Thursday 12 March 2015

Grave 1375

Grave 1375
Back in the first or second week we were asked to help some women from the university with some presentations they would do in London in a few weeks. We were imagining tweaking some grammatical errors and maybe a few slide layouts. What we got was more extraordinary than I personally was prepared for. Presentation after presentation from these 20 year old girls featured cousin upon brother upon neighbour upon friend who had been killed by the Israelis - a jaw dropping anthology of tragedies. The last presentation I heard was from a student called Isra. She talked about her cousin Mutassim being shot as he poked his head out of his door to make sure the soldiers had gone. It featured an interview with his family that nearly brought us to tears and probably would have if we weren’t so emotionally exhausted from the last few PowerPoints. The title of Isra’s presentation was “stop talking about the Palestinians as numbers”. It would prove an eerie prophecy of the next few months as the people around us, our friends and people who had been kind to us were being reduced to numbers, as they have been for 80 years and as they will continue to be for long after we leave unless the fate of Palestine is reversed.

Grave 1375 – the number is just speculation: While Hosam Oraiba was in prison for something he did not do his friends Shareef and Khaled kept us company and helped us a lot. One time when we were sat in the guest house and talking about what Hosam might be doing or feeling that night Khaled said that his uncle was also in prison at that moment. Maybe he was trying to be encouraging about this situation Hosam was in but he contrasted it with that of his uncle. His uncle had been given a sentence of around 150 years. When he will die he will be buried on the premises in a grave with no name, just a number. When generation upon generation of his family come to see him they will see earth and a small plaque with a number, maybe 1375, maybe 42896, it doesn’t really matter does it? For all eternity he will be remembered as a Palestinian, a Palestinian, not the Israeli who will live in his home.

Everything around the Palestinians is designed to dehumanise them. The checkpoints are designed like cattle pens with the beasts herded through them. The very image of the Apartheid Wall speaks for itself. The discrimination between white visitors and Arab Palestinians is not just abominable, it’s humiliating, like for the people of Hebron to see Jews and Christians waltz through their mosque that they can’t even go into or down a street they can’t walk across. An Israeli commandant after retiring said to a human rights organisation that he wasn’t sure if they put blindfolds on child prisoners to stop them seeing or so that the soldiers didn’t have to see their eyes.

This dehumanisation has defiantly worked for the Israelis. The soldiers can watch from their ramparts as coffins of murdered Palestinians are carried through the streets and go out and kill again the next night. So much of the population is so proud to be complicit, even supportive of the occupation. It defiantly has worked for the international community; I saw scores of American, European and East Asian tourists wandering through Bethlehem two weeks ago completely indifferent or oblivious to the fact that two nights ago a nineteen year old had been murdered 100 metres or so away from the KFC they piled into. Hundreds of Palestinian deaths can’t turn as many heads as that of one white person.

But what about the Palestinians themselves. Hardly any two people we have met agree on anything except for one thing, that this is not the real Palestine. Abu Dis is not the real Palestine. It’s always somewhere else, a place they maybe haven’t even been. Some have said Jerusalem, some Gaza, some Jenin or Hebron, the Jordan valley, but it’s never here; and I suspect if our twinning was anywhere else there would be people who would say the same. Maybe it’s that it’s just too dystopic to be his/her homeland. Maybe they have a dream of what it should be like that they project onto a different place, maybe it’s an idea of the struggle that they don’t see here. The reality is that while the dehumanisation Israel imposes on Palestine will never work properly on such a proud and dignified nation, it may have caused an identity crisis – it’s like they don’t realise that they live in Palestine! What they love about their nation has been taken from them: Al Aqsa, The Sepulchre, freedom, dignity and the lives of friends and family. Maybe the truth, that this dystopia really is what has become of them, is too much for a Palestinian heart to bear. It is too much for me to bear.

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