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Letter to Ahmad, 5
Anisa Darwish, Palestine
May 1, 2001
I am so happy you faxed today. In fact, the fax machine is the only object left in this empty space that used to be my office. My books had to ‘emigrate’ after last night’s shelling from Psagot settlement. The room wasn’t very badly damaged. A bullet pierced through one of the windows, tore the curtain, bounced against the wall and splintered. This is the seventh bullet to do this over the past few weeks and we’ve become experts at unravelling bullet behaviour! I was worried though that the next bullet will be one too many before the whole room goes up in a blaze. So, I’m now writing from my books’ makeshift home downstairs. I’m still looking for a safe place for other personal things I kept in the office: an old scarf which belonged to my mother that I draped over one of the walls, a rosary and a very old rug. I kept all these in an attempt to ‘counter modernity’ and to keep faith with the past. I feel I’ve left a whole world behind. Objects apart, how could one transport laughter or anguish or all the words one has said, the history of a place, as it were, that you know lingers unseen, like scent.
The fifty-third anniversary of Al-Nakba or War of 1948 is in a couple of weeks. With a group of other writers, I attended a meeting today organized by the Ministry of Information. Representatives of the media and civil organizations were also invited. The meeting was part of a consultation about how best to commemorate this catastrophe. Cynics would say there is no need to remember an event when there are live reminders of it every day. In fact, you could say the Israeli ‘celebrations’ have already started with last night’s shelling. My daughter, who is visiting from the UK where she now lives, discovered she wasn’t as brave as she thought. She huddled in a ‘safe’ corner and struggled not to shake from fear. This is nothing like the terror of the occupation she grew up with. Then, if you took shelter in your home, you had a good chance of not being harmed. This aggression is naked and unashamed and will find you no matter where you hide. But here’s an anecdote to cheer you up. As we switched on TV to the local station (as we normally do when shelling commences to get information about what is happening), there I was on the screen, in an old recorded interview about my poetry! We were stunned as the station provided minute-by-minute accounts about the shelling outside, in subtitles! You could say this surreal event is representative of how Palestinians now live. We are determined to live a normal life even when we know that at best, this is a form of heroic defeat.
As far as the political situation is concerned, we do not know where we are anymore. We hear talk of a return to negotiations, but the shelling continues. It’s clear we can no longer trust the Israelis, nor it seems can they trust us. Within this uncertainty, it is impossible to imagine what tomorrow will bring: an Intifada that will continue for many years? A regional war? Do we have any chance to win a war? You look at young Palestinian faces and you see old people, defiant perhaps, but prematurely aged all the same. Nearly eight months of siege, poverty, unemployment and an undeclared war have left visible marks on this nation.
Ahmad, a voice from a ‘normal’ ‘out there’ is like a cool breeze in a hot, dusty desert. Keep writing and think of us.
Anisa Darwish is a Palestinian poet and writer who lives in Ramallah.