Monthly Archives: July 2011

My friend has a story…

"Montasiba al Qama" by Samih al Qasim; Photo by Salman al-Msjen

This isn’t my story. But it could have been, and it can be the story of any young Palestinian living in this small besieged part of the world. Only that it bears much more painful profundity being the story of that particular man who chose to be nicknamed “Awsaj”—the Arabic equivalent for Lycium which is “a thorny shrub bearing red berries, some kinds of which are used for hedging.”

Awsaj is my new friend whom I met only twice, the first meeting lasting for no more than a quarter of an hour at a mutual friend’s, and the second born out  of my initiative to venture out southward to the far eastern areas of Khan Yunis near “the green line.” He is an intelligent human being. Young, enthusiastic, and bright. Awsaj embraces such a variety of contradictions which, though can be seen almost everywhere in Gaza, would make this man’s description but a figment of an eccentric writer’s imagination. To be painstakingly interested in perfumes, to hold a degree in IT, and to voraciously read such a fussy amalgam of Jubran Khalil Jibran, Edward Said, and Karl Marx, these are all signs of a human being with a specially sophisticated interest. However, to work, besides this, as a farmer absolutely adds up to your  unparalleled elegance.

We arrived at Awsaj’s farmland where, in a farmer-like style, he was diligently plowing the land with a shovel, and as we hailed him from a distance, he looked up, waved back to us, and wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand, he placed the shovel aside with the other, and walked in our direction to welcome us. “He can’t be a famer, he’s trying to look like one,” I said to myself.

As soon as he was chopping small pieces of wood and adding them to the small fire he had just started to make us some black coffee, I had already had considerable admiration for Awsaj and started feeling jealous of his exhaustive knowledge, his avidity for reading, his ardent passionate talk and angry criticism of almost everything. We shared several subjects of our criticisms together. We were particularly sarcastic of “our” buffoon politicians. He was unorthodoxly harshly critical of parents as fosterers of hypocrisy, mental impotency, personal insecurity. Though at some point,  a fiery debate erupted between us over his undue criticism of how people’s relationships are no more governed by affection, care and  mutual respect for the other, but rather largely dominated by private interests where, in the normal state of affairs, it should be presumed that hate is pre-existing to any human communication, our personalities were explicitly largely drawn to each other, and Awsaj could make such a favorable impression on all of us.

To be equipped with a critical mindset and insatiable desire to learn and read is enough, at least in my and my two mates’ eyes, to make you worth being held in high esteem by your interlocutors. But that’s no that case. To have these things, however—or to pretend that you do—and display in addition some interest in Israel-Palestinian conflict, to always talk of peace as the solution—as though peace were not an impasse in itself—to ending this conflict, to have also the Kuffiyeh worn over your head from time to time, and to stress to your interlocutors the fact that you run a blog, never mind how less frequent you update it or the sort of stuff you have on there, you are then the very guy who is likely to be indentified as a peace (and potential human rights?) champion by roughly everyone working in the field here, particularly by a bunch of foreign journalists with whom you engage in seldom profound, political discussions and who you might win over, but by no means can your knowledge about Palestine, Israel and politics match theirs.

Awsaj is of the first kind. There is still something much more characteristically appealing about him, i.e.,  (what he boastfully dubbed) his wide-ranging experience and “history of struggle”, and out of this history, there is one specific experience which Awsaj found himself narrating to his guests and, upon listening to, we agreed it must be uniquely underlying to this man’s personality, and which I insisted it would not go unrecorded.

Almost every Palestinian must have been in direct contact with Israelis, and by “Israelis” I mean Israel’s atrocities; and every Palestinian, therefore, must have been a direct victim of Israeli crimes—there is no such thing as indirect victim within the context of Israeli-Palestinian conflict being essentially a conflict between a state (i.e. Israel), on the one hand, and individuals (i.e. Palestinians) on the other. So it’s no big deal when I am told this man had spent twenty years in Israeli prisons, or that little boy’s parents were killed during Israel’s last offensive against Gaza and so on…

The weighty significance of Awsaj’s experience, I believe, resides in the fact that, it encloses within its narrative several Israeli actualities. Whereas most of the endless Palestinian encounters with Israel lose an extremely large share of their actual significance once the real encounter is over and is narrated time and again as a past experience, Awsaj’s experience seemed to have acquired validity and renewed reality each time he narrated it since, during his narrative, Israel would borrow such a physical existence that it was no more an abstract but became embodied in the Israeli soldier, the Israeli jeep, and the female officer’s broken Arabic phrases, the Bedouin  collaborator, the scars across my friend’s back…The reason? It definitely lies somewhere around Awsaj’s human passion and dramatic eloquence.

The sun having sunk, we headed toward our friend’s home, having already chatted for what seemed to be ages. Straight backed, we walked and chatted, leaving behind neatly-queued, graceful thyme saplings, four scattered coffee-soiled plastic cups, and several untold stories.