My father, Anise Saleem George, was born in Haifa in 1906, his father Saleem was a grain merchant. My father was the only son amongst five sisters, all born and raised in Palestine. My mother Haipha Urban was born in Safad, Palestine in November 1909 and raised in Jerusalem. I was born at the Tiberias Church of Scotland hospital in 1945, the youngest of three sisters; Salwa and Olive.
In 1948 my father was working in Nablus, where we lived in a rented house. Four of his sisters and his mother lived in that part of Palestine which became Israel after the Nakba. We became residents of the West Bank (under Jordanian jurisdiction) and were unable to return to my father’s house in Nazareth. From then on, we were severed from all of our relatives, my mother’s family were similarly cut off. No mail, no phone, no connection. After some years Christians were allowed to cross from Israel for one or two days at Christmas. The crossing point was The Mendelbaum Gate in the ‘No Man’s Land’, but we did not know until the day before whether we were allowed to cross or not. One aunt was married and her husband was working in Lebanon. She left Palestine in fear and went to live in Beirut. My grandmother, who I only met once, went to join her. My grandfather had died many years earlier. She left out of fear and wanted to be with her daughter for support. She died without seeing the rest of her children again.
I lived in Nablus and then Ramallah until I was 19. In 1964 I came to Leith Hospital in Edinburgh (Scotland) to do my nursing course. Although my sisters and I went to private schools, there was not enough money for higher education. The nursing training was free, we even had some pocket-money! I never saw my father again as he died suddenly in 1965. In 1967 the Israeli invasion and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (i.e. the rest of historic Palestine) occurred. I had completed my training but I only had a student visa so I could not stay or obtain work in Britain. I desperately wanted to go home. I contacted the Jordanian embassy in London, but they responded that they had no control over the West Bank and could not help me. In March 1968, after writing numerous letters my status in Britain was regularized and in April the Israelis granted me a two month visa to visit the occupied West Bank. Keeping documents and certificates remains very important to establish one’s background and identity as so many have been destroyed by Israel. The second time I visited was in 1973, this time with a British passport, but because of my place of birth I was taken out of the queue at the Allenby Bridge and was kept standing in the sun for eight hours and then physically searched. The presents I had bought for my mother were taken, the excuse was security. I often wondered what kind of security threat there was in a blouse, a scarf and chocolates.
In 1996, I took the chance of a 3-day cruise from Cyprus which stayed one full day in Haifa to visit my aunt in Nazareth. This time, I was delayed several hours before being allowed off the boat - my place of birth was the problem - and I only got two hours to see my aunt and cousins.
Life was hard for me in the 1960s in Scotland, and although I made some very good friends, I experienced a lot of racism, mainly because no one shared our history. I was completely alone. One heard about the Six Day war on the BBC, but we had no telephone and my only contact with home was through the Red Cross. It was devastating.
There was little foreign travel, people were more interested in Sandie Shaw and the Beatles than in a far away war. The first time they took notice was when Leila Khaled hijacked a plane in 1969, that was when people had a wee giggle and said ‘Hala you look like Leila Khaled’. That and when the first Intifada (1988) started and we saw youth with stones confronting heavily armed troops.
There will never be peace without justice. Unfortunately Israel continues its oppressive and illegal occupation flouting the rule of law with the total and unconditional support of the USA. The media continues its unfair coverage; when Palestinians use arms and weapons they are described as terrorists, Israeli soldiers are never murderers neither are American and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United Nations is ineffective, most of the countries of the Third World get told how to vote, otherwise they are threatened with aid and trade cuts.
When ordinary people in Scotland discuss with me and ask what is the solution, “surely there ought to be a compromise?” I tell them that it is as if someone took your house, the garden and garage, your passport and your job, leaving you the small shed at the back of your garden (with no water either), and then asks you to compromise. And they do understand. Unfortunately governments do not always reflect the will of the people. The Israeli public suffers like the British and American public because they are misinformed, which makes peace further away than ever.