Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Commemoration of Naseer H. Aruri

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Commemoration of Naseer H. Aruri

Article excerpt

May 13, 2015

Jerusalem Fund, Washington, DC

Life's journey was anything but predictable for my father. At the age of 20, his father gave him a plane ticket to America, first semester college tuition, and two pieces of advice: "Study something practical" and "stay away from women." He succeeded on neither front. His plan was to attend American International College (AIC) in Springfield, Massachusetts, where his older brother Said was already an undergraduate. He knew little about America and even less about the college he would be attending.

He had a difficult time at AIC. Despite its name, it had very few international students and not a single political science course. He spent most of his time studying and working second shiftat a local textile factory, where he was paid 97 cents per hour. It wasn't until he met, and later fell in love with, a young woman of Lebanese ancestry named Joyce Thomas that things began to change for the better. And although he was a Muslim from Palestine and she a Maronite Catholic from Springfield, the love they had for each other transcended religious affiliations and overcame what was considered quite taboo at the time.

My father eventually went on to pursue his doctorate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the Commencement, according to his account, was held on a "bright, sunny Amherst day." His father (Hassan), a headmaster at an elementary school in Beit Hanina, crossed the Atlantic for the first time in his life to be in attendance. His second born daughter, Karen-Leila, took her first steps on that day, June 4, 1967. His joy surrounding these events was short lived as might be guessed. This is his account of what transpired:

Everyone was exuberant, yet none of us had known what was in store for us the next day as we celebrated. None of us had anticipated that in but a few hours, a war would transform the political and geographic landscape of the Middle East for decades to come, and change our lives forever. News of the war came to us through our five-year-old son Faris, saying, "Mommy, mommy, there is a war." Breaking the dreadful news to my father the next morning was an awesome responsibility. The look on his face when I made the somber announcement expressed his reaction: "I lived under Turkish rule, British and Jordanian control, and now, if I ever make it back, I will most likely spend the rest of my life under Israeli occupation." My father went on to describe his father's reaction: "It almost had a ring of resignation, but in reality, it conveyed a great deal of determination and exacerbation," noting that his father added that "newer generations will undoubtedly emerge and terminate this occupation as they dismantled previous ones." And it was this calling that would dictate the actions of my father for the rest of his life.

I was only five or six years old when it became quite apparent that my father's life and activities were radically different from those of my friends' parents. People who called on the phone for the most part were not named John or Bill or Steve or Susan. They were Mujid and Samih, Abdeen, Fouad, and Elaine. . . . We did have Elaine. They weren't calling about social get-togethers or meeting my parents at the next town event. They were intense calls that seemed to go on forever, many of which involved my father hurriedly writing words on a pad of paper while cradling the phone between his neck and shoulder-and almost always in a mix of Arabic and English.

Our basement, in addition to storing bicycles and toys, was filled with boxes, file cabinets, and bookshelves, and a large desk with drawers filled with paper and envelopes with the "AAUG" (Association of Arab-American University Graduates) logo that would soon become imprinted in our brains. My siblings and I knew that at 6:30 in the evening, the television was off-limits to us. The nightly news would come on. It was rarely a passive event. We'd grown accustomed to my father (and mother) debating the man on the television set every time Israel, Palestine, or the Arabs were being discussed. …

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