A honeymoon apart

 

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This is how we planned it: I get my Schengen visa to attend a Peace conference in Geneva and then we fly, together, to France, where we first met, for a honeymoon, his university registration and to be reunited with our friends there. “It’s going to be your gift” He promised when he emailed me the copies of our flight tickets to Switzerland.  

On our wedding day, he, who left all those invited to attend the wedding, and instead of celebrating, lined in a queue under the burning sun at the Rafah Crossing demanding a number and a date to go out, didn’t come back for the wedding before insuring we do have a place. He managed to come back to the wedding in time, thankfully.   

While dressed in his groom’s suit, his hands extending to help me on the stairs as I was stumbling on each staircase, and awed by the dreamy promising atmosphere of a new life ahead of both of us, and when every thing looked too beautiful to be stained by the ugliness of occupation, borders, or checkpoints, and where the worst scenario of what he would have to say when he first sees me in the White dress, white as a free cloud and coloured as happiness was “You look beautiful”, he didn’t even say that. He smiled in relief and whispered in my ear, “ I booked us two places at the Rafah Border for the 8th of September today.”   

“But the 9th of September is my sister’s wedding.” I shouted in disbelief. He said, “We’ll sort that out later. It’s our wedding day. You look beautiful.” 

I smiled, tried to forget that we’re going to be talking about the Rafah border, tonight in bed. I tried to forget that the border is going to interfere in the most intimate moments of our life, and that I would be getting married and think of borders at the same time. I tried to forget that for the past month , it’s all what we’ve been talking about, whether we’re going to spend our honeymoon, together, somewhere else, or not. 

 A week after our wedding, Ayman managed to get a permit to go out through Erez. I did not. I joked to him about it. “I am not a humanitarian case,” I bragged. As a PhD student whose academic life was threatened in case of not registering for the new academic year, Ayman had to head to France for his registration process. He applied for a permit and Gisha pushed for his case. 

 The next minute when the thought of thousands of students who are stuck in Gaza and the tens of friends I know who are living between the hope of leaving for their scholarships and the fear of losing them, I thought rather accurately, “ I am not a ‘privileged’ humanitarian case.” 

Ayman refuses to see freedom as a privilege. 

Now that he is away, I try to convince myself every day that I am not stuck here, that I am not imprisoned, that I should not involve myself in the discussion over the borders. Who amongst all this suffering would feel for me when I say I lost a chance to travel for a conference or to spend a honeymoon with my husband in a place where I can actually breathe, and that I should have been with him tonight, not here, stuck between the borders and my consciousness of my own imprisonment, and that I have a stamped visa on my passport that is painful to look at because it’s absolutely useless. I see all this pain around me and feel ashamed of my own pain. 

Today I passed by the Registration Office and I tried hard to figure out how to describe the crowd I saw lining in front of the registration building to register to travel through rafah, and I first thought of the queues of cars in front of gas stations, but this is a simile only “we” get. What about UNRWA queues for food rations, that’s too a simile only “we” get. Anyway, they were queued in a very dehumanizing way, as usual! And I wondered whether it was hope or despair that kept them standing. 

Between six and F16

6. a.m.

The breeze of air is tempting

I wonder how much love we could fit

Between a cup of coffee and a day’s routine

Maybe a walk along the beach

That’s more than an hour

The coffee and you should suffice

To make this morning perfect

Maybe the sound of Fairouz in the background

Could add to the rhythm of peace

Of this unusually quiet morning

You and me alone in the back of my head

And a quiet cup of morning coffee

And half an hour till that breeze of air reaches for your cheeks too

Wakes you up to demand your cup of coffee and me

I hold my phone in my hands, ready to text you

” I’m craving a cup of morning coffee with you”

6:30

The morning is no longer calm, and the sky is roaring

I curse their rude invasion of my dreams

I plug my ears with more dreams

Yet I fail

7:00

I swear to take an action.

I hold my phone up in the sky waiting for their next invasion to record

The world has to listen to a record of their insolence

And I think of a story.. I should make a story about the abnormality of my morning.

I wait ..

They have left

I wait..

I get tired.

But it’s not me who makes the story.

I only record.

8:00 a.m.

“I was craving a cup of morning coffee with you”

Narrating Palestine: On Culture, Narrative and Palfest in Gaza

Narrating Palestine: On Culture, Narrative and Palfest in Gaza  

 

We bid farewell to Susan, Ali, Lina and Nora yesterday after four days of Palfest (Palestine Festival of Literature) events in Gaza. But even after they left, I can still inhale the air of euphoria that accompanied their presence filling the space. During their stay, an air of easiness prevailed; and those internal feelings of entrapment, of imprisonment, of siege, which troubles the feigned normalcy of our everyday life, were suddenly suspended. Gaza was no longer the bearer of borders, the enclaved concentration camp, or the inevitability of death and life. We transcended that through imagination; or maybe I did.

Maybe fishermen, uncertain of the limits of the sea, on their boats which lights we’ve seen in the horizon were not feeling that status of ecstasy that filled us all. Maybe farmers, sleeping over for an early day of harvest at dawn under gunfire could not either. Maybe warplanes hovering over our skies could not see how undefeated our spirits were and how unconfined our imagination, watching over the lights of Al-majdal from a spot along the sea of Gaza.

Maybe they have not seen that we’ve conquered their siege, we’ve dismantled their checkpoints, we’ve torn down their  walls, we’ve transcended their borders, and we’ve laughed over how rude settlers were to dare infiltrate our reality. And Despite over 65 years of displacement, Gaza still had the capability to reconnect us all to our identity.

For the past week of Palfest, Gaza has been the representation of home and the imagination of what home could look like.

Narrating Palestine:

Recently, the possibility for me to narrate Palestine while being in Ghazzah has started to get difficult: the ability to see beyond the normalcy of everyday life, the exhaustion of dreams, the constant pursuit of life, the disappointment with home, the inability to change, the radicalism of my views have made it hard to do so.

Palestinian Narrative has been the main topic of Susan Abu Al hawa’s workshops during Palfest. She was very keen on discussing Palestinian Narrative in the West and its development, and we respectively were attentively listening overwhelmed with questions. The discussion groups which took place on the first and the second day of the Festival were attended by a significant number of Palestinians interested in literature whether students, scholars, writers, bloggers, or activists. Questions following the workshop have shown a great appreciation of Susan’s work, most significantly is her “Mornings in Jenin”.  Curious readers wanted to know what inspired her, they wanted to  listen to why she made that character look that way and they were dying to know what happens to Hassan!

Susan explained how the narrative on Palestinians and their representations evolved. It was in the seventies when Palestinians started addressing the West through hijacking Planes and it was then that the West started acknowledging that Palestinians actually existed and that was a narrative of asserting that we exist after which Palestinians were demonized and dehumanized in Western propaganda. Before that, it was Israel that took over the narrative and could strongly build a narrative that depends on the negation of Palestinians and which was based on the myth of “The land without people for the People without land”.

But it was in the first Intifada that the narrative shifted and Palestinians started getting hold of the narrative as they realized its importance. There was also the Palestinian Diaspora and the generation of Diaspora who were capable of speaking the language to paint a totally new image and confront the world with our own humanity and our rich deeply rooted culture. However, Soon after the Intifada was squashed by both the Palestinian Leadership, more interested in the “peace process”, a narrative of peace emerged and Israel tried to re-control the narrative. The narrative that has been put forth is that of the “both sides need to come together.”  In this new narrative, they were careful to say that “Israel made some mistakes and they are certainly not treating the Palestinian well, but both sides need to sit down, talk and be friends” which has been an appealing narrative to the West. This narrative of equality, of two sides that are equal, provides no context of a principally unarmed defenseless civilian native indigenous population that is being attacked by the most powerful military in the Middle East.

On the Nakba and the appropriation of Pain: Maintaining ownership of Narrative:

The incident of Susan’s invitation to speak on AJStream’s show commemorating the Nakba and tackling the Nakba from an Israeli point of view has been brought forth during workshops and discussions. Susan who was invited as the only Palestinian among four other Israelis refused to negotiate what she describes as the ” The greatest collective Palestinian wound” She refused to be the talking Palestinian that gives legitimacy to a conversation over the recognition of Palestinian pain. She wrote in her article on the incident:

“Imagine Germany never acknowledged the Jewish holocaust.  Imagine, we are living in an era where Jews are still fighting for basic recognition of their pain.  Then imagine that on the day in which Jews engage in solemn remembrance of their greatest collective wound, television shows choose to feature German sons and daughters of Nazis in a discussion expressing differing views on whether or not and/or how Germany should deal with the memory of the genocide their country committed.  And imagine, of course, there is a token Jew “to balance out” such an ill-timed and inappropriate public conversation.”

“The only contribution that Israelis should make to the Nakba discourse is an unqualified, unmitigated apology, followed by a conversation about restitution, repatriation, and compensation.  That’s it!   Inviting a public conversation with Israelis to discuss whether their country should recognize our humanity is offensive and hurtful as we gather to remember and grieve; and Palestinians and Palestinian supporters should not stand for it.”

In the workshop, Susan sounded very assertive of what she said despite dissent. “Some things are ours”, she explained “they are sacred. It is important for us to maintain our ownership of the narrative and not necessarily to share it. We should not perpetually put ourselves in a position where we have to prove our humanity to anyone. Our dialogue energy is better spent talking to each other and reach out to natural allies. No body understands oppression better than people of Africa who’ve experienced hundreds of years of colonization, oppression, enslavement. It’s a worthwhile effort to reach out for natural allies!”

On fragmentation and literary consequences

 

“I’ve made a home of writing my homeland”

For long I thought of myself as a product of a fragmented reality as a whole generation of Palestinians are. I was born into this fragmentation and I am not even familiar with my own homeland which I’ve never seen, but it’s an integral part of my own memory, identity and narrative. But, I always thought that my depiction of what homeland is has been very fractured and fragmented and I always wonder when I write, “How much of Palestine do I really know and how much of Palestine do I represent being a Palestinian living in Gaza ?” and I’ve always tried to overcome this sense of fractured dislocation in my writing.

Susan thought the idea of dislocation is a quintessentially Palestinian condition. “This question, whether raising it or talking about it, is very Palestinian”. I felt comforted getting an assertion that it is fine to explore your own understanding of home; that I do not have to overcome those feelings to write, that those feelings might enrich the writing even if they resulted in a very nostalgic unrealistic depiction of Palestine.

Gaza Still Sings و غزة لسة بتغني

At Dar Al Basha, an 800-year old house testifying to the greatest cultural heritage of Gaza located in the Centre of the Gaza Old City, Palfest was concluded with a cultural event. The event that was put together by Diwan Ghazzah with the help of volunteering youth initiatives who did not hesitate for a second to take part in a public event for Palfest spoke of youth’s dedication to preserve the cultural life of Gaza. A Team of oud players, Young Rappers, Camp Breakers, bloggers, poets, and female Dabka dancers made the last event of the Palfest a testimony to the diverseness of the forms of cultural production Gaza embraces. How astonished I was to see the oppression and siege which those teenage rappers must have witnessed turned into creative forms with lyrics celebrating revolution, portraying the grey-concrete camp, and calling for boycott.

As the event was public, people in the old streets of the city started gathering at the door of the Dar wondering what was taking place in that old deserted house, children of the neighbourhood climbed up the stairs and crammed themselves for the best view and curious eyes peeked through the already crowded gate of the Dar.  When the event started, oud played, everyone listened and appreciated. The most astonishing, however, was the children’s reaction to the whole event: their astonishment with the performance of the rappers, their listening carefully to the sound of the oud, their interest in a language they don’t comprehend while Susan was reciting English poetry, and their amazement with the girl’s Dabka performance.

A friend’s comment resonates in my head right now! When someone was raising money for a children project for Gaza he said, ” I do not want a concentration camp to look prettier.” There is no doubt the place is somehow has turned into a concentration camp, though on the surface life sounds perfectly normal, yet culture and education are essential in defying this status quo, I believe and I wonder, ” am I really lying to myself when I believe this place is capable of producing so much culture ‘beyond crisis’, am I normalizing the abonormality of our situation or as Lina described it “The state of exception”, and am I helping to beautify this ugly reality we’re still entrapped in?”

All I’m sure of right now is that Palfest this year has made a political statement and has decided to go beyond the fragmented reality of Palestinians and to transcend borders that separate us, to connect us to a memory that has been interrupted by our non-presence in those places encraved in memory as “home.” A non-experienced home was made tangible with Susie’ and Ali’s presence. I could see home in the Palestinian-Egyptian accent we feigned to welcome Lina and Nora. And I could definitely see a recognition of home the moment Susie smiled when she could identify the word sumaaiyya in a rap song.

Rana, very anxious while we were waiting for the Palfest group to cross the Egyptian side of the border! Alaa Abdelfattah was turned back

Rana, very anxious while we were waiting for the Palfest group to cross the Egyptian side of the border! Alaa Abdelfattah was turned back

Lina Attallah in Gaza for the first time!

Lina Attallah in Gaza for the first time!

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Susan and Ahlam at Al Omari Mosque, Old City

Susan and Ahlam at Al Omari Mosque, Old City

A Palestinian welcome

A Palestinian welcome

Ali Abu Nima during one of the workshops

Ali Abu Nima during one of the workshops

Nora Younis film show!

Nora Younis film show!

Rappers: Revolution makers

Rappers: Revolution makers

Susan Abu Al hawa during the Cultural event

Susan Abu Al hawa during the Cultural event

Dabka

Dabka

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Cultural event at Dar Al Basha

Cultural event at Dar Al Basha

Susan's workshop on Narrative

Susan’s workshop on Narrative

Sumaaqiyya at my house

Sumaaqiyya at my house

Diwan Ghazzah

Diwan Ghazzah

Why should I be accused of being Westernized?

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“Westernized” is very often the first accusation pointed in your face when attempting to discuss or even try to raise gender matters in our society.” Especially if it stems from someone who has just come back from abroad, let alone it being a woman.

I cannot deny that being abroad for the first time in my whole life has put me in a very serious confrontation with my own identity not only as a Palestinian, or as a Muslim but also as a woman. It has confronted me with different “choices” which for me have always been taken for granted and have been part of my cultural identity. Being exposed to different cultural diversity has made me question the reasons behind those choices, and whether they were made by me or by the social and cultural context I was raised up in, especially after the Israeli blockade which meant being raised in a society, a concentration camp, which has been closed for the past six years with devastating consequences on both the social and the cultural life. I should not say that I am over this identity crisis because I am not. And I am not  ashamed of those changes because I am confirmed that they would eventually lead me to the person who I want to be.

Writing my thesis on women bloggers have made me realize that I have almost never written as a woman, thematically-speaking. Being here again has made me realize that it is important that I do. Blogging is a way of releasing one’s emotions, of pouring down ideas, of coming to terms with one’s experiences.

After today’s humiliating experience in which I was rejected from working in an academic institution, one of the reasons given being my dressing code outside the campus, I decided that I would no longer postpone it. I should be just to say that I was also given the excuse that studying a Masters in Culture and Difference, which is an interdisciplinary course, means that I cannot teach in the Literature department. However, even if I had the intention of teaching at the institution, I had to abide by a certain dressing code not only inside the campus, but also outside the campus as well. To teach at the university means that you have to abide by its own ideology.

Wearing pants in a public meeting should not be the concern of an academic institution even if that academic institution holds within it a supposedly “Islamic Ideology”. When education is “religious-based”, when teachers are also considered not because of their intellectual capacity and their contribution to knowledge but by how much they conform to the Islamist ideology in an institution, when decisions are made based on a patriarchal discourse that does not see women who choose not to cover their heads or to wear pants in public meetings, when the social pattern is being unified into a certain ideological vision, then how would that academic institution develop an intellectual understanding of diversity?

Being a blogger, writing has always portrayed the ways I, as a Palestinian, face different forms of oppression committed by the occupation. For long, I have been accusative and suspicious of women who raised gender-based issues for fear of diverting the discussion from our national struggle. Simply, writing back was merely an act of speaking against the occupation which is undoubtedly the first and most threatening initiator of violence and oppression in our society. The national struggle has necessitated a very nationalistic discourse that marginalized the importance of discussing gender and social matters.

However, this is not only the case, but even when we would be writing on gender matters, our narrative is usually that of resisting a Western narrative that objectifies Arab women and portrays them from an Orientalist perspective. An article on one of the Western mainstream media outlets suggesting the rise of conservatism in Gaza and the rise of the percentage of violence against women is usually confronted with comments which denies an already existing phenomena.

I agree western media might not be interested in providing a just portrayal of the situation, but unless we were courageous enough to raise those issues, we’d always be the object of representation not only by western Media but by our own dominating nationalist discourse that gives very little voice to the oppression we face within.

Speak out against oppression. All sorts of oppression.

P.S. I wish I could write this post in Arabic! I promise I should give it a try.

On Love and Desperation in the time of Exams

Writing is an act of love. Writing about love is an act of bravery.  Not a theory though. For love is too personal a feeling that hardly goes in public; too public a topos that it sometimes becomes ridiculously redundant.

My friend thinks that love is a boat voyage, where she can sit in her greenish sixties-model dress while staring at the person she loves rowing in a boat: A picture inspired by a Fatin Hamama black-and-white movie.

That’s why whenever we both feel an urgent need for love, we sit to watch a white-and-black movie that speaks of a love which we think is unattainable. We’d reckon that if we’d take part in one of those films, then it would absolutely be the ladies no one even notices in the background. Not out of desperation or lack of self-confidence, but out of a realization that a happily-ever-after love story is a mere fictitious fallacy until proven otherwise.

It is hard to believe our need to be loved when the whole world around us sounds on the verge of crumbling. Do we really have a space for love when the world is so messed up?

There’s in us the need for love. There’s in us the capacity to grieve. There’s in us the capacity to heal. There’s in us the forgetfulness of a memory; yet there are memories that can never be forgotten.

Gazans: Superhuman, aren’t we?

Gazans: Superhuman, are we?

Going through the stream of Media outlets every morning is torturous. I sit here in the college café, foreign music playing, foreign eyes staring at their facebook pages, but none of theirs-like mine. Incomprehensive languages alienate me even more. Language barrier they call it. Even here, I’m haunted by barriers. I read the news from home and amidst the tranquillity of this place arises a strange feeling of foreignness. An escape from politics is impossible. Being a Palestinian means that we carry our Palestinianness to the furthest spot on earth. We can never dissociate ourselves from Palestine no matter how hard we tried. In the happiest of moments, the misery of home makes us miserable and in the saddest, the joy of memories brings us to life again.

 A friend of mine once told me that she will be waiting for my writing from “El ghorba” exile. I find it really hard sometimes to put all of those chaotic thoughts together in one post. Sometimes, I even try to defy it, this feeling of foreignness and alienation that smells out of here. People’s friendly smile yet their unapproachable distance make me yearn to the warmth of home, the closeness of best friends and the daily fights with family. It’s been six months here. I am half the way through. The experience of being here has been illuminating, however. It did change me.

Being born and raised in Gaza, Palestine, I barely had any genuine contact with the world. The world for me was the impassable 360 km. that constitutes the Gaza Strip. My contact with my own country was restricted or rather impossible. The only Palestinians I met were always those residing in the Gaza Strip. This sense of fragmentation that I was part of has somehow reached to the way we define ourselves. The last six years by which Gaza has been held under one of the cruellest illegal blockades has assisted in this fragmentation. The intensity of the Israeli atrocities directed at the Palestinian population in Gaza and the world’s attention that shifts swiftly and severely from one spot to the other, with Gaza getting the bulk of this attention due to the brutality and inhumanity of the illegal siege, the way we started to define ourselves was made to be fragmented as well. And we, somehow, came to think of ourselves as Gazans.  Sometimes, only Gazans.

It is mainly the Israeli occupation policies of apartheid and separation that are creating this sense of fragmentation and self-autonomy in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip upon which we are being dragged to believe every day. This, unfortunately or rather disappointingly, or shamefully ( I apologize for I always fail to find the suitable definition of this ) is supported by the internal separation of both governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

I don’t think I am really blaming any Palestinian of this. I cannot. For I am just another victim of a process of linguistic-colonization, and as hard as we’re trying, those long-persisting policies of Apartheid can sometimes lead us to such unconscious linguistic but disastrous utterances.

Last month, while touring the north East of England as part of a “Women of Palestine tour” organized by the Yorkshire PSC, I was corrected by another Palestinian woman speaker, a refugee in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, while giving a talk about education under occupation in the Gaza Strip. Repeatedly, I referred to myself as a Gazan. My friend, irritated, said that I should rather refer to myself as a Palestinian. I felt embarrassed. What gives me the right to think that I, being born and raised in Gaza, am a unique Palestinian?

I do realize that being a Palestinian from Gaza does not give me any privilege. This is what makes of the experience of meeting with other Palestinians elsewhere life-worthy. I was fortunate enough to meet four Palestinian women who somehow resonated some different experience of home. Living together in one small house that was kindly given to us by one of the PSC supporters in Sheffield was one of the best days of my life. When sadly bedding farewell to each other after ten days, we left a thank you note to the lady that said:

“Thank you for bringing together a smaller Palestine in your house”

In Solidarity

 Sameeha , Gaza

 Kholoud, Ayda Camp Bethlehem

Zeinab , Hebron

Kholood, a Palestinian citizen of Israel

The uniqueness of this particular experience is my realization of how variable our contact with the occupation is.

 

The cultural, linguistic and identity challenges Kholood sarcastically represented while standing to introduce herself as: The Ticking bomb, referring to the way she lived in a state where she is being previewed as a constant threat and treated as a second-class citizen. Somehow before this, I thought that Palestinians in Israel are sort of privileged. At least they didn’t have to leave their houses, I thought. I could never imagine the sense of isolation and the discrimination that Palestinians in Israel are facing on daily basis. It is then I realized: “Well, that is an existential Palestinian experience”.     

The very determined Zainab brought with her a Palestinian persistence to discuss water Crisis. Only water crisis. It was her first time out of Palestine, too. She refused to refer to her personal experiences living in Hebron. She, I thought, didn’t even enjoy the heavenly countryside of Yorkshire. She was never impressed by anything, we all judged. “Zainab, look at this” we said, pointing at the mountains, the rivers, and reservoirs while being driven from one countryside to another. She’d look, unimpressed and hum, “Aha”. Irritated by our constant reference to how strict she was, she finally revealed why she was never enthusiastic about anything in one of the talks. “My friends” she said very calmly, “are wondering why I’m never enthusiastic about being in the UK, but I’m telling them, there’s NO Place more beautiful than Palestine.” I was on the verge of crying. We were all are, in fact when she added, “I know that I am only here for a week. Then, I will go back again. I will cross the checkpoint again.”    

It was hard to believe how Kholoud could somehow manage to make of her life in Aida refugee camp a bitter-sweet tale. My linguistic abilities are insufficient to portray her delicate smile yet her cunning giggles that startled everyone around. Passionately, she discussed her life in a refugee camp and her work in Human Rights organization, her struggle to get through the checkpoints where sometimes she had to commute for six hours to give a two-hour workshop on human rights. But, she had the same passion to life, jokes, and music.

That’s how illuminating the experience was. That’s why I’ve become very irritated by the way some of us are forgetting about the totality of the Palestinian experience. I understand how intense and inhumane the situation in Gaza is. I’ve lived it. I am living it. But by no means does it give me the right to think of myself as someone who’s suffering more. Fighting to our daily right to electricity should equate voicing out our right to return. Let’s not forget about that.

I was also very irritated by a picture circulated around facebook of a little “Ghazzawi” Gazan child challenging the supernatural Hulk indicating somehow that Palestinians in Gaza are superhuman. We are not. As much as I’d like to think that I am. We are human beings who are being dehumanized on daily basis by the Apartheid policies of Israel. We are human beings who have the capacity and the endurance of human beings. We sometimes feel we’re about to explode. We mourn our dead ones and we value life. Life does not go on as it used to be when a loved one is gone. Something inside us is gone as well with their leaving. But with the daily dehumanization, our humanity elevates.

 

From Right to Left: Sameeha, Kholood, Zainab, Kholoud

Ps. That Women of Palestine tour would not have been such a success without the inspiring and persistent work of the PSC in the North East England.

A special tribute is paid to the brave Abu Baker, who’s been vital part of this tour and who sadly passed away while campaigning. 

 A note to all the other wonderful Palestinian women whom I met while touring: Reem Kelani, Maha Rezeq, and Arwa. “One day in a free Palestine” 

 

Wala’: The Untrodden Beauty of Palestine

Wala’: The Untrodden Beauty of Palestine

Reading the title, her smile must have already found its way to her face, tears welling in her eyes with a Palestinian proud refusal to surrender to a burst of overwhelming emotions. Yet you could still ostensibly see the tears struggling around the green apple of her eyes just like every time she remembers that next year we might never meet again. Just like the first time it dawned upon her, upon me, this absolutely ridiculous fact that next year is going to bring us back to our 23-year separation.

Her name is Wala. My first Palestinian friend I meet from the other part of Palestine. The West Bank where my feet have never trodden but my heart has always yearned to.

Wala’ is the essence of the fragmentation of home. She’s the inaccessible world I was ever denied just for the simple fact that both of us were born in different part of the borders. She in Hebron. I in Gaza.

“It’s two hours by car,” we explained to our Chinese flatmate. Our tireless exhausting talks to that poor Chinese girl on why we cannot meet at home were futile, however. She seemingly couldn’t comprehend it. “Why are you making of such a very short drive a complex matter? Isn’t it only an hour or two-hour drive by car? Then, why cannot you both simply meet?” She kept repeating, bemused by our desperate looks. Yet, I wouldn’t blame her. For years, I had struggled with the same thought and question of why? My mother couldn’t explain it to me. Neither could politics or even history.

It is our peculiar contradiction yet striking resemblance that makes of us, as I’d like to think, the embodiment of “Palestine”.  Unlike me, she’s got a Marxist mentality rebelling against all sort of rules that might constraint her. Her impatient character, I assume, is a result of hours of waiting on checkpoints. Her uncouth constant insults have once been directed to hostile armed settlers. Simply, Wala is a typical revolutionary Hebronite who, despite everything, refuses to be confined by anything.

Watching us in the kitchen is not a pleasant scene for our friends (especially with knives at hand). They would beg us not to hurt each other while arguing whether hers or mine is the right way of flipping the Maqlooba, the Palestinian traditional dish (Doubtful as I have become of the fact). Shouting at her and swiftly smiling victoriously after our continuous attempt of cooking the maqloobah work tells me of the many similarities that can bring us together no matter how forcefully the occupation is trying to draw us asunder. Our love for za’tar ( Thyme). Our similar Palestinian embroidered dresses. Our Kuffeya. Our keenness to the same type of traditional and national songs of belonging and home. Our resentment to the same occupier

At a time, Wala’s existence was a mere thought of a beautiful Palestine lying unreachable behind the borders amongst hundreds of checkpoints and behind a lifeless wall, deaf to all those shouts for freedom in the impulsive graffiti. A silly joke we used to tell of a Hebronite. A news item of how aggressive the settlers are being towards the residents of Hebron. Now, she’s just my country fellow in exile. In the cold countryside of England.

Struggling to find a proper end to this post, I just cannot. I thought about, “And when I tell my children of another part of Palestine called Hebron, I’ll remember my dear Hebronite friend”, but this is not the end I want. This is not the end

A Life Beyond the Borders

“I should charge my laptop before I get to sleep”, I thought before I got under my thick blanket on my first night in Ustinov College, Durham.  Realizing I’d no longer need to worry about electricity cuts, at least not for the next year, I beamed.  Even sleeping turns out to be a totally new experience here, out of Gaza.  I slept, not worrying that I should be waking up on dawn to catch up with some online reading before the electricity is off for the most part of the day; I slept without selfishly convincing myself that the shelling shocking my house every now and then and claiming the lives of other Gazans is somehow going to be far from my house, my family and my loved ones.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve been here and each day brings about new dimensions to life. A realization of how much I’ve been forcefully robbed.

Every morning, I helplessly run downstairs, eager to check on my mail. While my flatmates carelessly check their mail as if doing so is a boring daily life routine, I enthusiastically flip through the envelopes searching for the mail coming under my name. Mostly, it’s receipts and notices. But, no matter how formal those letters are, getting them still fills me with a sense of life. And I just wish that one day I’ll boringly go through the mail as careless. I wish for the day when this is no longer an exceptional experience, when getting a bunch of books from a friend in the US won’t have to take six months to get to me, when a postcard with an Eiffel tower finds its way to my heart without the burden of first going all the way to Jerusalem then me, if I were lucky enough. 

In Gaza, nothing has felt more disheartening and infuriating than the shortage of books I would be recommended. Wandering around the very few bookshops in Gaza, I could barely see any recent publications for Palestinian writers. The most torturous to find were those of Edward Said who, widely read here, is barely read in our academic curricula. Books are everywhere here: every Department, Every street, every house, and every corner, sometimes. Thinking their policies would result in an ignorant native population, they are unaware they are making of us a generation thirsty for books, and for knowledge. Books were my solicitous companion in darkness; books still are my enlightening companion.

Every new experience, whether a musical concert, a museum, a theatre, a street performance and more, reminds me of home. It reminds me of the injustice I’ve been subjected to on daily basis. And I realize it when I speak of how it’s like to live in Palestine for people here. Stunned, emotional, shocked, or even tearful as some people could get when I speak of the mundane things that I once took for granted as a Gazan, it’s me who’s the more shocked or even traumatized to realize how unfair I was to myself when I considered a life of injustice as the norm.  And I’m bound more to home, to Gaza, to Palestine. I realize that my life is all about fighting. Fighting for life. 

Music

 

8th October, 2011

 

The window in the middle of that white painted wall overlooks the dark sky where the wind is whistling softly contributing to the miscellaneous musical tones coming out of those instruments. A guitar lies carelessly in the corner. The Candles light dwindle every now and then. I involuntarily close my eyes to endless thoughts when I realize I would lose sight of the passion by which the hands are gripping this unbelievably tiny instrument, I open them, heave a sigh, and a tear escapes my eyes. A first experience is a rebirth to life.

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