“I just take it as a challenge, the louder the bomb, the more engrossed in my book I become; the more intense the shooting, the more pages I’m determined to read. And they just lose.”
That is what my teacher told me on the first day after the war when I ventured out from home for first time in twenty two days, on a visit to my university, the Islamic University of Gaza. He asked me, “How did you spend your time during the war?” I just foolishly fidgeted as I didn’t have an answer. And he said the above words. Ever since, those words have become my fundamental doctrine, demarcating the essentially antagonistic relationship between me and Israel. That is to say, me as an individual, on the one hand, and Israel as a state, on the other hand. And ever since, I have mastered the game: Israel is set against me, and whatever crimes Israel commits are meant against none but me. This mindset proved influential, and functions rather psychologically. “Go on and defeat Israel” becomes your motto!
I used to say I’m never afraid of another war only because I’ve already gained an insight into how to live through it. People are usually afraid of new prospects, but what are new prospects to someone like me? The intifada, the civil conflict, the siege, the war. Every time I meditate on the relationship between me and Israel, I’m quickly struck with a matter-of-fact condition of my self and the discrepancy between two stages of my life: before the war, and after the war. Senseless is what I’ve become. That’s why when a huge bomb strikes a nearby area and shakes the whole building, what the little kids do is carry on their game of marbles.
However, recently while I was poring over it, in a moment of complete darkness, it dawned on me how sardonically intimate our relationship is. Coming up with the actual settings of such an enlightening moment of discovery will be helpful to explain things more properly. It was something past twelve after midnight. Dark, cold, and void of the least viability. All asleep but I who is attending final exams in less than a week— although this wasn’t the real reason why I’d stayed up since my other two siblings were attending their exams as well. In any case, I fixed my study schedule in accord with our whimsical power schedule so as to avoid running into an unpleasant situation where, powerless, I would be left alone to my fiendish thoughts that would rack my mind mercilessly. This was an implicit criteria for making my schedule. I had already finished the assigned lot to be studied, and was waiting for the ensuing part of my schedule: “anything! power-on”. It was the moment I was momentarily torn out of my muse to be thrown deeper into it once again. “Power should have been turned on at 11:00, an hour ago!” I thought as I felt my heart swell with anger—such realization is what I simply tried to evade. After all, I can’t stand to be disappointed twice: one for the night power cut, and the other for two extra hours which would seem more dreadful that the past eight hours. I had already pinned my hopes on 11:00 pm as the hour when (well, I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing, but there should be power…) So I thought I perhaps can do with two more chapters of my book. It wasn’t out of challenge that I held the book to read. I didn’t follow that comeback philosophy. I didn’t take it as a challenge, I just felt I wanted to read. It was only then that I observed how innovatively changed I am.
The practical doctrine my teacher presented to me was but one preliminary step that would lead me eventually to a broader conceptual one I would simply call “the pliability of desire”. I recalled telling a friend of mine that there is nothing that tastes as beautiful as reading in the dark. “You just feel triumphant. Proud. Indefatigable,” I would say. Israel has made me powerful. Israel has developed in me a habit to “wait for the power cut” where I can do something useful. Israel has fomented in me love for the dark. I have made friends with darkness. I remember when I was a child, there was nothing I feared as much as darkness. Sometimes, I had to rush up the stairs at a fast pace, shutting my eyes in fear of spotting darkness. Things have changed quite considerably. I am no more kept under Israel’s thumb. As I sit in the dark, obviously working on some good stuff, the lights are suddenly turned on (Israel has turned them on). What I do following that second philosophy of mine is turn them off once again. I would turn them off following the first philosophy of my teacher as well, for what Israel really wants is draw my attention away from the “good stuff” I’m working on. In all cases, Israel loses; I win.
Suliman, 21, is a student of English Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. He blogs at http://msuliman.wordpress.com/. Gaza Two Years Later is a series of posts by Gazan bloggers and writers reflecting on the two-year anniversary of the Israeli attack on Gaza in the winter of 2008/09. You can read the entire series here.