I stopped reading about Palestine a while ago. Well not completely. I kept following the news but I stopped reading books; stories, novels, memoirs. I don’t know why. Maybe because it was distressful.
At times, I felt a painful feeling of “missing” Palestine. A place I can no longer visit. Of course, I always try to remind my self how lucky I am: I had the opportunity to visit my homeland and create memories, not once, but several times. Millions of Palestinians cant visit. Still this “missing” feeling that I experienced from reading suffocated me. I decided to withdraw.
But, I recently picked up a book called “The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine,” by Ben Ehrenreich and it captivated me.
All the feelings and emotions that one may experience when reading about Palestine will surface: longing, happiness, love, joy, anger, bitterness, longing, motivation, demotivation. All the thoughts that one may have when reading about Palestine also surface: how come we are silent about ongoing ethnic-cleansing; how is it acceptable to murder Palestinians because they happen to be Palestinians; how can the practice of stealing one’s land and ancestors land, by the powerful oppressor, be acceptable; how on earth are we going to stop this brutal embedded injustice Palestinians, living in historic Palestine, experience on daily bases.”
That “missing” feeling, which I cant explain in words yet, emerged while reading the pages of the book, and at times i thought “I must try and go again.”
The book narrates the stories of various Palestinians and their unwavering will to defy oppression. The courage, love of life, and determination they embody, and that is humanly narrated in this book, is extraordinary. It made me contemplate my own attitude and perspective towards life. The things I take for granted, my obsession with wanting to do more and achieve more ( I guess this is the rat-race), worrying about everything and nothing, being agitated for having free time, as if I need to be on the run all the time. It made me think of what it means to be happy, this notion that became so blurred, to me at least. It also made me think of the idea of having a choice (which I will dedicate another post for).
The book is also an extremely valuable historical account. It traces, throughout the book, the connection between the colonial rule of Palestine by the British and the current structures of illegal military occupation, exclusion, and domination. Its the nuances of resistance and Palestinians daily encounter with the occupation structure, which tends to be overlooked when writing and talking about Palestine, that allows us to critically understand the grave trauma the Palestinians had to endure when they lost their land, before 1948. I think this is important because the Israeli narrative continues to posit that the Jews were not supported by the British, or anyone, in the process of establishing their state – positioning themselves as the victims that were fighting against the world. The book in many ways challenges this.
Below are some quotes from the book, however, these are just few from the parts I highlighted that made me stop and think. There are many more in this brilliant book.
Author on writing the book “…I aspire here to something more modest than objectivity, which is truth. It is a slippery creature, and elusive, one that lives most of the time in contradiction. Its pursuit requires not only the employment of rigorous doubt and thorough research but the capacity for empathy and discernment, qualities available only to individuals embedded in bodies, places, histories, and points of view. There is blood is us, to paraphrase Eid Suleiman al-Hathalin, whom you will meet, and spirit and a heart. This is not a handicap but a strength, and the source of our salvation.”
In providing context to the things he saw, that symbolized power and influence, he said the following:
“…the muqata’a as a sort of stone palimpsest of eighty years of colonial and now neo-colonial rule. It’s core – the concrete structure in which Arafat was confined – was originally erected by the British, specifically by an Irish Protestant policeman named Charles Tegart. England’s colonial adventures began closer to home, and, between stints in Calcutta, Tegart had worked as an intelligence officer for the British crown during the Irish war for independence. He later proved so talented at crushing anticolonial insurgencies in India that he was granted Knighthood. His efforts there were not universally appreciated – Tegart survived no fewer than six assassination attempts and developed a reputation for rough methods (“torture” would be the contemporary appellation) that would follow him to Palestine, where he arrived in 1937, one year into the Arab revolt. In Palestine, Tegart sketched out an early draft of what would become the basic infrastructure of Israel’s occupation: he militarized the colonial constabulary, constructed the region’s first border wall along what is not the Israeli-Lebanese frontier, erected pillbox guard towers along the roads, and built sixty-two reinforced-concrete forts, each designed to withstand a month-long siege. This was the architecture of domination: unapologetically practical structures designed to protect and sustain an occupying army stationed amid a populace that did not want it there. After 1948, many of Tegart forsts that fell inside Israel remained police stations for the new Jewish state. Some became museums. Others were abandoned. One became a secret IDF prison and interrogation site known only as Facility 1391.”
“the ability of local military commanders to declare any area of their choosing a “closed military zone,” in which all civilian trespass is forbidden, dates back to the British Defense Regulation of 1945, which were preserved after the foundation of the Israeli state. Article 125 of the Defense Regulations was used extensively in the Arab north of Israel well into the 1960’s to prevent displaced Palestinians from returning to their homes, to quash demonstrations, and to confiscate land for Jewish settlement.”
In one of his conversation with his host Zidan Sharabti in Hebron, Ben shared the following:
“… I once asked him if he didnt sometimes lose hope. Even as I asked it, I knew it was a foolish question, but I needed to know how he kept going. The darkness in Hebron was so complete and overwhelming. (“How can one emerged unharmed from this daily schizophrenia?” asked the Spanish novelist Juan Goytisolo after a visit to Hebron in 1995, half a decade before things got really bad.) I wanted light, just a little. Of course he lost hope, Zidan answered. He looked annoyed. “Its not a matter of hope,” he went on. It was just that he didn’t have any alternatives.”
After living in Hebron for sometime, and living with Palestinian families through daily struggles, Ben said:
“People in Hebron used the word “normal” a lot. Here are a few things that people there told me were “normal”: Screaming…,Being shot at and having rocks and Moltov cocktails thrown at your house…,Soldiers firing tear gas at schoolchildren to mark the beginning and end of each day of classes…,Being arrested, questioned for hours, and resealed without charges or apology…,Having your ID taken at checkpoint by a soldier who slips it into his pocket and keeps it there until the whim strikes him that you’ve waited a lot…, Having a solider with an automatic rifle stationed at all times just behind or in front of your house…,Everything.”
He refers to Hebron as “Planet Hebron.”
“It’s our planet. We made it what it is. And by we I mean all of us — those who acted, and those who do not act. … Hebron’s realities are the same as those in the rest of Palestine, only boiled down under tremendous pressure until they have been reduced to a thick and noxious paste. And Palestine’s realities are not different from our own.”
During his time in Umm-al Kheir, Ben introduces us to Eid Sulaiman al-Hathalin who is a sculptor; vegetarian; searcher for unexploded munitions. Ben shares the following one of their conversations on settlers:
“”I think this land is very big,” Eid said. “It can take all of us without any problems. But because we are humans we are stupid and we do not see the truth. We do not want to speak to our neighbors and there is a misunderstanding between us.” I was about to reply that he made it too simple, that good people did ugly things all over the world, and it was rarely a question of individuals and their choices or emotions, but system, machines that were larger than us. But Eid beat me to it and said it again, his refrain: its so easy, he said, and so hard.”