Ibtisam Barakat, Beit Hanina, Missouri

When Palestine is liberated the first thing I will do is establish an annual sesame-cake and falafel feast to be held for all Palestinian children on the streets of Jerusalem.

Two weeks ago I visited Palestine for an author tour in various Palestinian cities. I asked the students in the 6th grade in some schools this question: what will you feel when the occupation is over and Palestine is free? They complained that they could not imagine that freedom. There were too many hostile images that came at them — soldiers, checkpoints, tanks and many fears.

And when I said freedom can happen only if you imagine it first, vividly, and that imagining our dreams is not a luxury but the first step toward them.. that it requires resistance too of all the hostile images inside.. at that point the children closed their eyes with heart-breaking child defiance and began an inner fight for the feeling of freedom in themselves.

And they began to speak of their dreams and rescue their hopes. Their voices rose above their silence telling what freedoms they just arrived at. Mostly, and before anything, the 6th graders of Palestine wanted to go to the city of Jerusalem. Under occupation, only a few miles away from their cities, Jerusalem is an entire map of freedom away. Most of them had not seen Jerusalem all their young lives..

They hear about it daily, and love it and dream of it and some have relatives living there too. And from stories, they know of the carts on Salah Eddin Street that sell sesame cake and falafel. They are as famous for for children as the Jerusalem ancient walls and the churches and the mosques.

So when Palestine is liberated I will establish an annual sesame-cake and falafel festival on the streets of Jerusalem for all Palestinian children.

First we will eat and dance and run and touch everything in the city like it touched us for lifetimes. And then I will ask them about history and how the occupation used to be. I dream that they will say that they can’t imagine the occupation anymore, and that they cannot imagine being anything but free.. that the space in their infinite minds is filled with freedom and its possibilities.

And I imagine we will discuss history, imagined and real; freedom, imagined and real, and Jerusalem, the city to which the Rahbani brothers wrote: “our eyes travel toward you daily. They wander in the hallways of your temples..” And I will add the hallways of the temples of our heads, where our imagination and reality begin, bringing to life thoughtfulness, kindness and the beauty of transcendence.