Canned Sardines

Dima Srouji, M.Arch ’16

My grandparents’ house in Bethlehem is a thirty minute drive to the Mediterranean. At least for an Israeli it is, but for a Palestinian it’s impossible to access without a permit. During lunch there this summer, my grandmother Layla admitted that she had not eaten fresh fish from beyond the wall in decades. She could have crossed the border when she turned 55, the age at which it becomes legal for women to cross from Palestine to Israel. Anyone younger is considered a national threat.

Yet despite her age, she had refused to cross, a mixture of pride and a crippling nostalgia. Layla was terrified her memories would be ruined if she saw how her country appeared on the other side. She was ten years old during the Nakba in 1948 when her family was kicked out of their home.

But last week she was sick of frozen fish imported from wherever, so we crossed the eight meter wall together and drove to the Jaffa Beach. For dinner we ate fresh sea bream from her hometown where she lived sixty-eight years ago.

Grandma Layla’s last memory of her hometown is when her mother sent her down the street to buy bream for dinner. We stopped by her former home on the way back. A lovely family lives there and welcomed us inside for a cup of tea, where Layla’s father’s chandelier still hangs in the living room. After, we got in the car and drove thirty minutes back into the walled city of Bethlehem. Because I was born on the right side of the wall I was able to come and go very easily. The rest of my family, born on the Palestinian side, have not seen the Mediterranean in decades. We brought sea bream back for everyone.