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Letter to Ahmad, 4
Anisa Darwish, Palestine
January 1, 2001
Last night marked the passing of another year. Today is the anniversary of the founding (‘launch’ as it is known) of Fatah. Ramallah is such a sight with large numbers of people, many brandishing guns, crowding all public spaces. It’s a strange, sad scene of celebration: what a tight space this is for a large dream! On TV, Palestinian officials are doing what officials usually do, saying, without enthusiasm, what officials usually say. The whole scene is one of boredom and frustration.
A friend telephoned late last night to wish us a happy new year. He then asked in a shy voice if the shells that shook his house a few moments ago landed near us. It was difficult to know as the noise seemed to come from all directions. This is everyone’s concealed horror, that if shells hit your neighbour’s house this time, your turn is next.
Bulldozers on the ‘Star of David’ settlement on the hill facing us from the East were busy all day yesterday digging and erecting more guard posts, fitted with even larger search lights, beaming at us now 24 hours a day. We’ve been busy ourselves today, sand-bagging the windows in the downstairs flat, which we now call ‘the shelter’.
You know, I can hardly remember a time when we felt anything other than fear, when we were happy or when this tight feeling on my chest felt unusual, something that would pass. This cycle of recurrent nightmare has coloured everything black. A new category of ‘being’ needs to be invented to describe Palestinian life where all beginnings are aborted, where there is more presence of death than life, where any respite is bordered by flight. Is there still meaning when all life is a narrative of martyrdom.
Ahmad, do you remember the ‘good old days’ when the only electric lights in town were the lampposts on the road, when writers used to suffer the gestation of ideas under the light of oil lamps? The image haunts me. Was it the last chapter of history they wrote?
I will not write more. I think I have over-burdened you and you have your own narrative to write. But perhaps fate is kinder in Oslo and vision is less constrained. Perhaps you have some hope of ‘resisting’ your ‘Palestinianness’ and existing outside this dark text.
Anisa Darwish is a Palestinian poet and writer who lives in Ramallah.