I wonder about the boy crossing every day, on his way to school, a street in the Dokki district of Cairo. He sees on the wall of one of the buildings a small blue sign that reads, “Jules Jammal Street.” I wonder about this Egyptian boy, another in the Muhandseen area of Giza, a third in Alexandria, a fourth in Palestinian Ramallah, a fifth in Syrian Damascus, and a sixth in Latakia. I wonder about all of these people and if they are asking, each in turn, about the man to whom this name belongs and his importance to these streets which are called by his name. Who was he, what era did he come from, and to what fate did he go? And why have we been born to grow up, become old and decrepit and then die, to have his name remain hanging over the heads of generations and generations?
Who is this “Jules Jammal”?
For my part, I open my mind to that tumultuous period, overcrowded as it was with so many major events, and the memory of those unforgettable names related to those events. I do not forget because it is not mentioned in the history textbooks, where it should be passed down from one generation to the next, and not because it symbolized the power the governing authorities hold over our fates and the necks of our people--as is the mark of this age--or because it is the way of our children to be persuaded by audio to place importance on certain names, forgetting those lose in the margins of history. No, not for all of these reasons does my memory continue to keep this name, which is suspended above more than one street in more than one Arab city. It is remembered because it has become home to a symbolic representation of the man, something closer to legend, and the idea that is is noble to die for a noble cause.
Who is this “Jules Jammal”?
Jules Jammal, Jules Youssef Jammal, the Syrian youth from Latakia, was born in the year 1932 and died in the year 1956, at the age of twenty four. He died young--at the age of roses, as they say. He was a rose, in every sense. The first of those meanings, and perhaps the most important, being that he chose to go to his death, knowing that he would never return.
You may say that such as death is no longer surprising; here we watch and read every day about people who go to their death through suicide. Blowing themselves up along with their enemies, destroying fortifications, breaking into encampments, smashing into markets and crowds of human beings, and so on. Yes, this is true, however there is a difference of great importance which prevents the association of Jules Jammal with these troops of suicides. In order to uncover this difference, it is necessary to tell the tale of Jules Jammal, completely unknown now for generations and generations.
It occurred that Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, triggering the “tripartite aggression,” in which Israel, along with France and Great Britain, invaded Egypt. In the aggression, Port Said fell to British bombardment and unprecedented destruction. This is what pushed Jules Jammal to request to play a role in responding to this aggression. It is said that the French Navy sent the “Jean Bart” vessel, a “dragon of the Mediterranean,” the largest of the destroyers and one of the first ships equipped with radar, filled with 88 naval officers and 2,055 soldiers, in order to complete the destruction of the city. Thus, the young Syrian, contrary to the non-involvement of non-Egyptians in the war, volunteered, after approval from his supervisor, to lead the torpedo boat. Accompanied by two colleagues, one Syrian and one Egyptian, he maneuvered the torpedo boat toward that “dragon,”orienting so as to bump into it and blow it up, north of Lake Burullus. And so it was: the boat captain, in the body of a young man, the destruction of steel incarnate, burst the dragon!
The tale of Jules Jammal ends there, but there was never a nobler tale the likes of it from the tales of this time. Consider the merits of that story. If you contemplate it well, then the huge difference between a noble death, such as his, and what can be described as “despicable death,” will become clear. This will reflect the crucial difference between Jules Jammal--the rose--and the names of others, mere varieties of thorns native to hell.
The tale of Jules Jammal is a tale 59-years-old. The tale should be modernized when the curriculum is decided in our schools, in the history books, as it constitutes a lesson in the meaning of homeland and nationalism.
If that does not happen, then the collective memory of our sons and daughters will lose the deep meaning of their homeland, the tolerance of religion and humanity will be distorted, and then what will you have on your hands?
I go back to wondering about the crowds of Arab school children: will they be able to answer, one day, about the importance of the owner of that name which sits above the streets where their schools are located, or indeed above the school itself?
Elias Farkouh is a writer and a novelist. He has received numerous awards for his many novels and short stories.
*The Arabic of this op-ed article appeared on June 13, 2015. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of AmmanNet.
Translated by Julia Norris