The difficulty of writing. Report 7, June 2005.
Trying to survive here one is in a constant state of exhaustion, so trying to write reports makes one's life even more exhausting. The difficulty is not in a lack of things to write about, but in a lack of space to think clearly about the millions of things that are honestly dumb-founding. So rather than write a report about something specific, I thought I'd just send one about everything and nothing. A kind of stream of consciousness...
It's exhausting to be here because of the lack of planning and structure in one's life - even if one has appointments and things to do, there's a general lack of structure to life in the Territories. A general lack of time and space in the abstract sense as well as the real. The real is easy to feel: one is seldom left alone, the social aspect of life here is very strong, everyone very welcoming to the point of being suffocating at times. The lack of space obvious in the limited areas one is allowed to travel and wander - inevitably wandering into a checkpoint, a wall, a settlement, a definitive border of some kind. Somehow however everybody functions - albeit with difficulty - within these conditions. Somehow everybody obeys Israeli rule over Palestinian life. There is no choice. The fear is ingrained, the fences and walls and checkpoints may be all around but they have also been internalized, creating a surveillance method that Foucault could have perhaps only imagined in a nightmare.
There is so much going on here, so much to write about: discrimination from the outside as well as on the inside, repression, internalization of loss and victimhood, betrayal, differentiation, racism, hopelessness, struggle, exhaustion, the list goes on. And yet it's as if nothing changes, only the negative aspects of life seem to get stronger. No gains are made, only more losses to deal with, more blows to get accustomed to. At the same time everyone agrees that the difficult conditions here come down to two things that feed each other: Israeli occupation and internal social problems - the latter may be the "work" of religion, corruption, a lack of openness, discrimination, whatever. The obstacles to overcome are immense. The whole place is like a social nightmare that keeps getting worse, a miserable experiment in human relations and domination, a cruel joke, a truly unbelievable set of circumstances and daily difficulties, where it's impossible to escape the sense of absurdity and meaninglessness to one's hopes and trials to achieve anything small. Everyone's efforts are questionable, because so much needs to be surmounted that one wonders if he's not wasting his time - whether it's a minister, a doctor, an aid worker, a teacher or a business man. So much needs to be fixed, to be struggled for, that every achievement is on the one hand huge and on the other hand a nano-drop in an immense ocean of impossibilities.
This place is crazy. In fact there are no words to describe it. Perhaps the same was said of Rwanda or Yugoslavia or of Iraq today, where the failures of mankind to treat each other as equal beings have taken their toll... never mind equal, just as human beings... And yet everyone manages to keep going, even if they're exhausted and wonder why they should keep living. Such is the human fate, to keep going, to keep doing with what's been given to you. People wonder why the Palestinians keep fighting and struggling, and yet no one seems to ask the question: why not? They have less and less to lose everyday. Every achievement, even if absurd, is still a huge gain. Isn't it human to keep trying? Isn't the human condition to keep having hope even when all odds are against us? Why bother living otherwise? It may be
exhausting, but there is no other choice. While maybe limitations and victimhood have been ingrained, so have the will to struggle and keep dreaming.
I've been reluctant to write a report in the past few days. I haven't had internet or computer access for a few days as I was in Jenin, but it's also a matter of figuring out what I'm suppose to write about. It almost feels repetitive: a mafia is forming in Jenin and slowly taking over life there, the night belongs to those who have weapons (the police force and the young mafia shooting at each other all night); the discrimination intra-Palestinian is astounding, the elite are benefiting from the situation forming pseudo-monopolies and behind-the-scenes deals with the government, the poor are finding comfort in religion. In a way it's very stereotypical, despite the unique aspects of the political conditions.
A man tells me of his tears at his daughter's graduation from university. "Where are these kids supposed to find work now?" There's a huge gap between those who are forging ahead with their advanced education and the demands of the market for workers. Many try to make ends meet by holding more than one job; and yet everyone is convinced that education is the way out of misery - even thought everyone knows that the educated are unemployed, or under-employed too. Another man tells me of his fights with his daughter over wearing a mandil or hijab. She feels pressured by her friends and society around her to cover herself. Her father disagrees, claiming that people are not veiling themselves because of religion but because of social and peer pressure to appear religious, even though religiosity as a whole is on the decline. Young girls, from the age of 14, are arguing with their parents to be veiled, not wanting to be the targets of social criticism or mafia threats. Their parents fight the losing battle. There are others of course who do think their daughters should be veiled, but are under the illusion that their daughters are safe locked-up at home. And yet it is these same girls who spend all their time chatting on the Internet or through text messaging, watching the music video of Haifa and Ruby and the latest sexually explicit videos of dozens of Arab female singers.
The recurring theme in all of my thoughts is that all the problems faced by individuals, families, businesses, organizations, the media, what have you, are really microcosms of the problems of the whole "state." And that's the thing: here we have all the makings of the state without a state, resulting in only the negative and repressive influences of the Enlightenment project called the nation-state. It's the left overs and crumbles of the influences of the West, where there is nothing sustainable here, and as everyone repeats, a life, a collective, a pseudo-state without a strategy, a plan, without a future. This is "Palestine": everything that a state is made up of is here: bureaucracies, a government, more ministries than one can count, endless media outlets, assistance programs, a police force, a security force, regulations, monopolies fighting with the small enterprises, and so on... But there's one thing missing that presumably a nation-state also brings to its citizens: sovereignty and freedom. Here it is not so. Everything that may have to do with the positive, liberating aspects of a state does not exist. It's certainly depressing and exhausting... but not reason enough to give up.
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