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 Letter to Ahmad, 2
 Anisa Darwish, Palestine
 December 4, 2000
 
Dear Ahmad,

Life in 'contact zones' is becoming harder and harder. The shelling has muted most sounds of life. The place feels like an abandoned film-set: activity, hustle and bustle have been replaced by a ghostly stillness.

Families in ‘contact zones', too old or too young to throw stones, sit the night out, in a dreary, ‘safe’ corner somewhere, while shelling is followed by shooting, then more shelling. At least those able to shoot or throw stones feel empowered to resist, despite their efforts being met by death or injury. We can only keep our heads down and wait for the storm to pass, while TV screens flicker images of more dead, more funerals, more leaders telling us of the nerve of our blood-thirsty enemy. Some have despaired of ever feeling safe again. Some have despaired of a resolution.

You can’t believe what a nightmare it is trying to get from one town to another. Until a few days ago, we managed to get from Ramallah to Jerusalem using rough, dirt ‘roads’ through fields. The Israeli army has now blocked even these improvised passageways with mountains of soil. Access to other West Bank towns, like Nablus, is more dangerous. To avoid being turned back by military roadblocks, people are taking the Israeli bypass roads. The normal journey of 40 miles, from Ramallah to Nablus, now takes two and a half hours. More worrying than the difficulties of getting from town to town is the danger from settler attacks on these roads. Settlers lurk, waiting to ambush unlucky Palestinian travellers. You can imagine the effect all this is having on the Palestinian economy, let alone the other aspects of life.

There has been uprooting of trees by the Israeli army near all contact zones. They claim there is a ‘danger’ that Palestinians could use these trees as cover when throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Hundreds of ancient olive trees and orange trees have been cut down. This year, people went olive-picking despite the risk of attacks from settlers and the army. This should have been the best olive harvest for years. But now, the Israeli army will not even allow people to transport their jars of olive oil. It is tragic that after all that hard work, people are unable to sell or properly store their harvest. For many, this was a long-awaited income which they are now denied. Day-labourers who used to work in Israel have been the hardest hit by Israeli measures. As the West Bank and Gaza are closed off, labourers are unable to get to work. Lack of work means thousands of families are without food. These are the hardest of times.

I should tell you the rumours about ammunition smuggling. Apparently, some Israelis are smuggling in bullets for Palestinians. But, the irony is they will only sell us a small amount. In rare, happy moments, Palestinians joke that the smugglers are keeping to the Oslo Peace Accords which limit the amount of ammunition Palestinian policemen are allowed to have. The other joke is the talk of a Palestinian resistance that will match that of Hisb Allah in Southern Lebanon! We could never be on par with Hisb Allah with no support from a strong Arab State and no freedom of movement.

People are worried that plans are underway for some kind of settlement that will neither guarantee us a homeland, nor the security we now crave. It seems very unlikely, given the present situation, that we will be offered anything other than a mock version of an independent state. Israel is obviously the stronger military force, and we seem wrapped up in dreams and fantasies. As long as brute force is allowed to rule and as long as we, like Cinderella, continue to wait for the fairy Godmother with the magic wand, others will continue to draw our maps for us.

I am so pleased you telephoned this morning and your letter was a bonus. We are parched for contact with the outside world. Your words help me forget all this pain for a while. They take me back to the good old days and the things we used to talk about. Think of us.

Much love
Anisa

Anisa Darwish is a Palestinian poet and writer who lives in Ramallah.