Since it’s been back to regular life for the past few weeks, Palestine has been set up on the world’s political stage, while simultaneously increasing settler violence and economic isolation continue to dominate daily life. So I’ve been reflecting a lot on how far the international community has gone to ignore the reality of this situation.
Every so often the desperation of my loved ones here re-hits me like a ton of bricks. The psychological impact of being a person under occupation, of being an occupied human, one for which choices and opportunities and movement and dreams do not belong to his or her own self, is ferocious. For the past many months, I have watched in awe as my friends embody the concept of “existence is resistance,” as they have engaged in the un-armed popular struggle with more courage and fervor than I even knew was humanly possible. But I have also watched as these same friends repeatedly come to the brink of what I can only describe as hysteria— literally deteriorating under the pressures of feeling so confined. For some, it has resulted in drinking themselves into a stupor every other night as a coping mechanism, for others, it has resulted in an inevitable attempt to get a scholarship elsewhere, or in other words, get the fuck out of here for as long as they possibly can, despite the amount of love and passion they feel for their home. The other day I was eating lunch with my coworker, Mourad, who takes almost any opportunity to crack a joke, so I was at first (mostly) unfazed by a passing reference to suicide when I asked him how he’s been doing lately. Like most of my coworkers, and like most Palestinians in general, Mourad has a very personal relationship with prisoners’ rights work. He was arrested when he was only 14 years old, and was held in prison until he was 17. Last spring Mourad was granted a Fullbright to get an advanced international law degree this fall at Duke, but a few weeks ago the U.S. officially denied his visa request. Though his jokes about suicide are outlandish and not to be taken any other way, it is clear how profoundly trapped he feels. I don’t doubt the resilience of the millions of people who have endured life under occupation, but I fear for the basic sanity of individuals who are creeping closer and closer to hopelessness.
Yesterday I attended a hearing for the second time in the trial of Bassem Tamimi, prominent activist and proponent of nonviolent resistance in Nabi Saleh, the small village outside Ramallah where I was hit by the rubber-coated bullet during their weekly demonstration against the nearby settlement taking their land and water source. Bassem has been accused of organizing illegal marches, among other absurd charges such as inciting youth to throw stones and obstructing justice for instructing them how to respond to being under interrogation. Most of the charges are a result of coerced confessions of minors aimed at incriminating him. It is a joke to even call the Israeli military court system a court system. Set up in portables on the Ofer military base/detention center, the “courtrooms” are tiny, informal rooms housing a system designed to sentence and imprison any shackled Palestinian man, woman, or child coming through the door. The first time I went, I was shocked at the blatant lack of acknowledgement for any real judicial process— the military judge completely ignored everything said by the defense lawyer, and approved everything said by the military prosecutor. The hearings are all conducted in Hebrew, which none of the defendants (or their families) can understand, and the appointed translator only actually translated three words the entire time. During both of the hearings I’ve observed, well-known journalists have been there and accompanied by none other than Netanyahu’s son, who is a military spokesman sent to paint the military’s picture of the trial. During the hours and hours of pointless proceedings yesterday, I was sitting next to Bassem’s wife, Nariman, who exudes warmth and strength even in these circumstances. I interviewed Nariman last spring for work, and what stuck with me most was something she said about her children, who have all been injured at various times while the army shuts down demonstrations. She told me that she and Bassem have been working so hard to raise their children by instilling values of peace, but that they are terrified that the violence their children witness will only perpetuate more violence in their lives. During the past 6 months that Bassem has been in prison, for the 11th time in his life, Nariman and her children have not been allowed to visit him, so these moments in court actually provide a rare chance for them to see each other. Since neither of them could understand anything that was happening, they spent most of the time exchanging glances, while a military commander witness gave testimony that was blatantly false to anyone who has ever been to Nabi Saleh before.
As we left the maze of locked gates and passport checks, passing family members crying and consoling each other on the way, I felt so drained. The Israeli settler-colonialist mentality has never been more stark to me, or seemed so hopelessly ingrained. It is this same feeling of hopelessness that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been attempting to phase out with their UN bid for statehood. Most of my close friends are vehemently against the bid for statehood, as they don’t feel the PA represents them and fear the bid will result in relinquished rights for refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel. However, when Abbas gave his speech at the UN on Friday, tens of thousands rallied in Ramallah’s main square, and I cannot quite describe the feeling in that crowd. Some have said it felt like euphoria; I think it felt like hope. Unfortunately, it is for that precise reason that many are opposing the bid for statehood— how will it help to raise all these hopes, when nothing will actually change on the ground?
When I’m caught up in the severity of this reality or in my own emotion, I try to take at least one moment of the day when I’m breathing just a little bit deeper. Usually it happens around the time of my favorite thing about Ramallah: the stunning pink sunset over the hills to the West, stretching out to Jerusalem farther south. And the way it hits all the white stone buildings and paints them shades of rose, the sun reflecting golden orbs off each window, so it feels like you’re surrounded in a flood of color.
Love and miss you all-J