I have been writing about my own experiences as a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem for the last year. Sometimes, the stories pour from my pen; other times, I struggle with emotions that tangle my thoughts in the anger of the moment. My mood, plans, relationships are dramatic and changeable. There is no stability in my head as the political turmoil swirls around me dizzying me as if I were drowning in a whirlpool bath. My life in Jerusalem is warm within my family, stressful at school as I work toward graduation and overwhelmed by our political climate, conversely a rushing stream of rhetoric and violence opposed to a composed desert that the Holy Land is.
Though my region has been a place of tension all through my life, nothing prepared me for the September 28, 2000 atrocities that began when Mr. Sharon and his Israeli men of the military came to the Al-Haram Al-Sharif. I knew this would cause an eruption of chronic Israeli-Palestinian conflict and would result in death, strikes that would only delay education, curfews that would make it difficult to get food or medicine and general dismay, an escalation of Palestinian frustration. I knew that my people would honor our dead as martyrs and heroes. From my perspective as a young medical student, it is a horrible consent to loss.
But, I know how the people felt. Our people consider it their duty to redress the rest of the world’s failure to recognize or respect the pain of our loss. This loss includes not only the lives of our people, but our land, our homes, our economic base, our ability to hold our heads high as productive participants in the world family.
Now, as I read accounts of the “war” around me and hear and see it, as well, I know that lies on all sides are adding to the confusion of the news and that truths are so mingled with lies that no one, not even I know the difference. Truth becomes only ambivalence to me here in the midst of violence that would give any nonviolent person pause.
For me, this month of war means numbness. Hope becomes no more than false expectation, argument fruitless, losing yet another life no more than an exercise in indifference. More than ten thousand Palestinians are reported injured since September 28 not to mention the hundreds dead. What does that mean here? It means that our parents beg us not to leave the house and suffer tremendously when we young people do leave. It means a people festering with resentment because the West, the so-called “civilized international community” aids the Israeli government to kill us. It means anger because the Zionists all over the world dehumanize the Palestinians in their media reports. They claim that the deaths of our children result because of the deviant behavior of us unsophisticated Muslims. The Zionists not only misrepresent and slander our dead, but also our religion and place. The idea of victimization transfers from Jews the world over to vilified Palestinian Muslims and Muslims everywhere.
Palestinian Christians seem non-existent in press reports. The ancient exiled victims of Jewish history become the oppressive victors today. If the holocaust was systematic murder, as I believe it was, then what is this? Is there any group of people who would not victimize another group to get what they want? If so, I have not seen it in my 24 years. In America, the government chooses to interfere in our struggle, but the people tire of our cries. They have their own problems. At most, they say, “Isn’t it terrible. They’re all bad over there.”
We, here in Palestine, who sometimes see things in terms of conspiracy, wonder if the Presidential election wrinkles are ironed in order to test which man will apply the greatest force on behalf of Israel, as if either man is all that worried about us. This, I fear, is only our self-centered musing, not the conspiracy we rather hope it is in our wildest dreams of intrigue.
So, I go to the hospital against my parents’ wish. There, I am shocked into another kind of dehumanization. When a disaster happens and we receive dozens of wounded people, we classify patients into three categories: green are those who are shot in the limbs, red are those who are shot in the abdomen or the chest, and black are those who are severely injured in the head and/or have little chance of recovery. Our “efficiency” would amaze Westerners who think we Palestinians are so backward. We start with red, the green can wait once bleeding is stopped, and black we set aside as they die “peacefully”.
My fate is to be among the first generation of students trained to be doctors in Palestine. I am sick with the horror of it. My father’s favorite movie has always been “Gone with the Wind.” I feel as if I am the character Scarlet O’Hara as she walked through a train station turned red with the blood of injured in this epic about America’s Civil War.
Scarlet heard moans and groans. The shouts I hear are these; “No mechanical ventilation for this man,” “No resuscitation for this woman,” “no brain left,” “amputate this limb.” Like the heady Scarlet, I simply want to run away. I do not like the sights before me, but my supervisor says simply, “Our aim is to prolong and improve life, not to prolong agony.” How can I disagree?
The woman beaten on the head until she has no vision, and the man kicked by many soldiers until his spleen ruptures are mere passers-by in the night compared to the 5-year old severely burned boy whom the settlers placed in a burning tire after he was paralyzed with fear during a demonstration.
Seeing this boy loosens my defensive indifference. Imagine how I feel seeing this little child and, then, reading in the papers that Israelis tell the world that the mother of this child deliberately sent him out to die. I read, also, that the Zionist settlers tell the world that we Palestinians are mere animals, not worthy of respect. Evidently, we lack a human mother’s instinct.
As I snuck home from the hospital a couple of days ago, I passed by a housing complex where little boys were playing in the dust. I stopped to see why they were outside. They did not have marbles or coins or even stones; they had unspent bullets and were pushing them around as toys. Again, indifference faded, and I sent them scampering home. My brother is our family cook and I usually get my delight out of the suppers he serves. But, now I cannot eat. I miss the “flavor” of pleasure in my daily life and all I can do is remember past moments of happiness, humor, love. The taste of life is gone. Yesterday, I came home and slept for 20 hours, waking with a severe headache. Nothing had changed. So, I wrote to Betsy, my friend from Iowa, and told her how much I would like to have just one day in Ames, Iowa.
She told me how one of the Palestinian students she works with called to tell her that he tried to explain his feelings and his history to an Iowa born student sitting next to him in class. The Iowan’s response was to laugh out loud.
“Was it,” Betsy asked, “that the Iowan was so embarrassed or so shocked that laughter was the only response he could muster? Did he laugh to ward off the thought that war could eventually envelop him in another Vietnam like saga of misinterpretation? Did he laugh because the idea of children being burned up in tires is beyond his experience?”
The Palestinian student did not get mad; he simply told Betsy as a way of getting the pain out of his heart. He placed it in hers and she, by relaying the story, placed it in mine.
Betsy did not experience or see the child burned in the tire. But, I did. I cannot pass on my pain any more than I can sit silently ignoring indifference, my own numbness included. Nor can I dismiss my resentment of the United States’ financing of the other side and the endless lies told to cover up what has and is happening to us.
Like the famous fictitious Scarlet in “Gone with the Wind,” vowing to never be hungry again in her native Georgia, I walk outside and grab up some of our dry sandy earth in my hand. I will hang on, I vow, until there really is “another day” in Palestine. The hope I resurrect in my heart is that moral prerogatives will take hold and my people and I will not be gone with the wind.
(Samah Jabr is a freelance writer and medical student in Jerusalem. This article was written with the assistance of Elizabeth Mayfield.)