One of the most difficult challenges posed by my life among the Palestinians is how to answer the question of whether I believe in God. Many of them are shocked and personally offended when the response is in the negative. Sometimes, to justify myself, I say, “I wish I could believe, but apparently, I’m already a lost cause.” At least I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when people say “Allah will help,” “Allah will punish” or “Allah is with us.”
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In the past, when I was taking notes about yet another family that had received a demolition order for their home from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, or yet another orchard or field that the Jewish democratic state had stolen from the Palestinians in broad daylight, I would spit out in frustration, “I don’t quite see Allah helping you.”
Go explain to a Palestinian that a sentence like that is a legacy of your Jewish parents, who while in Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the Shargorod Ghetto in Transnistria never even dreamed of looking for the lost God. And faced with people whose loved ones have been wiped out by an Israeli bomb, a drone-launched missile or a single bullet, I anyway stood speechless.
With time, I learned how to avoid lying while also not outing my heresy. But the eve of Yom Kippur is the most suitable possible moment not only for such an outing, but also for recounting the story of the late Shukriya Barakat from the village of Nabi Samwil, northwest of Jerusalem.
For decades, she resolutely battled every Israeli attempt to buy or steal or take over her land through every trick of forgery and fraud that the experts in Jewish redemption of the land could devise. She continued living in the village even after Israel destroyed its ancient houses one morning in 1971, and also after it declared the village’s lands a national park in 1995 and turned it into an archaeological Hasidic Disneyland.