The Key

Let me tell you about a lady
Known as grandma to me
She died back in 1982
She liked to tell stories
Of how things used to be
Just like other old ladies do
She talked about her neighbors
Muslims and Christians
Arabs, Britons and Jews
They’d come over for dinner
In her house in Jaffa
And they’d talk about business and news
We got along fine
A long time ago
Before everything started to change
I never imagined
Back in those days
I’d end up here on this firing range

There on a string around her neck
Dangling in front of her heart
The key to her home
The key to her people
The key to her world blown apart

I recall the days well 1948
The year of the Catastrophe
With machine guns and torches
They drove us away
To the land of the refugee
We all thought it would pass
But the decades dragged on
And my heart turned to flame
To those who live in my home
Where is your conscience
Do you feel the remorse and the shame


Now after two generations
I and her grandchildren say
The key is theirs and mine
And all over the world
We cry for Al-Awda
Home in Palestine
Maybe we will prevail
But come what may
As empires fall and rise
Nothing will change
The memory
Of the tears in my grandmother’s eyes


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Sheet music for this song may be found in Songbook Vol I (1997-2004).

“The Key” originally appeared on the 2003 CD, The Return, and later on Falasteen, Habibti (2014).

This song could be about so many Palestinian grandmothers, refugees from the Naqba in 1948 (what the Israelis call “Independence Day” and the Palestinians call “the Catastrophe”).  I wrote the song after reading an interview with Sami Al-Arian in which he talked about his grandmother.