CLINGING TO THE TINY BATTERED TWIG OF HOPE 

© Ala Owaineh 11 November 2001

I intended to begin writing this a couple of hours ago but I just had too much on my mind like any other young person living in Palestine. Why?

 As if life is so easy, as if young people haven’t got enough to think about in normal places with normal conditions, if you add to that the anxiety and pressure of being part of the so called “Third World “ and that of being a Palestinian living in Palestine, I’d say you’ve got yourself a sure recipe for a full blown nervous breakdown, but, thank God, the nervous breakdown never comes, you just keep going on, although you feel like you’re in a maze, and you’re frustrated, and you’re broke, and life is tough, and, and, and…

 You have to cling to that tiny, battered twig, barely floating on the white waters of life. You can’t let go of it, of hope, because the only alternative is getting yourself a catapult and a nice, round stone and look for your Goliath, probably ending up as a corpse, with a dozen or so bullets in you, and a soul in heaven.

 I’d like to point out that this was supposed to be fun, something light to read, but it’s not going in that direction, is it? 

In case you’re wondering, yes, we do think about girls (in fact that, girls, and related stuff - if you know what I mean - take a good percentage in what we think about), all other stuff youth all around the world think about, you know, like cars, clothes, money, a cool job, social acceptance, just like you, or your son, the guy next door. But, enough about the normal and on to the abnormal. Imagine you’re a student who goes to school every day, what would you think about?  How to keep your grades up – maybe, or how to suck up for x, y, z teachers, or how to start a conversation with the gorgeous babe in English class. None of these apply in the Palestinian case. A Palestinian student would probably be thinking of a way to go around the checkpoint without getting a bullet in the head, or how his best friend is lying in some hospital or how he could graduate quickly, or even leave school to help his family out (and there is no gorgeous babe in my English class). 

Am I depressing you? Sorry, I didn’t mean it – and, contrary to what you may think, I am not depressed. You see I have so many things I want to do, but can’t. I’d like to scuba dive, sky dive and any other sort of dive – I want to do everything. You see, we have such a passion for life, we are a people who want to embrace life, but we’re trapped, we want to swim in the vast ocean, but we have only a 2-liter Coca Cola bottle, made in Israel (it’s a family-size bottle, how very kind of them). 

If you’ve reached this point in reading then I really like you (and if you’re a beautiful brunette and you got to this point then I AM IN LOVE).

 Road stories 

If any of you spends a lot of time on the road, traveling, and happen to hate it, well, you should try spending some time on the roads and foot trails of Palestine - an experience, I assure you, you won’t forget. You see, traveling from point A to point B down here is not that simple. The fact is that to get from point A to B in a short and straightforward manner you should follow a few simple steps. First you get from A to D (not for the fun of it, but to go around checkpoint at C) from D you go left to G there, as any little kid would know. You get off the car and go by foot in the muddy trail leading to Q and from here on all the way to X, a nice point from which you can go to L. Only here (hey people, stay with me,will ya!?). Now where were we? Aah .. at L. L is special , because from L you can get to any letter in the alphabet (but never and I mean never go to H, the checkpoint there comes straight from good old Hell). 

Life is not easy for the hundreds of people who depend on, and make a living by going from all the As to the Bs all around this place, or their families. We (if you noticed me using “we”, it is not for literary purposes, I am one of these people) - we have to deal with so much to get to wherever it is we have to go to. The worst is the suffocating presence of swarms of Israeli soldiers, mostly bored kids, in their early twenties, drafted, trained, and covered from head to toe with an array of state-of –the-art military equipment (and given the coolest jeeps I have ever laid my eyes on). Being the emotionally and mentally immature young men they are (not that I am so mature), and in the light of the fact that they are given so much power over people (don’t forget these are soldiers who were raised to despise Palestinians and view them as their enemies), it doesn’t take Einstein to figure out what ugly genie is gonna come out of that bottle. 

Going back and forth on the roads from Bethlehem to Birzeit (where I study) I’ve heard, seen and experienced many things. One taxi driver from Al Khader (a small town near Bethlehem) had an exceptionally bad day a few weeks ago. He was taking some people to a road block when the soldiers caught him red handed with the intolerable crime of giving people a lift so they could go to Bethlehem. The driver argued with the soldiers, trying to persuade them to let the passengers pass, which proved to be a complete waste of breath, and as a well-deserved punishment for his unforgivable deed one of the soldiers came towards the unlucky fellow and said, with a loud laugh, man, you’re so keen on getting them through, do it – but not in the car, carry them on your back, one by one. The man refused to do it but the soldier gently persuaded him with his M-16. So there he was, a man in his forties carrying people on his back over the border.  

Last week I had a first-hand experience with Israeli military intelligence. Lately, so it seems, they’ve run short on “birdies” (as we refer to them), so all too often young men are taken by the “border patrols” to meet intelligence officers who fish for new recruits to work for them, so, as I was going to university one morning (I had an exam that day), I wasn’t worried since I had covered all the test material (quite unusual for me) and I heard from some guys that the roads where unusually calm on that morning, so I sat in the taxi and leaned on the window and started slipping into the dream world, when suddenly I was awakened by a soldier asking me for my ID, so I gave it to him of course, and sat in my seat waiting, but I waited on and on for a couple of hours. Then instead of letting us go they rounded us up and took us to a nearby camp. Our load was about 8 or 9 guys and there were a few others from an earlier hunt. 

So there we were waiting for our turns. First I sat with a few guys I knew; then I sat alone in a corner and started thinking about humiliation and life and politics and relativity and quarks, quasars, and… well anything you could think about when sitting alone for six hours, when, finally they came to take me (at that point I didn’t care what they did to me as long as I got rid of that place). So they searched me, and then double-searched me, and took me to meet this fat guy in a pink shirt, he came to me, started talking to me and being nauseatingly nice (if you don’t know what I mean, try watching the teletubbies), he raised his hand to shake mine, I looked at his hand like it was covered with tar, gazed for a moment but eventually decided to give him my hand to shake, having done that, I sat down, and keeping in mind the words of a friend who told me these guys think of nice guys (like me) as easy prey, so I pushed the button for obnoxious, and started acting like a genuine asshole, and to my astonishment it worked like a charm (lucky me), and instead of meeting me for an hour or so like the others it took him only ten minutes to realize I was of no use to him. Then we went into a philosophical debate for a few minutes. On my way out of the camp, and there I was free at last. 

I can go on and on with these stories, but I’m tired of typing, enough is enough, but I’d like you to know I‘m one of the superbly lucky, and continuously diminishing percentage of the Palestinian population that suffers only slightly from Israel’s actions. Others have been shot, killed, orphaned, beaten till they swelled like balloons or rendered homeless. I only missed a couple of exams.

 

Ala Oweineh is student at Birzeit University and lives in Bethlehem.


 
 

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