Ali is feeling lonely. Together with three persons, he lives in Tensta, in Stockholm, in a small room with a small kitchen. He is the only one from Palestine. This is where he has lived for the last six years. It’s crowded. Gadgets everywhere and untidy.
We try to clean, keep it tidy, he says, but it’s hard, it’s crowded. Ali has learned Swedish. He speaks almost fluently. He doesn’t have a permanent job but has often found odd jobs through his friends.
When he isn’t working, he sits in his room and thinks. Ali is always thinking about his family in Nablus. Six years is a long time, he says. The memory of faces has started to fade, some memories fade just as new memories resurface.
The initial period in Sweden felt really good. He had come out of a trap, escaped. In Nablus, everything had been confined. For long periods, it had been impossible to leave the city. On some occasions, he had walked across the mountains. Once he reached the checkpoint, he had been humiliated one too many times. He wanted to avoid that feeling. He had often used the more risky path across the mountains, it was longer but without humiliation.
The difficulty was to experience one’s mother or father try to pass through the gate of humiliation. It was difficult to view their despair. It always took days for them to get over it and was impossible to get used to.
The day in August when he arrived to Sweden, for the first time in his life, he experienced total freedom. It was euphoric. No heavily armed soldiers, no checkpoints, no humiliation, no teenage boys and girls forcing him down on the ground with automated weapons.
Now six years have passed, and his thoughts more frequently return to what is happening in Palestine. He would prefer if his thoughts could revolve around his future, dreams, work and family. However, wearing a sad look on his face, he explains that life in Sweden has not meant a free mind.
Although no loaded guns are pointed in your face, knowledge of the distant reality returns all the more frequently.
Ali’s closest family lives in Nablus but he also has relatives who live in refugee camps on the Gaza Strip, as well as in Jordan and in Lebanon. His whole family is spread out in different refugee camps across the Middle East. More and more of his time has come to revolve around this, to try to understand what has happened to his family.
When he lived in Nablus, he never saw himself as a refugee. But today, after six years in Stockholm, he is beginning to realize that that is exactly what he is. He is also increasingly identifying himself with his family. Ali sees himself as a refugee from a village in Israel called Ramle, a village he has never lived in or visited. At the same time, he feels as though he knows the village better than any other place.
The collective stories of his family have come to mean more. Sometimes, he can even imagine that he’s been there, lived in the big house with the thick stone walls.
Three black and white, weathered photos remain. A picture of the old stone house. He imagines a beautiful house with a blooming fruit garden. The second picture is of a family gathering to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. This photo shows the big living room. Heavy furniture, carpets, paintings on the wall and known and unknown relatives. In the third picture, his grandfather sits in a chair with armrests, slightly upright he looks beyond the camera into the photographer’s eyes. There he sits calmly, satisfied with life. The picture was taken in 1934.
Very often lately, he has come to reflect on his family’s long history as a refugee family. It had started with his family being forced from their village in 1948. In April 1948, Israeli soldiers had taken the village Deir Yassin, killed over a hundred villagers, old and young.
The rumour spread quickly about what had happened when Israeli soldiers carried out the massacre in Deir Yassin. When the soldiers came to other villages, one being Ramle, the villagers gave up. Soldiers surrounded the village and forced the inhabitants to leave and soon the village was emptied. Without weapons, they could not resist.
His father and his mother’s parents had resisted for a few hours but were eventually forced up on a truck. His grandfather ensured to close the shutters, lock the big door, and hide the key in a safe place. They would soon return. The relatives ended up in different places, mainly in Nablus and the Gaza Strip.
It is in Stockholm where he has had increasingly more time to reflect on what happened a long time ago, long before he was born. At home in Nablus, he did not have time to reflect on what had happened, as time was spent on daily chores and taking care of younger siblings. Now he is trying to understand what happened during the Second World War. The terrible crimes that were inflicted on Jews and other groups.
But it has become increasingly difficult for Ali to understand the fact that only a short period had passed between Auschwitz’s doors being opened and his own family being chased away from Ramle or killed in Deir Yassin. It is a war without disruption. Death, displacement, executions, massacre.
With only a few clicks on the computer, he can finds stories, images that explain what happened during those terrible days when Ramle changed. While he comes closer to understanding his family’s history, he is all the more distanced from those who are close to him.
Ali is constantly worried. Several times a day, he has e-mail contact with his older brother. The worry is not about his own situation in Tensta but increasingly about his little sister and her emerging diabetes and his little brother’s accelerating rage. His older brother meets his little brother daily and explains that he has more frequent outbreaks. He doesn’t go to school but meets his friends instead.
Where he sits, in his small room in Stockholm, history is interwoven with the present. He sees the long journey his family has made.
Under the surface, he bears a continuous longing. Nobody can see it. Most people in Stockholm cannot understand it. Longing after a place where he has never been, that he has never seen but that here in Tensta becomes increasingly present. He can wake up in the middle of the night as he has dreamt of the three images. Wakes up with many questions about the valuables, the memorable items that must have been in the house. What happened to the furniture, with the paintings on the walls, the heavy photo album that mom often talked about, the porcelain that can be seen on one of the photos. Somebody must have taken all this. Valued, saved, thrown, or sold it.
He imagines how someone, a thief, enters into the house and takes everything. How somebody moves in, calmly relaxes in the couch, sets the table for the children, uses the big kitchen table and at night crawls into his grandmother’s and grandfather’s bed. Ali would like to meet him, ask him how it feels, to steal, to destroy. Ask him if he sleeps well at night.
A few days ago, he saw a debate program. It was about Israel and Palestine. A man with an Israeli background thought it strange that Palestinians that come to Sweden, who receive all the benefits that Sweden has to offer, cannot move on, that they cannot leave their past behind them.
Why, he asked himself. Why can we not just understand each other? Why should one person’s past be forgotten, repressed, while the other’s story is continuously re-told?