This is (barely) Palestine

A marketplace in Palestinian West Bank earlier this year

I used to think I had quite a unique experience with the discovery of the Palestinian lifestyle, especially for a person of Palestinian origin. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s possible that my experience can now extend further and help others discover more about the Palestinian people in a way we wouldn’t have been able to before. We may be able to actually relate to them.

Growing up, I had very little knowledge about the way of life for the Palestinians, much like many of you. I certainly had heard about the conflict between Israel and Palestine – a “war over stolen land” – I knew the history and had heard the stories. But in my privileged first-world bubble, I still had no idea how life felt there.

Palestine had been a country established for centuries. It had its government, its infrastructure, its laws, its farming, its patriotic people, and most importantly, its peace. Post World-War II, a nationalist movement, namely Zionism, began with the aim of establishing a new and independent Jewish state (Israel). Its location? Palestine.

Commissioned under the British mandate, Jewish European migrants arrived on the shores of Palestine looking for housing and work. They were initially well received by the indigenous Palestinian population (as for thousands of years Jews, Christians and Muslims had all lived peacefully in the region), however as time passed, the Israeli population grew and demanded more land than they had been granted. Quite literally settling and claiming land they had never been given access to. And so in turn this meant stealing it from the Palestinians.

The conflict started. Decades and decades of war between the two peoples transpired, often involving the surrounding Arab world.

Growing up I absorbed stories about this. My grandmother would tell me of their family olive trees in Gaza and how they’d spend hours sitting, drinking coffee, and laughing in the afternoon sun. How she had a farm and would pick fruit and vegetables from it each day to cook with and would play with her brothers and sisters in the gardens. It would always confuse me that in the same very sentence, she would look up at me with sorry eyes and say, “بس اتربينا في الرعب”, “but we were raised in fear”.
At ten or eleven years old, I didn’t think much of it and frankly, I wasn’t too curious. It wasn’t until I came to university where I began to question what she meant and it wasn’t until coronavirus lockdown, where I began to barely understand it. Hopefully, you can share this experience.

While we play cards and rediscover our passion for music or painting, there is real isolation in the world. And real separation from loved ones.

On the 23rd of March 2020 we were all told not to leave our houses to limit the spread of Covid-19. Following this news, the whole world seemed to flip upside-down overnight. We were thrown into shock and confusion. Shelves were empty and most supplies may as well have been non-existent, huge queues outside every shop seemed to appear, people started wearing masks and gloves and fought over food and toilet roll. The uncertain climate left people anxious and worried about their future. This proved to be a very difficult time for many and impacted every person in some way. The world and ‘system’ we have grown to become comfortable with, seemed to evaporate overnight.

And so, we began to complain, I began to complain. I have complained about not being able to go outside. On FaceTime I have complained that I am unable to see friends or visit family and while eating I have complained I could not eat out. From my comfortable, warm and sheltered house, I have complained the weather is too nice to be spending the time in doors. With my WIFI connection, Netflix and screen after screen of distractions, I have complained of boredom. Inside with a stable roof above me, I have complained that it’s not fair to have to be locked in doors.

Then I remembered what my grandmother used to say: “بس اتربينا في الرعب”. And that while we play cards and rediscover our passion for music or painting, there is real isolation in the world. And real separation from loved ones. One we can relate to now but could only dream to imagine too. Because although we may not admit it, even during the time of lockdown, we live like kings and queens.

William is a 21-year-old boy living in the Palestinian Gaza strip, informally known as the largest open-air prison in the world. A small area of land inhabited by over 2 million people; it is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Under siege and control by Israel, very limited supplies can enter and leave the land. Israeli snipers constantly scan its borders and missiles are continuously dropped on its towns. One of these missiles had a direct hit on William’s house killing his father and sister inside and leaving William, his widowed mother and brother homeless and with nothing but a smashed picture frame they found in the rubble. We became pen-pals a few years ago but, as you can imagine, I have been unable to contact him recently. Because of the fear of being hurt and losing their lives, William and many other Palestinians, are quite literally terrified of being out in the open.

With his unknowing help, this poem was written:

Dear Palestine,
I don’t have a doubt
that you know what all this is about.
I’m self-isolated and socially distanced
and I can’t even go out.
The sun is shining
and I’m stuck inside whining and confining
myself to my room and my bed and my kitchen,
I actually may make some food in a minute
But it’s boring and I’m bored.
I’ve watched everything on Netflix
my days are filled with typing and mouse clicks,
Facetimed friends without spending any real face time
And I’ve started ordering food with 1hr delivery prime
I picked up painting again and baked a cake
I even bought a sweater online,
Looked through old pictures of this time
last year when I was outside,
and lying on some hillside when all was fine
But not for now or the next few weeks at least
So when you read this all I ask is please,
Keep us in your thoughts and pray that these
times don’t last
as we are locked up and policed
…With 1 hour of exercise a day
and shopping of course,
I mean we have human rights…

Dear reader,
I don’t have a doubt
you have no clue what this is about.
It’s been 71 years, and nothing has changed
I can’t go outside, my mum said I can’t,
“They’ll do what they did to your father
And end your life like an animal for slaughter,
Without a second thought you’ll be taken from me
And I don’t know if I’ll even be…
able to live or exist or breath
And be left alone with our olive trees”
My father made the mistake of going outside,
He was walking to get water
When we heard the sound of someone’s daughter,
Screaming in terror, a high-pitched cry
As a rocket fell from the light blue sky
In a few seconds it took him
Along with the house and with the girl too
It took my bed and my kitchen and my room,
And I don’t know what to say to you…
But now I’m in a bunker,
Like prey hiding from its hunter
Isolated and distanced
Persecuted for existence
Since they destroyed my kitchen
There’s no food so I haven’t eaten,
So, when you read this all I ask is please,
Keep us in your thoughts and pray that these
times don’t last
Generations have passed and we have accepted,
This way of life has become expected
…and for 71 years I can’t go outside
Don’t tell me about your human rights.
Because this is Palestine
Where they don’t exist.

Palestinians in Palestine are constantly under threat from the Israel. Whether it be by police or the army, or by settlers abusing native Palestinians in many ways, this threat and torture is a daily struggle. For many this has become a way of life. Fear of going to school or seeing friends, fear of going out in the open air and overall fear of persecution or death, just for existing.

I have complained and moaned during this time, but perhaps while in Western isolation while we Zoom call, eat and watch TV, we should also spare a thought and recognise that we are very blessed.

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