There is always a time between the concepts of the present and forever which is inscribed in our remembrance. It is the beauty of memory which enables us to transcend and live within this truth. “Rest in My Shade” (Interlink Books, 2018) explores this reality through an illustrated poem about roots and Palestinian collective memory. The protagonist is the olive tree – reflecting symbolism and reality for Palestinians as literature and art navigate the intricacies of belonging, dispossession, nostalgia and recollections.
Despite the brevity of the book, there is an abundance to ponder. The beginnings of this particular olive tree “sprouted from an olive pit/tossed on a footpath/along an ancient trading route” contrasts with its epilogue “my story is … your story too”. Both symbolise the depth of an unfinished story. Palestinian dispossession and the Palestinian right of return are two realities ruminated upon by Palestinians. The olive tree, a target of Israeli Jewish settlers, embodies this ongoing trauma.
Nora Lester Murad and Danna Masad’s poem evokes this intertwining between land and people in a series of observations and memories, drawing upon history and people’s memory, as well as the tenacious Palestinian attachment to land. Destruction and dispossession are preceded by fear, much in the same way that Zionist violence and ethnic cleansing paved the way for an eventual rupture between land and people. The onset of fear brings about a realisation of a land that is bigger than one’s immediate space. Hence, the roots become a metaphor of the realisation of permanence, even if that permanence is physically lacerated.
What do roots remember? Between remembrance and reality, the latter is harsh and always conscious of a void that is not just about how things were, but how the essence of that truth festers in a contradictory and oppressive present. The tree’s uprooting is violent, yet its preservation elsewhere is bewildering. It is saved from death, only to be planted in a space that is alien, where people do not connect with its existence. Such an absence of recognition normalises the tree’s existence which was once part of a thriving environment, where land and people shared an unrivalled bond. The poem expresses such longing thus: “Where are the rhythmic voices that sang to me/ in the language of the hills and the seas?” Read more.