The distance between Hanan and I depends on what gauge you use to measure it. In terms of physical distance, 10 miles separate us. In terms of occupation distance, she is two checkpoints away.
This occupation distance renders null and void the physical distance, for it doesn’t matter whether she’s ten miles or 20 yards away, with a closed checkpoint between us the result is the same: I don’t see Hanan.
Two days ago, she was a continent away, but easier to reach. Being barred from seeing her has transformed Hanan into an elusive symbol. The distance between us epitomizes the maliciousness of an occupation system that eliminates control over one’s life and makes attaining even the smallest glimpses of happiness an uphill battle for survival.
In the absense of Hanan, I make do. I piddle around my apartment, trying to cope with the unseasonable heat and the prohibition on leaving my home yet another time. I watch the helicopters hover over the valley on which I live. I watch them fly above the terraced olive groves, repeatedly opening fire and wonder what their target is this time. I wonder what the soldier who pulls the trigger thinks as he does it. I listen to the random explosions that seem to have no source. I call my friends to see if the explosions they hear correspond with my own.
I watch the tanks and armored personnel carriers roam up and down the empty streets of Ramallah. I watch a bulldozer dig a trench in the road to the east of my house and wonder if our electricity, phone or water lines are located there. I fill up bottles of water and plug my mobile phone into the charger, just in case. I stare at the fractured and cobbled together frame of my front door, broken down by Israeli soldiers four days ago as they searched my building.
I listen to the news and try to decipher what is happening to whom, when, where, and how. I don’t bother with the why. I know the answer: the Israeli military is destroying the “terrorist infrastructure.” Anyone who has mastered basic math skills knows what a farce that particular euphemism is. Substitute the word “Palestinian” for “terrorist,” which is, of course, what the Israeli government does, and you have a more accurate description of what is taking place.
Between the calls to prayer emanating from the local mosque, I listen to the muddled voice of an Israeli soldier as he repeats over and over again “mamnu’a tajawwal, mamnu’a tajawwal,” announcing the curfew over a loud speaker, as if anyone in the neighborhood could possibly be confused about its existence.
And I wonder what Hanan is doing two checkpoints away. Is she going stir crazy like me? Is she rationing her cigarettes and food to figure out how long both will last? Is she seething with anger at a system that prohibits any semblance of normal daily life?
Everyone here has a Hanan. She might be your mother, sister, doctor, spiritual advisor, or work colleague. She could be your wife or your newborn baby girl who has forgotten the sound of your voice or the sight of your face because you have been stuck on the other side of the checkpoint for so long. She could be the person holding your paycheck or administering an exam that determines whether you will continue your education this year or not. She might simply be a friend that has helped you stay sane in the midst of chaos, as she is for me. She could be any of these things.
Again, I remember that I’m lucky. The emotional distance between Hanan and I is minimal – she lives in my heart and I carry her with me wherever I go.
Not seeing Hanan today will not kill me or drive me insane. A life time of this would.