Sickness – A Note from Palestine/Israel

Nine days so far in Palestine and Israel; with Sharon newly-anointed as leader, there seems to be no hope for improvement. This is the architect of Sabra and Shatila, remember, the pictures of which appear on the TV daily, bloody corpses surrounded by weeping old women, crying for the world to wake up and give a damn. Nothing has changed, especially after “peace.” Oslo has only brought more pain to this place.

The landscape is such that there’s no bit of Palestinian land not criss-crossed by bypass roads and underground tunnels and bridges — all carved out of property stolen from Palestinians. Swaggering soldiers with three foot long machine guns stand around in the purest of Arab areas, like Salah al-Din St in the Old City, and make sure you know that you’re vulnerable to the slaughter they wreak every day. Checkpoints stand a hundred meters or less between each other in my father’s town, manned with illiterate Ethiopians forced to enforce racist policies in the Promised Land and machoboiz from Brooklyn looking to actualize the Zionist dream they were taught in public high schools in NYC. “Exodus” by Leon Uris was required reading when I was a high school freshman in Queens.

Across the street from my grandfather’s home, a house was recently demolished for being built “outside of regulations.” In a refugee camp named “mukhayyam al-sumuud” (The Refugee Camp of the Resolute) in view of the Dome of the Rock, people are confined to tents because their homes were found, by the Israelis, to be “unfit for residence”. Repairs to their homes are banned by the government. People are forced to pray on the sidewalk outside of the Old City, rather than within in the Haram al-Sharif, yet Sharon marches in with a thousand soldiers. When I fell asleep in a taxi on the way home from Ramallah with my Dad, I was woken by an Ethiopian soldier at a checkpoint who wanted to see my ID.

There are daily shootings of mothers and children, bulldozing of olive and orange crops and rabid settlers are all over the place, shooting randomly. A mother from El-Bireh was shot right before eid al-adHa, walking with her children in Ramallah. One cousin of mine has already attempted suicide (“What is there for me here?”) and one has been threatened with a 10,000 NIS fine and a year in prison . . . for going to work in Jerusalem. The cousin who tried to kill himself is now in Amman, waiting to flee further to Dubai.

Because of how I look and I fear that no matter where I go I will be mistaken for ‘the enemy’ and will be dealt with accordingly. I was immobile all of last evening for fear that an incident near French Hill — where Palestinians were shot dead by Palestinians who thought they were Jewish Americans or collaborators, I’m not sure é would be repeated. I was to meet a friend for dinner in the same area and everything had to be canceled; instead, I spent the rest of the night shaking, watching images of death and destruction.

There are new Hawaajiz/maHasiim (checkpoints) springing up all the time, some installed by settlers and some by the army. My father stuck his head out of the door a few months ago when he heard shooting and a bullet whizzed past his ear. The next day, they found 40 spent bullet casings on the sidewalk right next to our ancestral home in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem. I was never naéve about the situation here, but it’s reached a new level of cruelty and inhumanity.

Sharon seems to want to crush the Palestinians and their resistance, even as they continue to be expelled and their houses demolished. Settlers randomly shoot at schoolchildren coming home, yet Israeli soldiers banned me, an American, from entering Jericho, reportedly for my “safety.” This was the same reason I was given when Shira é a colleague of mine from AUC é and I were searched for 2 hours in the Cairo airport before we arrived here.

The first Intifada saw my cousin, Mohammad, beaten by a soldier when he stepped off a bus, coming home from school. His leg swelled up double its normal size for days afterwards. The soldier had asked him, “what’s your name?” When he answered, the soldier beat him. Afterwards, he demanded of Mohammad, “Ask me why I hit you.” When asked, he responded, “Because your name is Mohammad.”

This is the reality of the Palestinians and the Israelis, who both fear for their lives on a daily basis. The difference is that we carry rocks and can, at most, set off the occasional bomb; we have no Apache helicopters, no American tanks, no bulldozers, no M16s. When Powell talks about moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and demanding that Syria pull its troops out of Lebanon, remember that at the same time, my father, born in Jerusalem in Palestine in 1939, must renew his Israeli visa in his American passport every six months. This is the Israel that is nourished by our tax dollars.

As I write this in an internet cafe in Bethany, East Jerusalem, Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Really Care About Us” is on the radio.

Mr. Nader Khalaf Uthman is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at Emory University, Atlanta, GA. He is currently studying Arabic at the American University in Cairo. He was an Iraq Sanctions Challenge II delegate in May 1992.