Saturday, December 24, 2016

So this is ... life under occupation

It's my day off, and I'm in Ramallah, potentially the most modern and hip city in the West Bank. There aren't Israeli soldiers at every corner. It's possible to talk to people in uniform and they will be pleasant. It's possible to go out with friends for a drink, and there are museums and cafes. I'm staying at a very groovy youth hostel which is smack bang in the centre of town, and serves dinner for 20 shekels each to a bunch of travellers gathered around a wood fire. I'm currently seated at Cafe La Vie, one of the most chilled out venues in town for sitting and writing or catching up with friends.

So, I should be relaxed and happy, but I'm sortof not.

As I wander through the corridors of the sparkling new Yasser Arafat Museum, opened in November this year in commemoration of the 12th anniversary of his death, I read and listen all over again about the history of the occupation and resistence movement. I am trying to absorb the information, and yet it is the poetry scattered throughout the exhibition that captures my heart. While the museum narrative was that the Intifadas were strategic and incredibly well executed, the result was clearly devastating - Israel captured greater sections of the West Bank and life is even more restricted than before.  I reach the end of the museum abruptly, it feels like, and without a glimmer of hope. A leader who had captured the hearts of so many was dead, the Oslo agreement is perceived as a lie, and really I can't see what had significantly changed for the better since the 1980s.

I mentioned my reaction to a fellow aussie at the hostel who had also been to the museum, and his comment was that there were some historical inaccuracies and they didn't mention the holocaust. They did mention it, I told him, and felt annoyed all over again. I wished I'd asked him to consider whether the narrative he had been fed about the history might be less accurate than what he had seen today. But instead, I just recommended Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jeruselam, if he really wanted to see propoganda masquerading as a museum.

Me being me, I've also been hanging out with Ramallah-based Palestinians. Friends and acquaintances alike have been offloading to me. Everyone's issues are different, but the "vibe" is the same. A deeply set depression, mixed with a generalised frustration at everyone within earshot, has rubbed off on me. Somebody shares a John Lennon Christmas video on facebook where he talks about giving peace a chance and how we all just need to love one another before launching into "So this is Christmas...", which I usually get quite sentimental about. But this time I feel like throwing something at him. Sometimes it's justice, not love, that is needed. Apparently most internationals only last about 3-5 years in Palestine unless they're in a relationship with somebody here. I wonder how long I would last if my intention was to stay longer than three months.

My nightly ritual back home (in that really cold house down south with the three other internationals in the town where there's nothing to do) is to curl up in my sleeping bag and watch "Orange is the new black" on my tablet. I'm up to Season 4, I think. It's interesting how the experiences of a group of women in prison feels relatable in a context of occupation. It's also, I guess, a kindof escape.

Something was weird with the wi-fi at the hostel, so I couldn't watch my show. I have been reading instead, and immersed in "We are all completely beside ourselves". It's the opposite of an escape. The novel is narrated by a girl who was raised with a sister who is a chimpanzee (sorry for the spoiler) for the first five years, and then suddenly her sister is sent away to spend the following years in a cage with other chimpanzees. I am in floods of tears at the lies, the grief, and the injustice of it all. The people at the hostel don't know what to do with me, and awkwardly bring extra blankets and invite me to join them for dinner.

So, as Christmas edges closer, I try to find a sense of hope to cling to amongst the rubble of hopelessness. I take pictures for my "washing lines of Palestine" collection, (which might be part of my advocacy upon return) and talk to friends online. My sadness feels self-indulgent. After all, I am like the sister who wasn't sent away to live in a cage. I am the free one. And all the empathy in the world doesn't change that fact.

Painting at Dar Zahran Museum

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