Occupied Land, But Never Occupied Hearts

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I woke up to an unexpected text message earlier this week. It said, Don’t come into work today or tomorrow. Cancel all your classes. This is for security reasons, and to avoid clashes.

Well, I’d heard that the whole country was going under a brief strike, in protest to Trump’s announcement of recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his plans to move the U.S. Embassy there. So the order to not come into work was not totally unexpected. But for security reasons? What was dangerous in the situation?

A lot more than I realized. Here is my hastily-written experience, as a Canadian Palestinian presently and recently been living in Hebron for the time being.
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I’ve stayed home from work in Canada before, during a dangerous ice storm situation. But this, this was different. It had never been because my life – and more so, my teenage students’ lives – depended on it. I’d never been told to skip a day of normality as a response to petty words said by a pompous, destructive man in charge of another country across the world.

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But this is Palestine we’re talking about. I am no longer in more-predictably-safer Canada.

If I were in Canada, hearing the announcement, and watching the news of the sudden surge of unrest that it created, I’d be raving in rage at such an absurd announcement from someone who mistakenly thinks his opinion represents reality and justice. This announcement is not unique of its kind; time and time again, former American presidents have said it also. (And frankly, I couldn’t care less where the U.S. Embassy is located, just so long as it doesn’t have to demolish Palestinian native land in order to do so. Like the occupiers of the illegal settlements do all the time.)

Why aren’t I bursting with anger at the riots and killings that have ensued after the announcement? Because I’m here… in Palestine. And as a result, I see things differently, or at least I understand things differently. I see how “normal” and ordinary colonial violence is to the people here. If anything, I feel more sadness than anger. Is this what the world (especially the cowardly Arab world leaders who turn a blind eye) has decided is a fit state that Palestinians deserve to live in? In a state of constant fear, so much so that from a young age,  deadly fear is merely replaced with just matter-of-fact apprehension?

Here’s a really simple example to illustrate what I mean.

Today I set a date with one of my classes, a date to go outside as part of the curriculum to advocate for a classroom project campaign (healthy living). The original venue was supposed to be downtown, until a group of my male students advised me otherwise.

  • Miss, maybe we should do our advocacy somewhere more quiet, less crowded. I don’t want you to end up feeling bad if we go downtown, and then the Israeli military rounds us boys up.

My heart broke inside, knowing that over here, intelligent, compassionate and responsible 14-year old boys have to factor in ridiculous things when they go out, even when it’s a simple outing to distribute brochures and fruits to pedestrians. Having to factor things like, getting captured for no reason by soldiers, attacked by loosed military dogs, getting tangled in clashes on the way home. How is this allowed to happen? And why is it a normal part of their lives?

To make matters heavier, the boys speaking to me didn’t even seem frightened at the possibility of being taken away by the occupying force; they were more concerned about the guilt I’d feel if I brought them to a location that posed a threat (aka crowded with normal people) for this to happen. No teenager should live a life in which anticipated pain, separation from families, child imprisonment and silencing of peaceful protests is as normal as breathing.

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Living through this with my homeland brothers and sisters, I would have thought my blood would be constantly boiling. Instead, I am just so tired of it all… and deeply saddened at the state of things that have been emptied of a once-bursting life.

Not too long ago, I visited the Old Town of Hebron. It is most well-known for the holy site called the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs), which has the tombs of the Prophets Ibrahim, Isaac, and Sara, among others. The Old Town is known to be full of checkpoints and settler activity, so I spent a few weeks asking around if it was “now safe” to go before me and my sister quietly went without informing anyone (knowing we’d be discouraged and avoid the area). So, off we went.

I was shocked when I went to the Old Town. The streets were eerily empty. Shop after shop was closed down on entire deserted market streets. Streets that used to bustle with love and life. With the deafening silence, I was painfully self-conscious of the loud sounds my slightly heeled shoes made upon hitting the ancient stone floor. It felt like a ghost time.

However, thankfully, it was safe”. We went into the Ibrahimi Mosque (as I frantically ignored the memory of how a shooting massacre had literally taken place by a Zionist in this room), quickly walked past a market tunnel on our way to find a taxi, and arrived home in one piece.

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That safety didn’t last. The day after we went, we heard how unrest spiralled up around the Ibrahimi Mosque. Shootings often happen around the area. And now, due to the latest string of events, I imagine it’s that much riskier to go. We haven’t visited again (which is unfortunate, since it’s less than a 10-minute drive away from where we live).

The Old Town has often been a hot site for danger due to violence imposed by settlers and shady checkpoints. The difficult situation for Palestinians living there doesn’t make it any more acceptable, but predictable, at least.

Now, because of some gibberish made from an orange-faced man, the whole country is in an uproar. From Bethlehem to Ramallah to Jerusalem to Hebron – you name it.

Some areas are hotter than others, but there are flames burning in hearts all over.

I wrote this post because a friend asked how I was feeling. And honestly? I don’t think it matters how I feel. All I know is… no child deserves to be born in a world where they can’t even get to school safely. Where going through checkpoints like a criminal is a daily occurrence. Where praying in a sacred mosque of historical significance is deemed unsafe, unsafe to prostrate your head to the ground…

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Such are some impacts of living in an occupied world. Occupied land, but never occupied minds and souls.

I’ll leave you, dear reader, to some powerful words written by Omar Suleiman which perfectly summarise my opinion on the whole thoughtless announcements:

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And God knows Best.

A.S.

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Are There Really Any Words?

Wings

Words are a blessing,
That we use to express everything
But are words really enough?
~
Is there really a word to describe…
 ~
The longing that sweet memories cannot satisfy?
The heart-flying feeling under the umbrella of a blue sky?
The breaking sweet pain that holds the hand of healing?
The steady chaotic rhythm of events unfurling and swirling?
The melody of rising and slippery sliding hopes?
The recognition of metaphysical ropes and incredible power to cope?
The music of even anxiety, suspense, and naive expectation?
The new life breathed into one held hostage in a moment of inspiration?
The way one’s heart swells at the sounds of truth and recognition?
~
Oh, what can one really come to say
When there doesn’t seem to be a right way…
~
To describe —
longings, heart-flying feelings,
musics of states, inspiration and heart-swellings…
breaking sweet pain, chaotic steady rhythms, hope,
rising and falling melodies, and metaphysical ropes…
~
Are there really any words?
~
Romantic Red

 

And God knows Best.
A.S. (Dec.2, 2017)