children, talk to people all over the world.  He learnt about new techniques that brought people together even though they couldn’t see each other.  He learnt what it meant to be free.


            When Yusuf was eleven years old, his mother took him to the office of the Relief Agency.  He was growing fast, and he needed a new jacket for the winter.  They lived in the hilly country north of Jerusalem and the winters could be very chilly.


            The people at the Relief Agency tried to find a jacket to fit Yusuf.  But they were all too small.  Yusuf was shaping up to be a big boy and his wrists stuck out of every coat he tried on.  Finally, his mother chose one that was way too big.  He would grow into it, she said. 


            Yusuf did not like the jacket, but he did not complain.  He merely rolled up the sleeves and wore it that way.  At least it fit properly around his middle.


            He walked to school one fine autumn day.  It was windy and the sky was full of clouds.  Yellow sycamore leaves were collecting in little piles, and Yusuf laughed as he kicked at them.  His spirits were high.   He felt like having fun.  He took off his jacket and unrolled the sleeves.  He put the jacket back on and began running toward the schoolyard, flapping his long sleeves like a bird preparing for flight.


            As he ran, he sang aloud.


            “I’m a bird, a great big bird, and I can fly.  I can fly and no one can catch me.  No one can stop me.  I shall fly all over the world and no one can stop me.”


            He stopped singing because he found that his long, flapping sleeves were, indeed, acting like wings and he found himself soaring over the schoolyard, flying, flying, free.


            To his amazement, as he looked around, he saw his schoolmates flying, too.


            They were all flying, free from the encampments and the barbed wire and the poverty.  They were free to cross the Green Line, the borders.  Any borders.  Yusuf looked down at the land below.  For the first time in his life, he saw that it was not a patchwork nor a leopard skin.  It only seemed that way when you were on the ground.  But, soaring high above, he saw that his country was one unit, and he realized that from up here in the clouds, things were different.


            That was when he realized that there was no stopping him.  He flapped his long sleeves even harder, and soon he was zooming out of the earth’s atmosphere and was passing by the planets and stars. 


            After a while, he decided to go home, because the school bell was ringing and he didn’t want to be late.


            That evening, as he and his family ate their moloquia, beans, and rice, he was quiet, for a change.  When his father tenderly stroked his hair and asked him what was on his mind, he couldn’t really answer.


            He did not know how to tell them that he had seen the stars.


Dedicated to Bir Zeit University, Across Borders Project