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Letter to Ahmad
Anisa Darwish, Palestine
October 28, 2000
It is nearly dark now and I have just drawn the curtain over the window in our bedroom. This curtain is all that shields us from whatever Psagot settlement will throw our way. Psagot is now a military base, complete with tanks stationed on top of the hill, facing us. One wonders if this has not always been the settlement’s reason d'ętre.
As the sun sets, young men, in ill-fitting, (most-likely donated), military attire patrol the neighbourhood. They look so vulnerable. They pretend to be fearless and manly, but project a kind of childlike defiance. They could very well be my own children; they can’t be older than eighteen or twenty. I cry from weakness.
It is difficult not to be haunted by death in these circumstances. I’m not really worried about myself. I’m 60 now. In Palestine, this is about as old as anyone can expect to live. But I do worry about my son. Life has already taken much away from him. Here, disability is kind of living death. Mostafa knows about the ‘other’ death as well; his grandmother died three years ago. So now, he looks to me for reassurance time and time again: will we be alright? We’re not going to die, are we? I do my best, but he will not be reassured. This intense violence has trapped him in a world of fear and I’m helpless to break him free. At times like this, I am only a mother: I curse the war: those cheering the butchery and those sharpening the knife. Arab leadership has turned the ‘stone’ into a symbol of a new Arab awakening. It is the cleansing force that will wipe away all past shame and failures.
Have you noticed the language they used to describe the Uprising? In pro-Uprising interviews, they call for the need to ‘impregnate’ the Uprising so it can ‘give birth’ to honour. This honour will be the new flag of Arab leadership. For without the sacrifice of blood, they ask, how can we wash away a history of defeat and weakness?
I look outside the window onto ‘Satah Marhaba,' our neighbourhood. Whoever thought of such a name: (Welcome Plane)? I remember twenty years ago when we built our home here. The area was still undeveloped with only a few houses scattered on top of this beautiful hill. Since then, a mosque has been built, and there were times when it seemed that poetry and tradition did not make good neighbours. But we found a way of living together. I let my creepers run wild on the fence around the house, and a green barrier has since kept the peace. Now, Israel, like a mad bull, is kicking up clouds of horror as it charges at our homes. Every night, the people in our neighbourhood and in every other ‘contact zone,’ go to bed unsure if they will live to see daybreak.
In the darkness, I see my parents. Father looks on sternly as if to say, ‘this will come to nothing.’ Mother, Mariam, as serene as her namesake, Mary, seems more optimistic. Maybe there is a chance for peace, she seems to say. Maybe Palestine will rediscover itself as the land of wheat and wine and prayer. I see the forced, slow trek of the first Palestinian migration of ’48, when terror-struck people fled their homes and villages. I see our second hijra: the treacherous journey East across the River Jordan after the defeat of ’67. My family crossed the River back in a hasty, but equally perilous return. All the cease-fires, agreements and handshakes that follow suddenly become like a whirlwind that draws me in and I’m left tearful and completely drained.
Do you know what really saddens me? It’s that all my papers and books are in one place and if that room is hit, all those words, all that passion that inhabits me will be blown away. How can life be so cruel!
Ahmad, if Sharm al-Sheikh falls through, pray for us, for Psagot is ‘heavy’ with its weapons and we are the welcoming plane.
Anisa Darwish is a Palestinian poet and writer who lives in Ramallah.