The countdown begins

I’ve been feeling pretty stumped lately. I run around like a headless chicken, working, arguing with taxi drivers about prices (is every taxi driver’s fare machine not working in Jerusalem?), trying to have a life, generally failing at all three. The work doesn’t stop, the taxi drivers still rip me off, and my social life is the biggest non-news event in this place.

Two people have asked me if I can help them fill two-part time positions and one full time position. In the past, I’d have the CV’s ready to go, but in all my confusion I can’t find a damned one right now. So if you want to brave the hype about the war and come and work in the West Bank, for God’s sake, write to me.

I’ve somehow reached point-zero, or pretty much that steep decline which flings to it. The situation here, at least in the West Bank, is ‘relatively’ quiet, Gaza is hell, Hamas and the PLO can’t agree on a strategy for liberation, so all attempt (armed or pacifist) flounder in the absence of a clear message: To ourselves, to Israelis, to the Arab world, to the international community.

I try to reassure myself with the knowledge that nobody cares anyway.

A few nights ago I had a huge discussion about all this with two friends. I tried to argue that killing civilians is morally and Islamically wrong because it actually takes away from our humanity, that by thinking in terms of victimization and exclusivity we set the seeds for the non-recognition of the other, for institutional violence, for internal persecution, for the absence of institution and civil society building.

I was politely, and correctly, reminded that unless you’ve lived as a West Banker, a Gazan, a Palestinian in the Occupied Territories, it’s pointless making an argument about something you’ve never experienced. Touché, they were perfectly right. It didn’t mean they disagreed or agreed, just that I shouldn’t be the person to be judging.

Last week, before a new wave of work came in, we thought about having a press conference “what will happen in Palestine with a war on Iraq?” One of my colleagues raised an eyebrow - I had asked him to speak - he simply answered my question, “More of the same shit Diaa, what else?”

I don’t think what I’m feeling here is unusual, I honestly feel that for me it sets in a little too late. Most Palestinians I have met have been depressed for at least a year and a half now. My depression had to work its way through some serious middle class privilege first.

Last night I did go to the Ambassador, but not before my friend took me to meet a family she is on good terms with. One of the men had two sons in jail, one a child in Talmond, the other in the southern desert. Another had a son in jail, doing several life sentences. And so on. Yes, they laughed, they joked, a person had come back from Makkeh, offering us dates and zam-zam, water from the holy spring; I was given Muslim rosary beads. The clouds of gloom hung over our heads, like a rainstorm that occasionally patters down, and occasionally storms.

I happened to like that family very much, being slowly introduced to all them individually over a period of months at my place, when the came to visit my roommate. I liked their style. Good for a joke, nationalists with their hearts and minds. I haven’t met the mother though, of the two boys, who was a security prisoner herself, a chain smoker and totally, I hear, totally fearless.

I joke to my friends that six years in jail will still leave me a whimpering coward, they reply by suggesting that there are easier experiments to carry out. I didn’t flinch though, when Israeli soldiers were shooting, the last time I went to Ramallah. Not because it’s somehow very normal - it is way not normal in my area of Jerusalem, but because nobody else flinched. I’ve gotten used to looking at other people in such situations to work out whether I should be sprinting for cover or not.

The whole feeling leaves me with a confused paranoia, especially as a make my way, when I can, to the North, for some (weak) sunshine, and a chance to escape the tensions of Jerusalem, half-sleeping beside the bus window, a soldier with his M-16 sitting next to me, watching a shepherd and his little girl heat themselves over a little fire, under a bridge near Jisr al-Zarqa, close to Haifa. Where am I, anyway?

I think, hurling me down onto that slippery slope of depression, is that it’s hard enough working on explaining an occupation to the outside, without having to fight from within for everything…from getting your work travel cheque reimbursed to asking serious questions about the financial management of work places.

I’ve had a few fantasies about some of my colleagues becoming Palestinian casualty statistics, not a good sign…. a friend of mine and I wrote a sorrowful mock-press release about the incident, involving a suspicious looking briefcase, the Kalandia checkpoint, another colleague with a squirrel-like voice and big belly, and an Israeli soldier. I’m sure that would be called narrative therapy.

The problem is, once you stay in the office from 8am-8pm, you actually see the visions of this event flowing across your shit PC. Not a good sign. We may just all die during the war, although I seriously don’t believe Iraq will be sending missiles
this way, I think “more of the same shit” may leave us a few casualties…

I wanted to tell you though; I haven’t lost my (strange) sense of humor yet. I ordered some Hebron plates (beautiful things) for my mother, who really wants a set from Acre (where else?) only to be told that once the situation calm down, we should get them in.

My friend and I boarded a bus from Acre to his village on Friday. There were no two seats next to each other, so he sat on aisle chair, and so did I, so we could still talk. The bus became filled with soldiers, standing in the isle. I tried to see my friend’s face, but there was an M16 and a soldier’s back strategically wedged between us.

So of course, I began to sing the famous Mahmoud Darwish poem, put to music by Marcel Khalife, “Bayna Rita wa 3ayouni bunduqiyyeh…..” (Between Rita and my eyes is a rifle, and who ever knows Rita, kneels down to pray to her honey-colored

My honey-coloured eyes friend hurled a mixture of laughter and curses. Then asked the soldier in Hebrew with a grin, “Excuse me, can you please move your rifle? My friend hates them.” By the way, I’ve been given 3 kilos of pickeled rashishes and
a huge jar of olives in case their is a war and we have curfew.

Diaa Hadid is public advocacy officer at a Palestinian human rights organisation