A sense of haunting and guilt remains with us who have survived because we still remember those we have lost. Guilt stemming from the latest song they missed, a new story they will never read, the new restaurant on the corner where jazz is played which tickles the heart. We carry the guilt of their forced absence from the scene of our lives because we have learnt that their death is our life, and that their sacrifice is the victory of our lost dignity.We are ashamed to laugh at a wedding, so we turn a joyous occasion into one of mourning for our dead, leaving happiness unfulfilled.We ask ourselves, as does everyone, how this struggle will end. Will one party one day announce their defeat? Will the weaker, wounded party (the Palestinians, of course) remain silent and to confess their inability to go on and their lack of the means to do so? The Authority does not own the decision to build a state, and remains bound between the realities. The crossings, sources of aid and all life necessities including water, electricity, petrol and the roads needed to transport them on are completely linked to Israel, and no common internal resolution exists, neither of resistance nor of surrender.We disregard this big question delaying the answer that will probably not be in our favour, and we choose to continue with the whirlpool of negotiations and they’re halting, of war and non-war, until one explodes in the face of a barrier, explodes overwhelmed by personal factors or metaphysical ones, bringing up the question once more: how will it end if it does at all? Despite all we do to lead normal lives under abnormal circumstances, we still sleep asking ourselves, will tomorrow morning be better?In his article, The Quest for Normality in Abnormality, Mahmoud Darwish says:” One identity is not negated by another. What shakes an identity is when its formation depends on the negation of the identity of the other.” Also: “For us, all we must do is to be as we want us to be, normal beings living a normal life. The victim is able to provide moral salvation for the battered conscience of the persecutor’s society, but only in one case; when the victim is able to create its normal life, and this happens only once its right to exist is recognized and apologies for the injustices have been made, including the manifestations of those apologies.”Can we live a normal life without our persecutor’s recognition of our right to exist and of all the injustices done upon us? I do not know.
Attempting Normality amidst Abnormality
I was recently invited to Sweden to speak about the ‘Palestinian Writer’, at a number of universities and institutes. I had to stop and think for a while to conjure up the image of this ‘Palestinian writer’ who must be somewhat extraordinary to require a trip of this length to speak with people from all over Sweden. As I introspected,, I found myself to be no more than a mass of brittleness, memories and personal narratives. I wasn’t sure if I shared this with every other writer on earth, cursing God and life, questioning existence and food and going to the toilet ten times a day. I tried to think what others would want to hear about the famous “Palestinian” who is always appearing on the news in different forms. I told myself that I must be objective and convey the bigger picture whose existence I hadn’t previously believed in.For what I believe is that each individual has their own story; their own unique situation. I tried to make a collection of interesting facts about this Palestinian Writer, but I found myself always with the tendency to write about Palestine as seen by others and as I see it myself. I decided that when I came home to Palestine, I would write a four-hundred page book about my Palestinian experience in Sweden, as a Swedish woman had done upon her visit to Palestine, selling thousands of copies. I decided to describe how cold the weather is there, how warm the people are, the right-wing left-wing politics, the Gutenberg coffee shops, an African-Swedish poet, and a Colombian professor always in her Egyptian-style dresses. I might write of the Swede’s obsession with house plants and the little green houses found everywhere, and the allotments the government gives the people to reduce depression and suicide which costs the country dearly. I might write of the houses I visited, filled with images of Palestinian children at check-points or their faces hidden by Kufiyas or trying to remove some chicken-wire. I might write of a Palestinian poet who came to Sweden for a festival of poetry but never left, continuously speaking of the cause in an attempt to get help for his application of refuge to Sweden which was denied the first time. I might write about a Palestinian who tries as hard as he can to be Swedish, filling his house with souvenirs from the blessed country intended only for tourists. I will think of six-hour long car rides and buses on the roads and an exhaustion of the body curled like a fetus. I will write about Mo, the blond Swede who dreams of travelling to Ramallah and asks repeatedly of the best way to enter- through Tel Aviv or the Bridge? I think of how many copies shall be sold and of the type of readers who would want to own this book, would they be Palestinians or foreigners? Who would bother to discover all this?
Non-victim VictimIn the Media
Television hosts a number of images for the Palestinian individual. Four of them are the more common; the first is the Palestinian as terrorist, he attacks innocent Israelis by blowing up his body which is a moving bomb that can go off any minute. Another image is of the Palestinian as victim, the refugee, and the persecuted . A third is of the heroic fighter (Almanar, Hezbollah’s channel is probably the only channel advertising this victorious image). And a fourth image which doesn’t belong to a particular channel and which shows the Palestinian as an equal party in the conflict.There are different names for he who is killed by an Israeli bullet. Some call him murdered others Martyr, and the two constantly argue over the label which seems to be even more important than the occurrence itself. Some channels have somewhat dramatic stances on the issue, after all, to label it is to define the event and it is what will eternalize the departed in the minds of those who did not know him. It is midst this tangle of conflicting political and religious views that the Palestinian strives to define himself/herself. Adding to the confusion is the myriad of historical, social and popular projections pushing in all directions. As the victim’s image is created as an alter-ego of its enemy, the image of the Israeli is the reverse of what we have mentioned regarding the Palestinian image, notwithstanding the fact that there is somewhat of a Palestinian consensus on the image of the Israeli other as an opposite rather than as a slightly different other.
In his film Paradise Now Hani Abu Sa’da explores the factors which motivate someone to commit suicide. The film is the life of two young men 24 hours before their execution of a suicide attack. Regardless of its details, the significance of the film lies in the Palestinian and Western reactions to this story which somehow humanizes the bomber, but also reduces him to a regular person pushed by personal reasons to commit the attack. This was widely criticized both by Palestinians and Israelis, the first attacked the film for its oversimplification of the motives behind suicide attacks and its disregard for the ideological and political reasons and its focus on personal issues such as guilt as a motive. The Israeli critics however, were unimpressed with the ‘human’ portrayal of the attackers which touches on their feelings of love, anxiety and fear. An article in the Jerusalem Post criticizes this personal angle for “making heroes out of monsters”.Apparently this kind of martyr must be somewhat mysterious and metaphysical, unlike the random stranger who sits beside me in the bus. To others, he possesses supernatural willpower and determination because his narrative is sublime to others’ and bigger in scale, any other rational is unacceptable. For this group, the martyr is a collective archetype rather than an individual, as is he to the group representing the other extreme, each for their own reasons.
The Internal Conflict
Daily life for Palestinians is a combination of normality and its absence. The recent internal conflict has created a new facet; a portrait of the Palestinians as victims and persecutors simultaneously. Palestinians killed Palestinians in Gaza, and tortured each other in ways reminiscent of the methods of the Israeli enemy. Fanon would have said that the victim was recreating the image of its persecutor. It is neither normal nor accepted, but it happens, just as children playing ‘Soldiers and Arabs’ compete over the role of the Israeli soldier rather than that of Arab.Another infiltration of Palestinian society which has been around since ‘Oslo’, and one which has a large impact on the formation of the image of Palestinian, is the culture of funding through NGO’s and quasi governmental institutes. It may seem to be a harmless and universal phenomenon, one which –as stated in the aims- is meant to support and empower the state and its infrastructure, but it does nonetheless place the benefitting Palestinian in a category less than equal to those outside it. Those who sign anti-terrorist agreements (terrorism as the donors define it), are classed in a different category to those who refuse to do so. The parties who get this funding are in a category different to those who refuse to receive it. These are distinctions which all Palestinians working in the field know, as do the many that plan to enter it.This culture has created a model of well-off Palestinians who directly impact their surrounding environment. A new standard of living has been introduced one which includes bank loans and a set of new needs. There comes with it also a new vocabulary to please those in charge; in documents and reports, you would refer to ‘The West-Bank and Gaza’ rather than to Palestine. For Palestinians killed by Israelis, you would use ‘murdered’ rather than the was-common ‘martyrs’. This is a new type of Palestinian, one able to live comfortably under occupation and accept its conditions.
The Last Victim
As in most other cases, man’s narrative here, is derived from the collective one. However, extraordinary circumstances mar, blur and scar the lines between the characters. Everything that impacts me, impacts you, the images broadcast by the outside world, the stories. The difference is in the ways they penetrate each of us, my way makes me, me;, yours makes you, you.Who is the victim and who is the persecutor? I’ll not strive to persuade one side to take sides. In reality, the answer does not interest me. What does interest me, is how the images are seen from the different angles. The angle is the only difference.