Writers have the skill, but also the deviousness, to hide behind the characters they create.
Though my novel Mother of Strangers is a true love-story based on real people, my characters of Subhi a skilled, fifteen-year-old mechanic and Shams a thirteen year old peasant girl, in many ways, it tells the story of my late father, the loss of his home and the destruction of his hometown, Jaffa, during the 1948 Nakba (also known as the Palestinian Catastrophe)
For all of us there are moments in our lives that we can never forget. I was sixteen when I saw my father cry for the first time. The new Israeli family living in our home in occupied Jaffa wouldn’t allow him in for a visit. When he came back to our house, I saw the tears welling up in his eyes before they silently streamed down his cheeks. I ran to my room and closed the door. That memory stayed with me for fifty years.
It was by pure accident that in 2018 I met the two people who would inspire my characters and listened to their heartbreaking love-story. With what they told me, it was as though each one was taking me by the hand back to my father’s beloved city. It was through their eyes that I saw the lively pre 1948 cosmopolitan city of Jaffa. It was through them that I fully understood what happened to people like Subhi and Shams and her younger sisters during the 1948 Nakba when 90% of the Palestinians were removed from their homes, villages and cities for the creation of the state of Israel.
The English suit, given to Subhi by one of Jaffa’s richest merchants, became a metaphor for what happened to Palestine: a torn apart and fragmented land and people.