A Book Quest

By Sameeha Elwan

All I wanted was a book; many books, in fact, but that one in particular is the one I wanted so bad. I’m not to blame, for who could resist a book with both “Sharon” and “My Mother-in-law” on its cover?! Though I wouldn’t want my mother-in-law to meet Sharon, not even if I wanted her dead, but probably she’s met him somewhere. Well, Sharon has always been a part of our life-long torture; the man never seemed to waste a scene of massacred Palestinians; a sole command to his armed soldiers have put an end to the lives of hundreds of Palestinians, including women and children, a sole command would put others behind the bars of Israeli prisons with no just trials for the rest of their lives. It seems that the man was filling his belly with the Palestinian flesh and blood and his thirst with the scenes of their suffering. I wonder why the doctors, treating him at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, in which he impotently lies, didn’t get that all he needed was Palestinians and any kind of lethal weapons to kill them with cold blood as he always did, and he might be back on his feet again, with the belly, of course.

All I wanted was that book. After I read some extracts of two of its chapters at one of my favourite sites, I truly was enchanted by Suad Amiry’s narrative style where she tells our stories of misery with such sarcasm, and I, who was mesmerized by the title, fell in love with the whole book, putting myself in a serious trouble; I started rebuking myself, “how could I fall in love with an unattainable book?”, and though feeling like a desperate lover, I didn’t lose hope, for hope was all I got. When I was sure I wouldn’t find such a book recently published (I mean by recently that it was published at the beginning of the twenty first century if not before) at any bookshop, I had to resort to an alternative. Though not as tempting as turning the pages of a hard copy, reading a soft copy didn’t seem like a bad option, for I had always resorted to it when I felt hopeless. With the help of my sister’s 3-cm-square mobile screen, I would hide under my bed’s blankets from mother’s sight because she would grab the mobile from my hands whenever she sees me clinging to it with non-blinking eyes. She used to say I would hurt my eyes, and I used to claim I had a real strong eyesight till a day came when I couldn’t open my eyes. Freaking out, I decided not to use the 4-cm-screen-mobile again for reading. After all, though reading is my passion, losing my eyesight wouldn’t have been a wise option. Therefore, I now use my computer screen; unfortunately, I can’t hold the five-kilo computer screen and hide under a blanket or enjoy reading under the sun’s rays at the roof, and I cannot choose the time of reading because all I have is 8 hours of electricity, which is barely enough for academic reading.

Oh God! They definitely knew how to deprive us of the sense of life!

I, rushing to his office at nine in the morning, was having daydreams about me spending the whole day in the company of that book even if I had to read on the mobile’s light if the electricity went off today. I had finally found the book in flesh and blood a week ago.  My teacher proudly declared he owns the hard copy. I didn’t blame him for having such a book in such conditions, where finding a book is just as impossible as finding a pin a pile of straw, gives one the impression of owning an ultimate power. Collecting all the courage I have, I asked him if I could borrow the book, but, alas, I was too late. Others, whom the book has apparently caused them to see Sharon in their dreams (which I think is not a good excuse for most Palestinians suffered such nightmares at times when Sharon’s tanks were turning their lives into hell after invading their homes, killing their loved ones, and arresting the rest) were in quest for the book as well.  A smile of victory overwhelmed my face when I got to the office, I would finally get the book, as he assured me yesterday. What he didn’t know was that Sharon’s name lying on his desk in the company of “my mother-in-law” would probably captivate others as well. My lovely book captured others whom my teacher couldn’t refuse their request to borrow the book and I stood there at his office, empty-handed, empty minded and on the verge of crying.

God! How hard it is to get a book when I, who was so enthusiastic about buying my first book with my own money, was struck by the fact that in a Palestinian bookshop, I wouldn’t see Ramallah on its shelves where there, amongst the many books, should be ” I Saw Ramallah”, a book written by the Palestinian Poet, “Morid Al Barghouti”, nor would I find “Orientalism” by Edward Said, or even “Men in the Son” for Ghassan Kanafani. How ugly my Gazan mind would go to get a copy of a 194-page book that I would think of asking my aunt, living in Egypt to smuggle me the book, as we’re smuggling other basic supplies through tunnels, and wait and wait for the light at the end of the tunnel.

I wondered a lot what threat a book would impose against Israel?! Why should we be deprived even of the books written by our own writers, why should we always wait for “Breaking-the siege” ships for the hope that they are carrying us what we can’t find on our own shelves? Why shouldn’t we decide what we want to read and read it whenever we want?  Those questions have never been so pleasing to think about. But I was sure that to be a student at any Gazan university means that you have to give up any thought of having your own hard copies of up-to date books. And now, could you imagine being a bookworm in Gaza!