Monday, July 23, 2012


Sunday 22 July, 2012

Jamal:  ‘Our’ Man in Palestine

Hameed Abdul Karim

It’s not every day that you see a foreigner greeting another foreigner with the words ‘Ayubowan’ with clasped hands and all in a foreign land. But that’s how Jamal Soliman greeted the Palestinian secretary of Dr. T. Jayasinghe, our affable ambassador in Palestine, when Mahinda Hattaka and I visited our embassy in Ramallah.

Jamal Soliman is our ambassador’s driver and translator and PR man all rolled into one. Tall, handsome and built like an ox, with features similar to British actor John Gleese; he is quite as jovial as his look alike and never at a loss for words to give you a laugh. Quite a guy this Jamal!

But do not for a moment think that he has no serious issues to think or worry about.Behind the bon- homme, lives a man with unmatchable grief that he had inherited at birth. He is in his mid fifties. You get the feeling that Jamal’s jovial outlook is actually a disguise just so that he can trudge along to the next milepost and from there take on whatever misery that comes in small parcels. There’s no way he can plan for the future, not with the cruel uncertainty that hangs above his head like the sword of Damocles. Life in Occupied Palestine is measured one day at a time. If your house was not demolished yesterday, you were lucky. But tomorrow? Well, you never know.  Such is life in Palestine under US sponsored Israeli Occupation.

One day, while driving us to someplace, Jamal’s jovial veneer cracked and he poured his heart out to us.  He told us of the misery and fear that grip him and his family on a daily basis. Jamal lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children. It’s not easy to go to bed and have a nice sleep when you hear every day that another set of houses had been demolished to make way for new ‘immigrants’ from Europe. And more Palestinian families made homeless, waiting to be driven out Nazi or Milosevic style, to rot away in a wretched refugee camp never to be allowed to return to their places of birth.

Jamal told us there were many attempts to eject him and his family from his ancestral home, but somehow he has managed to ward off the marauding Israeli’s. He said he will never leave his home because he treasured very much a hadith (saying) of the prophet Mohammed.  When his small band of followers asked who will be the closest to God almighty the prophet told them, ‘It will not be you’. The stunned group of his followers then asked him ‘who then, oh messenger of God, if not us’.  The prophet replied ‘those who live in the surroundings of the Baithul Maqdis (the mosque in Jerusalem). They will be the ones who will be the closest to God almighty.  

With misty eyes Jamal told us the Israeli’s will have to kill him, his wife and children if they were to get rid of them. ‘We will not give them any other way. That I swear by God’. The Israeli’s have done everything to humiliate the Palestinians. But they have not been able to crush their spirit.   Jamal bears testimony to this.

Jamal draws a salary of US $ 1,500/= as salary every month. This is a princely figure even in today’s Sri Lanka with its high cost of living. But guess what? The salary doesn’t last him for even twenty days. So Jamal has to double up as a taxi driver in the evenings to keep the wolf from the door. He says the Israeli’s tax him about 20% of his salary whereas the Israeli’s are taxed only about 2%. This is yet another discriminatory tactic the Israel employs to eject the remaining Palestinians from their homes. But Jamal is made of sterner stuff. He won’t give in. Let’s wish him good luck. 

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