Imaginary Hugs In Palestine

Palestinians in Beit Sahour participate in a march against the war in Lebanon and Gaza Strip, 24 July 2006. (MaanImages/Jonas Jonzon)

I am writing this piece with tears falling from my eyes. You know I am a Palestinian, you must know my friends from the West Bank are Palestinians as well. But you also must know, we have never seen each other. You know we are from the same country, but we have not met. And you know we have just talked over the phone.

I hope you know that we have gotten to know each other and become friends over the last couple of years, and you know we have contributed many articles to You know that we have smiled, cried and sighed together.

But today I am crying alone. My friends Saed from Beit Sahour and Jenka (a very good American woman) are leaving for the States, where Jenka is living. The young couple have decided to leave Palestine, seeking a new life with no military occupation, no Apartheid Wall, no checkpoints, no bypass routes, no restrictions on roads.

Saed, Jenka and myself have never seen or met each other in person since we began working together for the past couple of years, even though we all live in the same country, Palestine. But unfortunately for our friendship, the young couple is based in the West Bank and I am in the Gaza Strip.

You might ask us, why have you never met? Surely, you could have traveled by car, by bus or by train or even by airplane, so you could have met — the distance between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is really not far at all. I would answer very simply, no; neither my friends or I could have done so. Not because we are living in a desert — Palestine is a beautiful place, with a beautiful landscape, a beautiful beach and beautiful mountains with snow.

It might come to your mind that perhaps we could not afford tickets for travel, I would answer simply, no, that too is not the case.

Then what’s the problem with you, you ask. I answer again very simply, the problem is that the Israeli occupation that has disengaged from the Gaza Strip unilaterally and remained omnipresent at all border crossings, controlling the movement of any single object, even that of a cat.

I am stuck in the world’s biggest jail, while my friends are enclaved by an Apartheid Wall that is equipped with surveillance cameras, so they cannot travel even to nearby West Bank towns unless they take hours to pass through Israeli military checkpoints.

For me as a Gazan, my movement to the other part of the occupied territories (the West Bank) is extremely restricted under the Israeli authorities’ military regulations and security measures. The only outlet that I could possibly use to travel to Beit Sahour in the West Bank would be the Erez checkpoint, which would take me through Israel — something few Gazans ever get permission from Israel to do. Erez, which used to be a busy commercial and passenger crossing, has this year become a passage only for emergency medical cases from the Gaza Strip into Israeli hospitals (and even those cases are severely restricted). I am living in a big jail – and not only myself, but the rest of the population of Gaza as well, which numbers 1.4 million people.

Tonight, I had to use the phone to say farewell to my good friends in the West Bank, and I don’t even know whether the phone is also controlled by the Israeli occupation authorities. But don’t worry, please don’t worry. Saed and I imagined we were shaking hands and hugging. You can ask Saed.

Rami Almeghari is a freelance journalist and translator in the Gaza Strip. He may be reached at