VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: Knowing Your Neighbors with Hollie Garrett – The Story of Adnan

Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

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By Hollie Garrett

Anyone who watches the news has heard about the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. While most of us do not know the history of this conflict, I was lucky enough to meet someone who actually survived two wars directly related to this international headline. I first met Adnan Judeh Nijmeddin at Mule Creek State Prison in 2022. He was from Palestine and introduced himself as Ninja, a peculiar name for an elderly man of Middle Eastern descent. Adnan would explain to me that his true name Nijmeddin has a cultural and religious context. In Arabic, Najm means star. Deen is the religion of Islam. Nijmeddin means “star of the religion.”

It was my developing friendship with Adnan and the media portrayal of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that inclined me to look for Palestine on a world map, but there was no Palestine. I looked on another map and the same thing. How could a country at war not be represented on a map? In listening to stories of a man born in this unrepresented land, I further began to question how this conflict really affected Adnan.

Adnan was born in 1957 but was knowledgeable about the history of his land. Drawing out a detailed map of the Middle East from the Dead Sea to Jordan, Adnan would use it to explain that after the first Israeli-Arab war in 1948 most Palestinians went to the West Bank. The other half crossed into Jordan. Jericho, which is where Adnan’s family is from, is in the West Bank.

I would learn through my own studies that this clash for territory between the Arab and Jewish world goes back to 1799 when Napoleon first offered Palestine to the Jews. In 1882, a Jewish settlement, the Rishon Le Zion was established in Palestine. In 1885, the term and meaning behind Zionism was birthed by Theodor Hezi. There would be public opposition to the Zionist Colony. A Palestinian writer, Najib Nassar would oppose the Jewish colonization of Palestine through his own newspaper Al-Karmel.

Muslims mostly populated Palestine for 1,279 years, 638-1917. In 1917, Palestine would come under British-French rule. In 1921, Britain would divide Palestine into two territories. One half being the emirate of Transjordan (later known as Jordan) and the other half the western half of Palestine. With conflicting obligations to the Arab and Jewish people proving to be too much for Britain, they would take the matter to the UN in 1947. The solution voted on by the UN was to divide Western Palestine into two states. This declaration would prompt the attack of Israel by the five surrounding Arab countries of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. By the end of this war, about 750,000 Arabs fled Palestine, mostly to the West Bank and Jordan.

This post Arab-Israeli conflict is the world Adnan would be born into. In his home in Jericho, Adnan’s father employed maids, cooks, and caretakers of the land. His father was a master mechanic and a landlord. On their land, they grew crops of citrus, bananas, and wheat. It was a good life, but life as Adnan knew it would come to a dramatic change in 1967.

On June 10, 1967, Israel attacked Jordan, Syria, and Egypt which would start the Six Day War. The Nijmeddin family did not flee Palestine until four days into the war. “We left in a VW Beetle with thirteen people,” Adnan told me. Airplanes would bomb the road as their caravan left Palestine for Jordan. “One of the bombs hit a truck in front of us,” Adnan told me. “We watched the people in the back fly in the air from the explosion.” As young Adnan and his family made their escape from Jericho to Amman, the capital of Jordan, the three-day-old daughter of their caretakers died in the VW. Not able to stop and properly bury her, the baby was thrown out the window of the moving vehicle. By the time they arrived in Amman, the VW was on four rims. The Nijmeddin family would live in the stairwell of an unfinished building until eventually being placed in a refugee camp. As a result of the Six Day War, Israel had expanded their territory to three and a half its original size and dominated over 1.2 million Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza.

It was in 1967 that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) went public. While the Jordanian government and the PLO both wanted to recover the lost lands being occupied by Israel, but they differed in methods for accomplishing this goal. The Jordanian government sought to recover the land through diplomacy and international cooperation. The PLO sought to liberate Palestine through guerilla tactics, which caused Jordan to bear the assault of the retaliatory Israeli government.

It was in the Population Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a split of PLO, that Adnan became a part of the resistance. “My uncle Nabiel was the bodyguard of PFLP founder Dr. George Habash,” Adnan explained. “I was Ashbal. That means cubs of the lions. As Ashbal, we would post flyers to announce revolutionary actions. We got caught by Jordanian Intelligence a few times. They would torture us for information on who the leaders and members of the PFLP were.”

While Jordan wanted to recover the land lost in 1967, the PLO and PFLP wanted to liberate all of Palestine. There was also the matter that the PLO guerrilla fighters (fadayeen) infringed on Jordanian sovereignty by establishing a state within the state and antagonizing state institutions, especially the army. These issues in combination would result in the disastrous 1970 civil war known as Black September. “My uncle Nabiel was killed and burned in a mass grave,” Adnan told me. “I watched my mom jump in the grave throwing bodies around looking for my uncle. I remember walking over dead bodies in the street, some were shot, some were burnt up. I watched my mom sew 2 men’s scalps back on.” He described the bravery of his mother and the horrors of the war. “My mom also delivered the baby of our neighbor. They named him Adnan. I would watch my mom walk around the hospital and lift up the heads of  dead people to see if she knew them. I still remember those faces.”

Black September would end after two weeks with the death of more than 36,000 Palestinians. Adnan says that after the war, Palestinians were mostly isolated in refugee camps. In 1975, Adnan and his mother got their visas to come to the United States. The rest of the Nijmeddin family would follow two years later.

Today, we all know about the psychological impact of PTSD on soldiers who see combat and people who live through traumatic experiences. “Psychologically, it damaged me profoundly,” Adnan said. “I always have nightmares. I can smell it. It contributed to my alcohol and drug abuse and ultimately my incarceration. I didn’t share what I experienced with people over here because I didn’t want to scare people away.” In the states, Adnan could finally relax without fear of who was listening or if he would be taken. “It felt safe,” said Adnan. Life without the constant fear of war was freedom.

In 1988, Adnan began treatment for his addictions. After treatment, he would further his education and find ways to give back through the Human Services field. “During sobriety, I’ve seen my greatest success,” Adnan explained. “I was a certified drug and alcohol counselor and I was an HIV counselor. I was a member of the Oregon Counseling Association and the American Psychological Association.” In 1993, Adnan opened an outpatient clinic for drug and alcohol abuse in Portland, Oregon with his wife. The clinic was called Avenues Counseling. The policy of Avenues Counseling was to help everyone, even those without the ability to pay. This open door policy would catch the attention of a local paper The Oregon City News, which ran a story on Avenues Counseling.

It would be a relapse in 2007 that caused Adnan’s world to crumble around him and lead him to this place where I sought his story. Wrapping up my interviews with Adnan, I told him about my experience with the maps and how there was no sign of Palestine. He told me this was a common misconception. After the Six Days War, Israel claimed what was left of Palestine as Israel. While there are still some Palestinian cities in the region, there are no clear borders as Israel continues to infringe on Palestinian borders. Adnan told me that years ago he came across two miniature world globes that had Palestine on them. He still has them to this day. One is adorned in the home of his youngest sister. I couldn’t help but empathize with Adnan as I thought about what those globes must have meant to him. Symbolic proof of a life and land torn under his feet.

During the initial stages of these interviews, Adnan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In April 2023, during the month of Rammadan, Adnan was granted a compassionate release from prison to live out the rest of his days surrounded by family. Adnan passed away in June 2023.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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