Surreal times before war

I went to light a cigarette at our long-suffering webmasters office, having no lighter (as usual). “Ah habibti, wala’i, wala’i, [light up, light up] Inshallah they’ll burn us all and not leave any Arab, from the oldest to the youngest.”

We have some problems, at least the webmaster, about self-hatred here. At a posh dinner last night given by my colleague and her boyfriend in the exclusive Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, a Palestinian friend, for the record, a staunch nationalist, of mine laughed over the smoked salmon while she talked about the war.

“Oh the poor Iraqis,” she pooh-poohed, “come on you have to admit, it’s a big relief for all of us that it’s finally not us for a change.”

I couldn’t help laughing. It didn’t take away from the tragedy at hand, the reality of virtually no West Bank or Gazan having gas masks — according to Israel, the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility — the even more real fear that the war on Iraq, as it has already, will be used to carry out more willful killings, more extra-judicial assassinations, more home demolitions, more arrests, more closure, more curfew, more, always more of the same.

That, and in many ways, the bigger tragedy of Iraq under sanctions, the millions who have died directly and indirectly from sanctions, the millions more who will, or shall, suffer genetic abnormalities and cancers from uranium-tipped missiles…it didn’t take away from the tragedy, it was an acknowledgement of it.

A lovely, very sweet Norwegian, H., at the dinner, who is now living in a caravan near Beit Furik in the West Bank — we’ve warned him that he’ll look like a settler — a water engineer who travels around the West Bank frequently, and at every chance he got, talked about the massive water access problems in Palestine, added his own story about Palestinian black humor, going through the Qalandia checkpoint leading to Ramallah, always being surrounded by taxi drivers (no accident, he looks too foreign to take a taxi). One taxi driver told him, “My friend, I will take you to Afghanistan.”

The surrealism surrounding the pre-war here is strange. Many of my friends and colleagues are joking about what they want to do before the war begins. Many of these wishes, not surprisingly, revolve around sex.

A few want to at least do it once before the war begins, with a total stranger preferably, at least one guy wants to try sex with a man before the war (and has been flirting outrageously with a gay-looking waiter at a local hotel to increase his chances).

Others refuse to buy any large purchases before the war, including much-needed heaters – it’ll be no use to me if I’m dead -, a feminist activist half-joked.

When other Palestinians here my foreign accent in Arabic, they ask me if I know when the war will start, like I have knowledge they don’t know. I normally laugh at this question, because I feel the frustration too.

Doesn’t anybody know? And what will happen to us? I can leave (I think), but what about my home here, my friends, my work, my fionce?

A friend of mine, an astrologer, says there will be a war, but it will be destruction “to build”…what does that mean, and does his own bitter childhood, at the hands of his neighbors and community give him a creeping hope for an American savior, filtering into his horoscopes?

Things are getting more surreal here. After dinner, stretched out on couches in the living room, careful not to break, dent or damage anything (none of us could believe we actually know someone wealthy enough to live in Sheikh Jarrah, his rent is around 3,000 USD a month), we were talking about strange animals…God knows how we got onto that topic, and we got to talking about kangaroos.

And then we literally spent the next two hours talking (only semi-jokingly) about how kangaroos could be the key to liberating Palestine, the sheer confusion they’d cause at checkpoints (I kept thinking of Skippy looking right and left first), if they could jump over tanks, if we could sneak things into Israel into Kangaroo pouches, whether the soldier’s first reactions would be to pat them or shoot them, could we train kangaroos? We tried to remember past episodes of Skippy – was Skippy tame?

How fast did they breed? Could we sneak a few in and breed them into large quantities? Would there be a difference in ID between a West Bank kangaroo, a Jerusalem kangaroo or a Gazan kangaroo? A friend of mine starts laughing helplessly, he’s spent the day in Bethlehem looking at the new section of the apartheid wall, two walls/trenches in fact, so some people will be in a double prison, their homes may be demolished. He recalls to us arguing in court for an animal passageway in the wall, not so sure that they’d get a human passageway. Well, we point out, the kangaroos can get out.

Nobody has bothered to pick up their new gas masks. Our Norwegian friend tells us that the American company he works for sent four gasmasks – for the four foreigners in the company. The sixteen Palestinians working there didn’t get anything. Another, a journalist, recieved a full-body suit from her UK company, which she wanted to give to Arafat, just in case. We tried to work out how to smoke in a gas mask, and figured we’d probably die of nicotine overdose, or excessive smoke inhalation trying to do it…better without the gas mask, we figured.

The same guy starts laughing helplessly again, recalling what his family looked like the first time a scud landed in Israel. A family, in the living room, sitting on couches, all wearing gas masks staring at each other. A friend of his built a bombshelter in his apartment, concrete reinforced, sealed windows and all…he lives on the 17th floor of a high-rise.

The surreal moments fade away and I’m back in my office listening to Arab hip hop fresh men al-Dakhil, wondering how this will look in a few months time, after the war, during the same occupation.

Related Links:

  • Arab rap dot net