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Letter to Hala
Anisa Darwish, Palestine
March 28, 2002
My dearest Hala,
Two days of desert storms have covered everything with sand. The skies are dark with atoms of sand still suspended in the air. This has been the best the skies could do in place of spring rain. Witness to so much pain, they seem to have dried up, leaving the earth thirsty and sore.
As the sun sets, I am gripped by a foreboding. Something feels wrong, dangerous. I know it is only a feeling, but I still look around trying to locate a source. I am almost faint with what seems like an irrational fear when the phone rings: the Israeli army is advancing on Ramallah. Suddenly alert, I rush to remove the glass panes from the windows and check our ‘emergency’ list: candles, bread, jugs of water, medicine. As I hurry, I recall images of the Second World War from documentaries I had seen on TV: the earth shaking with the weight of marching troops, so much death, blood, devastation and skies dark with the smoke of debris and suffering.
We huddle in a corner of the house as the tanks and armoured personnel carriers thunder past like beasts hungry for human flesh. What protection can the light of a candle, or even the wall of a house offer against such armoury?
We switch on to the local TV news channel to find out what is happening. We mute the sound so we can hear as much as possible what is going on in our neighbourhood. We watch in silence as our story, the story of all of Palestine, begins to unfold before us. The images are too surreal to be real: are we awake or dreaming? We watch as our lives turn into a kind of silent drama, as TV cameras travel from street to street. We see tanks demolishing, with apparent ease, the walls of homes. We see armoured personnel carriers throwing up masses of soldiers into the darkness. Infiltrators, tools of death, they occupy schools and people’s living rooms and use the rooftops of homes and the minarets of mosques as sniping points. Shells light up the night sky, smoke billows from buildings. This is the law of the jungle; all that is beautiful and sacred is being violated.
I turn from the TV screen to my son’s face, distorted with fear, and to my own dishevelled appearance. My mind wanders to an image from another war that has never left me, that of a mother looking in horror at the body of her child, raped by soldiers in an old church. I realise in this moment there is nothing I can do to protect my son should harm come our way. I could appeal, call for help? But what appeal will be of use when injured people are left on the streets for dogs to pick through, when people are hunted down and shot for the crime of wanting to live in safety in their own homes.
The world watches too, and is silent, as history and all that is sacred, mosque, church and Wailing Wall, explode with the body of a teenage girl into a million pieces. It seems the world has decided that some crimes can go unpunished, or is this the process of ‘democracy’ in a new millennium, redrawing the map of the world.
I fear no hope is left for the younger generation, let alone for people like us, your father and I, in our sixties, or for Mostafa, who has suffered 42 years of disability.
It is unlikely that dawn will break up this darkness for a while yet. We love you, dearest Hala. Try not to worry.
Anisa Darwish is a Palestinian poet and writer who lives in Ramallah.