The Home of My Youth

Charles Tarazi - New York and London, United States and England

In 1948, Palestine was beautiful and vibrant. There were fields of olive trees, people everywhere, much commerce, and a thriving society. Palestinian culture was rich in its food, familial traditions, music and dance. Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side , all part of the same social fabric.

Charles Tarazi was twelve years old when his family could no longer stay safe in Palestine. Zionist terrorism was rampant- assassinations were out of control and several massacres had already taken place.

One day, the Irgun terrorist group blew up a British military encampment near Charles’ sister’s catholic boarding school in downtown Haifa. Their vantage point from the house made it seem as if the school had been bombed because smoke careened off the rooftop. It wasn’t until the end of the day that they found out his sister was safe. His parents decided it was time for them to flee the danger.

Along with his mother, brother and sister, Charles took a long and arduous trip by train and traveled through Gaza, Rafah and the Sinai until they reached Egypt a day and half later. Though his father had been the Deputy Head of the Municipality of Haifa and the family enjoyed the comforts of middle-class status, Egypt only offered Charles’ father unemployment and heartache. In fact, Palestinians were denied employment until the Egyptian Revolution in 1952. Luckily, they had friends and family in Egypt who helped keep them afloat through the most difficult times.

Upon arrival in Egypt, the Tarazis thought they would return to Palestine within a few months. They never expected that 60 years later, there would still be no return in sight for Palestinian refugees. They had faith in the United Nations and the superpowers and believed a resolution would be reached. In May, when word of the Israeli Declaration of Independence reached Egypt, Charles remembers people were upset... yet they still hoped.

As the years wore on, it was difficult to retain that hope. At age 22, Charles left Egypt by convincing United States Senator Thye of Minnesota that he qualified for a visa under the 1957 Immigration and Nationality Act otherwise known as the Refugee-Escapee Act. The Senator wrote a letter on Charles’ behalf and soon thereafter, the United States Consulate in Cairo contacted Charles with the good news.

Though Charles was interested in engineering, he felt as if he didn’t have a choice to pursue his true aspirations and instead needed to take advantage of what was available. So, he went into commerce. After hitting the pavement in a bitterly cold, selfish and inhospitable New York January, he finally found employment in the metal business. Several years later, he fell in love, married and had three daughters. Though his daughters are American/British citizens, they have always been taught about their Palestinian heritage.

In 1998, Charles’ daughter, Monica, decided to study Arabic at Birzeit University in Palestine. It had been 50 years since he’d last been to Palestine so Charles decided to visit her at her behest. Though he was adverse to crossing into Israeli territory, Charles agreed to show Monica his childhood neighborhood in Haifa.

They began the trip with a map but after a while, Charles realized he knew exactly where he was. Monica was incredulous yet Charles still knew the neighborhood well enough after 50 years that he needed no map to find home. They got out of the car and began walking until finally a woman popped her head out of an old friend’s house and asked “Can I help you?” Charles explained that he’d grown up in that neighborhood and hadn’t been back since 1948. He proceeded to tell the woman what her own apartment looked like from the inside as he had spent much time there as a child. The woman knew the people who currently lived in Charles’ childhood home and agreed to introduce them so that Monica and Charles could see their house as well. The house was exactly the same and brought Charles a flood of memories. He could hardly believe he was there.

As serendipity would have it, months later, part of the house was available to rent. Monica was given the opportunity to stay in her father’s old house and slept in the bedroom where her grandfather slept until 1948.

Charles returned to Palestine again a few months later in order to share his homeland with his other daughters, Fiona and Nadia. While driving in Haifa he stopped at a grocery store that was once owned by family friends of his. Charles approached the man standing outside and asked, “Is this store still owned by the same family?” The man replied, “Yes, why do you want to know?” Charles said, “The son of the store owner was my best friend as a child.” To that, the man looked him straight in the eyes and responded “Charles?” They hugged and felt overwhelmed with emotion as they rekindled a childhood friendship after 50 years. Distance may have separated them, but the friendship had endured all that came to pass since 1948. CVV store

The idea of abandoning Palestine never occurred to Charles. Even after 60 years, he is a Palestinian, he believes in their righteous cause and will never abandon the dream of a state for all Palestinians and a respected national identity free from denigration. He continues to support his people’s struggle for freedom by taking part in cultural events, political rallies and supporting activist organizations. He believes these are the duties of every Palestinian.