“Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing is scanted,
Through anger, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are picks its way.”
Last night and this morning in Ramallah, the center of finance, street strolling, seeming opportunity, the weak but halting wall of the Palestinian Authority, accused widespread apathy and normalization, accused antithesis of self-determination, the great citizens of Palestine took to the street like the doors of the ground had opened. If it was a response to the earlier evening’s attempted march to the Israeli Beit El settlement and military base which stands like a mocking citadel over their municipality, then understood. It was, at it’s painful heart, a family gathering for Gaza.
In the last week, solidarity marches around the town were frightening even to an American citizen; no more than forty people, shuffling down main Rukab Street, desperate hoarse howls of college kids, Ramallahite sidewalk folk staring, chuckling, glaring down at their phones. These were the Gaza protests in Ramallah.
When the Palestinian Authority police lifted their canes and fired tear gas canisters at the smaller crowd attempting to break their riot-gear wall around 11:00 last night, hundreds stampeded from their cell phone messages down and up the main boulevard which stretches from Ramallah to the biggest Palestinian flag that exists as a final message before advancing to Beit El. My friends around me, waiters and chefs, were impassioned.
“They are like the Israeli soldiers, there is no difference!” They gesticulated with hands.
“These people eat their katayef and just stare at us!” They motioned to amused gawkers on the street.
A young shabab, perhaps physically and vocally no older than sixteen, but difficult to tell because of the sacred and familiar street protector’s garb–white tank, white jeans, a kuffiyeh wrapped tight around his chin and forehead– conveyed in friendly, precise baritone with also just his eyes: people do not want to be killed here. The police do not want us to be killed by the Israelis. That is why they make the human wall.
Minutes later, the young man picked up a stone and hurled it at the Palestinian police. “Let me go to Beit El!”, the hurl perhaps demanded, among a lifetime of other things. Then came the gas, the retreat, the gas fired at the retreat.
Then back to downtown Ramallah, which if you didn’t have a city map, fireworks in the sky were the meeting point. The triumphant return and remain: hundreds, maybe one thousand, shimmying up poles, standing next to carved lions, smiling, children suddenly with face paint. A young, immensely handsome man bursting into tears, which I witnessed from smile to burst, clean front to back. Music, cracking microphones, the bounty of pink and green explosions. Women I know, vendors I love because they’re there every day. An Israeli soldier had been won in Gaza.
The center of the world; it certainly must not be the place that we muse about, pontificate over, assume from afar ridiculous notions of what “freedom” is. When we consider free, we consider ourselves always and our intellect often because we think we deserve to posit, but in Palestine, nobody needs to posit the positioning of their oppression, because it exists out of unending sorrow, and it also doesn’t exist out of unending joy; it is an incomprehensible, stunning polar scale. The most free and pulsating nucleus must, must be the place where a happy and anguished brutalized millions are surrounded by a squeezing cancer, which like all colonial tumors causes sickness, fatigue, shrugging acceptance, rage at the lottery of life, a medicinal and mental contra battle, an unrelenting bear hug to time, energy, and those around them. Their freedom is their homeland, but also one soldier captured for every thousand of their community murdered, as the ratio seems to go.
Those who have notions instead of experience, newspaper readers, say: God, the conflict has been going on for so long! As if the struggle for freedom is a dog which will eventually be taken back behind the shed. The tablet is switched off, the car is switched on, the box of life has walls, and it also has a flap up top. Indeed, geographical placement does not aid in truth shifts either, because what the most liberal Israelis fifteen miles away wrapped in kuffiyehs don’t know because of fear of a trespassing ticket is that when gut-wrenching brutality like Shaja’iyah occur, Palestinians mourn in Ramallah with firings of freedom. They took a soldier; independence day for one night. When turning points for the world story like 1948 occur, insane dispossession births a particular freedom which is like a forever-child, innocent and boundless, inculpable but to those with the idea that law is predictable and plodding, a decree from the white above instead of from the mud below. The freest people in the world are at the center of it, where nobody but themselves really knows just how free they are.
In one night, simple and familiar because the sun was down, but undeniably the point of comparison for the world, Ramallah–thereby Palestine–did not serve anyone with a message or grand statement, but remained the untainted nucleus entangled, but not inter larded with, a cancer treated with increased bouts of radiation (that would be Israel), and then the wrap of the whole world which cannot ever seem to iron out what “freedom” and “justice” really are, spinning around Palestine clumsily. There is a secret about Palestinians which the outsiders who live amongst them carry, which many who are enabled to continue living through their own perceptions may never realize even when it’s fully realized: they are not going anywhere.