Recalling the hasty departure from our beloved, liberal Argentina, I think of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan leaving in his vehicle, perhaps to avoid seeing his home destroyed again.
One of the houses demolished in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, the site where Yakub Abu al-Kiyan was killed, Jan. 18, 2017.
I was a teenager when I understood that my country had marked me and my family as the enemy. Even though no one actually pointed at us and said it, it was so clear that for a year I was forced to wander between homes, searching for refuge.
The military regime in Argentina was supported by a large portion of the population, and many knocked on its doors to help utterly destroy the country’s democracy, which was already shaky. The main support came from the oligarchy and the media, which blindly accepted all the regime’s lies. To them, people like my parents represented the forces of evil. They were portrayed as agents of foreign governments, plotting to turn Argentina into a communist and secular state.
This absurd notion was invented by the junta that seized power and an incredibly large number of people believed it. The junta represented the Church and wealthy businessmen. They had a lot of privileges and they weren’t about to give them up.
My parents were liberal intellectuals, and maybe more than that: They were people who sought to change the world and were imbued with revolutionary zeal, but they were never official members of any political party. Despite this, they were forced to pay a heavy price for their humanistic worldview.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 30 March 1982
The regime gradually seized control of the universities. When my mother came one day to her job as a university lecturer, she was denied entry. I remember how she came home with tears in her eyes and had difficulty telling us what happened. Our financial situation worsened until we were finally left with nothing. My parents tried to keep things going by doing private tutoring, but it was very difficult.
One day a friend of my sister’s came to the house and said we had to leave immediately. Someone had apparently informed on my father. We were all in the car within a few minutes. I don’t think my parents had any clue that it would be years before we could return home.
From that moment I stopped going to school. We moved from one hiding place to another. My mother wanted to go home to get a few items, but a friend she met warned her not to go near the house because it was full of soldiers. The soldiers torched my parents’ magnificent library and had turned the house into an interrogation and torture site. My friends stopped calling me. People were afraid to come near us. It was a time when everyone was afraid of everyone else.
Within a few days we left our beloved, liberal Argentina. My whole life I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to forget that horrible bus trip from Buenos Aires. Even though it was morning, I remember everything as being dark. At first I thought that this memory was influenced by my gloomy state of mind, but then I remembered, silly me, that it was because of the bus’ tinted windows. They made everything seemed vague, dull, like footage from a thriller or a nightmare, as if you’ve died and gone to a different world. As if you were leaving a ghost town.
Umm al-Khiran, Palestine, 18 January 2017
I am thinking of Yakub Musa Abu al-Kiyan leaving in his vehicle, perhaps to avoid seeing his home destroyed again, as it had been destroyed many times before. He was surrounded by early-morning fog, soldiers and policemen. I think of his family, homeless once again. Of the children left with nothing. Of the country’s Arab citizens, whom the regime has decided to mark as the enemy.