‘Jerusalem will always be home, wherever I am’: Dr. Bishara A. Bahbah

Updated 15 May 2018
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‘Jerusalem will always be home, wherever I am’: Dr. Bishara A. Bahbah

Dr. Bishara A. Bahbah, a professor of investment, finance and wealth management who lives in the United States, is one of many Palestinians whose family still has the deed to their land in Palestine, a 68-dunum orchard in the Lod-Jaffa area. 

He also has his family’s UNWRA food card which shows the monthly rations they received when they were living both in the Zarqa Refugee Camp and then the Old City of Jerusalem.

“In contrast,” he wrote us when we were setting up this photograph, “I have on my wall my Harvard PhD which clearly demonstrates that even if Israel takes our lands, they can never take away our brainpower and our unshakable will and determination to succeed. They would have to chop off our heads from our bodies first for them to ultimately succeed.” And with that, we thought it was best to let Dr. Bahbah speak for himself. 

Name: Bishara Assad Rizek Issa Bahbah.

Age: 60.

Where you live now:  United States.

Where your family lived in Palestine: The Old City of Jerusalem

What happened to you/them in 1948

My father, who was a barber, had a barbershop at the King David Hotel. When Zionists blew up the hotel, my father was in his shop at the hotel. Some woman, we don’t know who, said to him: “Bahbah, jump! A bomb is about to explode.”  

He jumped from the second floor as the bomb was exploding. The shock caused my father’s hair to turn grey within a a few months.  Shortly after, my family fled to Jordan and ended up in the Zarqa refugee camp, where they took shelter for two years.  After that, the family returned to the Old City.
One of my sisters was born in the refugee camp.

What memories do you have of your home?

Our rented house in the Old City still exists. Nine of us lived in one bedroom with no running water or electricity. I remember as a child studying using a lantern. I also remember when it rained, the water would seep through the aluminum blocks that made up the roof and the room would be full of buckets to catch the water.

However, my grandfather, on my mother’s side, owned along with his brother, some 68 dunums (orchard) close to Jaffa. My grandparents fled and came to live with us at first in the refugee camp, and later in the Old City. You have a copy of the deed/map of the orchard. An Israeli hospital has been built on the family orchard and by most estimates the land is worth today more than $100 million.

How do you identify yourself now, in terms of nationality?

I am a Palestinian national and a US citizen. I have no other passport than the US one. In 2009, Israel took away my Jerusalem residency, represented by the blue ID card that they issued. They claimed that since I am now a US citizen, my
center of life is no longer Jerusalem and simply took away my right to reside in Jerusalem. Now, when I go back to visit family, I go in using the US passport and I am given a 90-day visa like any other American citizen. Of course, I am fortunate that I have the US passport. At least I get to visit my own land.

Where is home for you?

Home is in the United States. I cannot live in Jerusalem even though I lived there when Israel occupied Jerusalem. 

I stayed in Jerusalem until 1976 when I went to the United States to continue my college education. I went back in 1983 after receiving my PhD from Harvard University and became the editor-in-chief of Al-Fajr newspaper. 

My travels in and out of the country were the excuse that the Israelis used to strip me of my residency and right to live in Jerusalem.

Do you have hope that you will ever get the right of return?

Absolutely! It will always be home, no matter where I live in the world. In fact, I registered my children who were born in the United States in my UNRWA registry. 

When I die, I want there to be a record that we are Palestinian and Jerusalemites. It is our eternal right and no one can take it away from us.

What would you like to tell the world about the Nakba?

The Nakba is a tragedy perpetrated against us by the world. The UN General Assembly voted to divide Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. 

It is the world’s moral obligation for having given away what was not theirs (Palestine, my homeland) to the Jews/Zionists. By attempting to absolve themselves from the horrors that befell the Jews at the hand of Hitler, they committed a bigger injustice against the Palestinians. Shame on them.


Arab women are on the march … straight into the heart of government

The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Updated 15 min 47 sec ago
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Arab women are on the march … straight into the heart of government

  • Recent appointments in Egypt are the latest example of the rise of women to high political office in the region
  • “The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position”

CAIRO, LONDON: The appointment of two more female ministers this month to the new Egyptian Cabinet means women now fill eight out of 34 positions, the highest number in the modern history of Egypt.

Hala Zayed is the new health minister while Yasmine Fouad takes over as environment minister. Both women replaced men and join culture minister Inas Abdel-Dayem, tourism minister Rania Al-Mashat, Nabila Makram (immigration minister) Ghada Wali (social solidarity minister), Hala El-Saeed (planning minister) and Sahar Nasr (minister of investment and international cooperation).
The appointments by Egypt’s new Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly have been welcomed as forward thinking by social and political commentators.
Dr. Magda Bagnied, a writer and professor of communication, told Arab News: “I believe whoever planned for those eight effective ministries was looking forward for the future of Egypt since they are all interconnected in some way, and having females leading them is a leap forward.
“A country’s rank and status is measured by the role of women. The higher the number of leadership roles for women, the further the country is considered to be on the road to development.”
Four out of 15 new deputy ministers are also women and women now hold 15 percent of the seats in Parliament.
The rise of women to high political office in the Arab world is by no means restricted to Egypt.
Jordan also has a record number of women ministers after Prime Minister-designate Omar Razzaz appointed seven women to the 29-member Cabinet sworn in last week.
“The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position.”
The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Twenty-three members of the new Jordanian Cabinet have been ministers before and 13 were members of the outgoing government that was brought down by popular protest.
Rawan Joyoussi, whose posters became one of the defining images of the protests, said: “I was hoping that women would be empowered and I am happy with that. But as far as the composition of the rest of the government is concerned, I think we have to play our part to create the mechanisms that will hold the government accountable.”
In the UAE, women hold nine out of 31 ministerial positions, and one of them, Minister for Youth Shamma Al-Mazrui, is also the world’s youngest minister, appointed in 2016 when she was only 22.
This makes the UAE Cabinet nearly 30 percent female, which is higher than India, almost equal to the UK and far ahead of the US, where Donald Trump has just four women in his Cabinet.
The general election in Morocco in October 2016 produced 81 women members of Parliament, accounting for 21 percent of the total 395 seats. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which won the most votes, also ended up with the highest number of women MPs, 18.
Though elections in Saudi Arabia were open to women only in 2015, it ranks 100th out of 193rd in the world league table of women in national governing bodies, slightly above the US at 102nd place.
A policy briefing from the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington says that one of the best ways for a country to ease economic pressure and boost productivity is to increase female participation in the workplace and in political life.
“Introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries to generate prosperity as well as the normative and social imperative of change,” wrote analyst Bessma Momani.
Yet in some parts of the Middle East, female representation seems to be going backward.
In 2009, four of Kuwait’s 65 MPs were women. In 2012 there were three and in 2013 only one. In 2016, 15 women stood for election to the 50 open parliamentary seats (the other 15 are appointed). Only one, Safa Al-Hashem, who was already an MP, was successful.
Qatar has no women MPs or ministers at all.
Egypt’s appointment of two more women ministers does not have the appearance of tokenism. The new Health Minister, Hala Zayed, 51, has a solid background in the field as a former president of the Academy of Health Sciences, a hospital specializing in cancer treatment for children.
She was also government adviser on health, chairwoman of a committee for combating corruption at the ministry she now heads and also has a Ph.d. in project management.
Similarly, Yasmeen Fouad, 43, the new environment minister, has four years’ experience as a former assistant minister in the same department, where she was known as “the lady for difficult missions,” and liaised with the UN. She is also an assistant professor of economics and political science at Cairo University.
Egypt’s first female minister was Hikmat Abu Zaid, appointed minister of social affairs in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who dubbed her “the merciful heart of revolution.”
Now there are eight like her, demonstrating that in the Middle East, “girl power” is on the rise.