Before I went to Palestine, I assumed, just as we as outsiders assume, that I knew what their immediate concerns were. Security. Living conditions. Water Employment. The constant fight of land, history and culture. Something more tangible and of more immediate importance than media-provoked and propagated celebrity scandals, the spectre of terrorism, and slowly acidyifying seas; the trio of what the media assumes we’re obsessed about, with what we’re actually obsessed, and with what we should be obsessed.
Sometimes, we’re wrong.
From the stories I’ve heard, the steady accumulation of knowledge on what has happened, I think I know what to expect. But I’m not ready for normality.
In a university in Jenin, West Bank, I sit down several days a week with a group of girls and women. There are vast differences in the ages who come to learn English at the summer school, from pre-school children to 20-somethings, and several older women too. We talk about a range of subjects, from political issues abroad to the London Olympics. Many of them are very good already, and they talk so earnestly that I feel rude correcting small grammatical mistakes. An older woman is there who speaks slow, hesitant English, and avoids talking to the younger girls.
Over the weeks, I find out their dreams, much more consolidated than mine were at their age. One teenager is going to be a doctor and go to Jordan. One college girl plans to go to Europe and apply for schools in London. As each story emerges, it seems all of their dreams are outside of the West Bank. Some talk about returning, ‘one day’, but for the most part they’re focused on when they are going to leave, and on what basis. It’s hard to assess which dreams are within the possibilities of reality and which aren’t, and I wonder if this is a generation lost because of the political situation that governs their lives, or a generation that believes there is no future there.
Sometimes, we’re right.
In a wide staggered alley facing off of the alleywell little boys are playing. I looked around and smiled at them, and stop for a moment to watch. They’re playing with toy guns, pointing them up at each other and laughing. They look at me shyly and move further away, and keep playing. Their hold is secure, rather than aimless. They’ve clearly seen real guns before.
They’ve clearly seen real shootings before.
Like the mimesis of art and life, the imitation of reality by play is jarring, more so than any article, book or photo.
Many of the girls in the university talk to me about climate change. They are acutely aware of it and they’ve all read about it. Jenin is hotter than ever. The lack of water is more challenging than ever.
They share pictures of the Kardashians on their phone and giggle through lessons.
They worry about terrorism, and the effect it has on their neighbours, only two borders away.
One morning we wake up, and it is all different. We’re told it’s best to avoid town now, and lessons are cancelled. The market is quiet when we do go into town later in the day. Shouts are heard in the distance.
The posters are already up that evening. They are in Arabic, so we have to ask for translation help, but we already know the gist of what they’re about. The photos on them are graphic, and the text is in slashes of red.
Everyone knows someone affected in the shooting. The conversations in the university are quiet now.
We hear the sonic booms for days afterwards, shattering the sky.
Sometimes, we don’t know what’s happening there or what stories we’ll hear. Sometimes, we do.