One Act Play: News From Palestine
NEWS FROM PALESTINE
Based on the life and
writings of Samah Jabr
A One-Act Play
By Genevieve Cora Fraser
Copyright © Genevieve Cora Fraser and Samah Jabr 2006
NOTE: For permission to hold a public reading, staged reading or production of “NEWS FROM PALESTINE” please contact Genevieve Cora Fraser at gcfraser @ yahoo.com
Samah - Palestinian Muslim doctor
Reporter - An Israeli
Act 1: Scene
PALESTINIAN, INTERNATIONAL AND ISRAELI PEACE ACTIVISTS WALK
IN A CIRCLE PROTESTING, CHANTING AND CARRYING “FREE
PALESTINE” - “END THE OCCUPATION” – “TEAR DOWN THE
ISRAELI OCCUPATION FORCES APPROACH AND SPRAY THE CROWD WITH TEAR GAS AND ROUGH PEOPLE UP. OTHERS STAND AT A DISTANCE, RIFLES TRAINED ON THE CROWD. SOUNDS OF A HELICOPTER CAN BE HEARD OVERHEAD AS SHOTS RING OUT.
1,2,3,4 - - Occupation no more - -
5,6,7,8 - - Stop the killing, stop the hate.
Free, free Palestine. Free, free Palestine.
Millions of martyrs at Jerusalem’s gate. Stop the killing stop the hate.
Free, free Palestine. Free, free Palestine.
We may die, but Palestine will live.
Free, free Palestine. Free, free Palestine.
Stop the killing, stop the hate.
Free, free Palestine. Free, free Palestine.
Millions of martyrs at Jerusalem’s gate.
Free, free Palestine. Free, free Palestine.
Tear down the wall.
End the Occupation – NOW!
SEVERAL PROTESTORS DROP TO THE GROUND, PULL OUT RED SCARVES TO INDICATE BLOOD.
SAMAH APPROACHES FROM THE BACK OF THE AUDITORIUM CARRYING HER DOCTOR’S BAG AND SEVERAL BOOKS. A SQUARE CLOTH BAG WITH A WIDE SHOULDER STRAP HANGS BY HER SIDE.
SHE STUFFS THE BOOKS INTO HER SHOULDER BAG AND ATTENDS TO THE WOUNDED. A SOLDIER DETAINS THEN RELEASES HER. THE WOUNDED ARE CARRIED OFF WHILE OTHERS ARE ARRESTED ATTEMPTING TO FLEE.
SAMAH WALKS ON STAGE OBVIOUSLY AGITATED. SHE IS DRESSED IN A LONG SKIRT, A LONG-SLEEVED BLOUSE, HIJAB AND SCARF.
DOWN LEFT IS A TABLE AND CHAIR, A PITCHER OF WATER AND GLASS, A PACKET OF PAPERS AND A PEN. DOWN RIGHT IS A LARGE BASKET WITH SHAWLS, BANDAGES AND OTHER PROPS. UP CENTER ARE CHAIRS. ONE IS DRAPED WITH A LONG BLACK SHAWL.
Right to Return
You see how we are treated. Even the most peaceful protests are met with a violent response.
Ah, nothing has changed. We are still hounded – pursued non-stop. For nearly 60 years this nightmare has been our fate.
During Al Nakba, the Catastrophe in 1948 – what Israel calls their “Independence Day” where they celebrate taking our land, our property, our bank accounts - we became a nation of refugees cramped into what little remained of Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and flung out as exiles into camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordon and wherever else they would take us. That year 1948 – at the beginning of the year in January the Jews owned just 5% of the land. Five percent!
To be totally upfront and accurate, according to British Mandate records for 1945, the Jewish land ownership figure was 5.6% - though they also leased some land. We Arabs owned 89%. OK. It was 88.6% to be exact. The rest was public land.
Yes, I know I must be 100% accurate, 100% honest or everything I say will be called a lie. And it is my experience that at times 100% accuracy is not good enough. I am still told I am a liar. But I am telling the truth. If you don’t believe me, check the records yourself.
The fact remains, by the end of that year 1948, through terrorism, violent military assaults, ethnic cleansing, and legal chicanery the colonizers grabbed control of 78% of Palestine, while 80% of the population were either driven out or killed.
The United Nations which had only been established a few years before claimed - under international law - that Palestinians had a right to return and a right to just compensation. You heard correctly. We have the
and we have aRight to Just Compensation under international law
. These were the binding, mandated terms established for Israel to be recognized as legitimate. But eventually the world softened because of the injustice the Jews suffered during the Holocaust. And so the newly self-declared state of Israel was cautiously welcomed into the fold of nations while we were left out in the cold – despite laws to the contrary. And as you can see, the terms for their legitimacy have yet to be met – to put it mildly.SAMAH PULLS THE BOOKS OUT OF HER SHOULDER BAG AND PLACES THEM ON THE TABLE. SHE THEN SELECTS ONE AND LEAFS THROUGH IT BRIEFLY, THEN CLASPS IT TO HER BREAST.
If Palestine were a company traded on the US Stock Exchange you would refer to what happened as a Corporate Take-over, minus the payment. We were shoved out the door – and that was the end of it as far as Israel and unfortunately too much of the world was concerned.
What the Zionist Forces did back in 1948 – for they are the ones in back of all this – this horror – was to create a reign of terror to drive us out, destroy our villages and take whatever they could get their hands on. After the fighting stopped we were left with only 22% of what had been ours – Palestine - a land so ancient it appears on maps thousands of years old.
The refugees were left for many years to live in tents. They traded the beauty of their villages and homes for dust and mud and snow and sleet and the blazing heat in the summer. Many died – their bodies could not handle living like that. Others died inside, broke under the loss and hardship, but most of us lived.
We are the Palestinians.
SAMAH PUTS THE BOOK BACK WITH THE OTHERS AND PACES AS SHE SPEAKS.
Less than twenty years later, they were at it again - in 1967 to be precise. During the 6 Day War they took military control over the remaining 22%. We are now Occupied Territories according to the term the world uses. But occupation is not sufficient for Zionist Israel. They want to own it all. So, day by day Israel grabs more and more from what remains of Palestine - bit by bit, nibble by nibble. In the daily news rhetoric, it is euphemistically referred to as Creating Facts on the Ground!
The fact is Palestine belongs to Palestinians despite the Occupation - despite being uprooted.
Today we are left with so little – barely 10% of historic Palestine fractured by checkpoints and blocked roads and encased by the racist Apartheid Wall – barricades to our lives, our ability to function as a community, to visit friends and relatives, go to school, shop, go to hospital, bury our dead.
Since the Occupation, Israel treats all of Palestine as theirs, as if we have no right to live. Every day they take our land, our farms, our water – constructing military outposts, Israeli settlements, Jewish-only roads, and that accursed Wall that cruelly runs through our villages and cities – controlling every single aspect of our lives and always, always there is the threat of violence.
Can you imagine if one of the states in America had super-highways crisscrossing it – but these roads were not for use by residents but reserved only for a particular religion or members of an ethnic group? What if Congregationalists or Catholics or Episcopalians from somewhere else invaded your state, your country, and refused to allow you on the only roads fit to drive? Frankly, it’s unimaginable. Yes, such is our daily hardship – our humiliation.
Going anywhere for us is a nightmare. You think you have been lucky if for a short while you travel in peace when all of a sudden there’s a military assault over anything - everything. Special permits are required to travel within our own territory, from one village or city to the next. For many these permits are impossible to get. The simple need to work can separate a husband from his wife and children and families from parents and relatives. Israel has made all of what remains of Palestine into a prison – and inside that prison is a net, a labyrinth of interlacing Jewish-only roads that crisscross our paths and can spell imprisonment or death if we come too near.
Am I repeating myself??
I am so angry, so very angry and so very, very tired. But somehow I manage and do what I need to do.
You see, I am a doctor. I am also a walker. For me, walking is a combination of hobby and exercise. More than that, however, it is a healthy management of anger. I know this because I've experienced the results of being confrontational without taking time to cool off.
WALKS OFF STAGE INTO AISLE WITH AUDIENCE
Anger's positive side is that it can jolt us out of apathy and into action. Like every emotion, however, anger needs centering, a period of cooling-off and reflection before it can manifest its real potential to effect change.
SILENCE - THEN SUDDEN ANGER
So, I walk out the door and stay away until I can control this little beast, anger. When I come back, I'm ready to present my position with reason and resolve. I have a great need to be able to walk.
But walking to relax or to find peace amid the lonely desert beauty of the West Bank or in East Jerusalem has become an impossibility for those of us who live in areas that... (Breathes deeply) ... that ... the Israeli government has tightened like a noose around our necks.
Quite ironically, we dare not venture even to the famous Via Dolorosa in the Old City. Via Dolorosa means the Way of Sorrow and commemorates the Stations of the Cross on the path to the crucifixion.
Today, most Palestinians are not permitted – that is given permits by Israel to visit Jerusalem or the Old City or the al-Asqa Mosque – one of Islam’s greatest holy sites. As you know, the Temple Mount, as it is also called, is under constant threat by Israeli fanatics.
Even in my neighborhood in Jerusalem, streets are now blocked by the racist Apartheid Wall or Israeli check-points. And they have begun to take away our homes. Some are arrested because they protest the injustice.
At home, I would look out of the kitchen window to see that the Israeli flags have moved forward, closer to our neighborhood, demarcating the new boundaries of the Pisgat Ze'ev settlement. The Israelis claim that they want peace after separation--they are establishing a wall between us for security reasons. They want separation, a separation that will ensure that Palestinians are denied access to the land of their fathers and forefathers, while Israelis continue to traverse their secure bypass roads to settlements lying in the heart of the Palestinian territories.
Anyone might be arrested anytime, anywhere - for merely living. Streets and by-ways have become modern streets of pain like the road Jesus trod on the way to his death.
RECOGNIZES AUDIENCE IS STARING AT HER
Hundreds of new Israeli checkpoints have appeared in our towns and villages. Each day we venture out only to find another block, another malignancy sickening us. The idea of driving vanished when the Israelis unloaded tons of dirt on roads leading in and out of our towns or dug ditches to destroy our streets and prevent thousands of people from leaving home.
We have elementary schools, but it takes tremendous determination to get to them. We have universities, but they are out of bounds. We have jobs, but our work is not deemed as... as important as... Israeli security!
The endlessly repeated mantra of Israeli security has virtually stopped us in our tracks. It has limited our lives... but not our anger.
Is it for security reasons that all salaries were stopped for 160,000 Palestinian Authority workers? How are teachers and doctors and nurses and street sweepers terrorists? How does a blockade of food and medicine bring Israel security? The election of Hamas was an excuse to destroy out lives, our infrastructure, our economy and all hope. How does that protect Israel?
People like myself and young people can no longer walk off our irritation and indignation. So much for Palestinians' efforts to gain emotional equilibrium.
SAMAH PLACES THE BOOK ON THE TABLE.
Oh, please, do forgive me. I have not yet introduced myself.
MOVES BACK ON STAGE, CROSSES TO TABLE, TAKES GLASSES CASE OUT OF HER BAG
My name is Samah Jabr. As I mentioned before, I am a Palestinian physician...born in occupied
Jerusalem and have been a life long resident, though I am currently studying psychiatry at the University of Paris. But I have come home to… to help.
No, no. I am not married yet. There is no time. And in case you were wondering, until I went away to school in Paris, I lived at home with my parents.
I have four sisters and one brother. My parents... our beloved parents are academics. My father is a University Professor and my mother, a school principal. Several years ago I was honored... truly honored to be accepted to join Al-Quds University's Medical School. It was new back then and the only medical school for Palestinians.
SHE STANDS AT THE TABLE AS IF ABOUT TO GIVE A LECTURE, EFFECTS A PROFESSIONAL DEMEANOR, PUTS ON GLASSES, GLANCES AT PAPERS ON WHICH ARE WRITTEN HER NOTES.
During my days as a student, as you probably have guessed, I was an activist. Of course I was very involved in my medical studies - but also in anti-occupation activities.
SHE PAUSES, STARES OUT AT THE AUDIENCE, RELAXES AND SMILES
Twice I was elected as a representative for the Palestinian Medical Student Society and I also have been a member of the International Federation of Medical Student Associations.
Twice also I have been to the United States. I was honored to receive a Howard Hughes grant fellowship as a visiting researcher in Biochemistry at Iowa State University and I’ve participated in a leadership-training program for International Women in Science and took an elective course at the Newham General Hospital in London.
My visits to the West were culture bridges that opened my mind to how my Muslim, Arab, Palestinian worlds are viewed by Westerners.
PICKS UP THE PACKET OF PAPERS
I give public lectures on women issues and host a Palestinian Women Empowerment seminar course. The purpose is to improve the leadership qualities and skills of Palestinian women from the two sides of the Green Line. And I write... I write a great deal... about... about the conditions here in Palestine. And I have been published both here and abroad...
PLACES PACKET BACK DOWN ON THE TABLE
....in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and The Palestine Times of London, in the International Herald Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Haaretz, Australian Options, The New Internationalists and many other publications. For the best contribution on the Intifada, I was the winner of the Media Monitor's Network Award.
SAMAH TAKES OFF HER GLASSES, POLISHES THEM WITH A HANDKERCHIEF
The Palestinian Ministry Of Health has honored me with a French scholarship to specialize in psychiatry at the University of Paris. There is only one Palestinian psychiatric hospital. It’s in Bethlehem and I am a junior resident. My intention, once I have completed my studies, is to establish myself as one of the first Palestinian woman psychiatrists.
Of course, the Israelis may have something else in mind.
At any rate, that is my background, my hopes and dreams and ambitions but there is so much more to tell…
SHE FOLDS HER GLASSES, CAREFULLY PLACES THEM BACK INTO THEIR CASE, AND SETS THE GLASSES CASE NEXT TO THE PACKET OF PAPERS.
It seems odd to me that Israelis do not see that every time our space is tightened, their security takes a step backward.
Yes, I study to become a psychiatrist because there are wounds that do not bleed - wounds that will not heal.
SAMAH SITS AT THE TABLE, HANDS FOLDED
We are left with nothing but the resolve to overcome. But the price we pay is anger and for some violence.
We are trapped in a place where activity is virtually impossible, where the Israelis attempt to thwart every activity of life. This evolves into rage - and rage into irrational furor. Modern psychology explains this. Are the Israelis unaware of the reality they have created for themselves?
We Palestinians face anger, but our oppressors live in fear. Doesn't this mean that both groups are prisoners of each other?
SAMAH POURS WATER FROM A PITCHER INTO A GLASS
Ramallah was the one town on the West Bank where Palestinians were committed to investing in the future. Located in a supposedly non-controversial area under Palestinian Authority control, the town became a symbol of Palestinian determination. Surely, no matter what happened elsewhere, Ramallah would remain a safe haven in which Palestinians could enjoy each other's company.
SAMAH TAKES A SIP OF WATER
Coffee shops and restaurants opened. An old home was renovated into a wonderful, modern cultural center. Merchants opened clothing stores and sweet shops.
I would joke to guests who wanted to visit the West bank, "This evening I will take you to the New York of Palestine. Ramallah is no East
Jerusalem, where metal bolted doors lock tightly by 4 p.m. Come along and mingle with Palestinian society. Join in on an evening shopping spree.
If you don't like falafel, I'll share a pizza with you."
SAMAH RISES BRACES HERSELF ON THE TABLE AS IF EXHAUSTED
I used to be so excited about taking Americans and Europeans to Ramallah that I would uncharacteristically almost jump up and down. Ramallah, then, was the symbol of Palestinian dreams of having some semblance of normalcy at home, in spite of the surrounding hostile settlements.
SHE MOVES TO THE SIDE OF THE TABLE
But I see now that our hope was irrational. Oppression even then had locked us in and set us up to experience our own form of denial.
WALKS TO STAGE RIGHT, PAUSES CENTER STAGE
There was one incident - I took a service van through people's yards to get to a surgery training course in Ramallah. We were unable to get there that day.
Why, you ask? Because - because Ramallah had been amputated from the rest of our country.
WALKS TO STAGE RIGHT, TAKES SHAWL OFF THE CHAIR
We drove north toward our destination until we came to a ditch that even tanks would have a hard time traversing.
Israeli tanks lined the perimeter with weapons pointing in and weapons pointing out. Seeing the obvious, our van driver turned back.
That was the beginning of my daily desperate attempt to get to work.
SAMAH WRAPS THE SHAWL ACROSS HER SHOULDERS
Now, I, along with the rest of those resolute on getting to work no matter what, take the van in the opposite direction to the edge of Jerusalem, where we exit near Qalandia Refugee Camp.
WAVES AWAY THE SMOKE
Then, we start walking.
"Ah," you say, "Here's your chance to walk and get your frustration out."
Hardly! We walk through cars parked on the road as if the road were a parking lot. Most days, unreported in the press, Israelis hinder any movement. Shooting and tear gas are par for the course.
This isn't walking in order to regain dignity, reason or peace of mind.
COUGHS VIOLENTLY, COVERS HER FACE WITH THE SHAWL
My head and chest are filled with the stench and congestion of smoke.
SAMAH REMOVES THE SHAWL FROM HER FACE
When I walk hunched up and blinded, I think of survival, not peace.
SAMAH REMOVES THE SHAWL FROM HER SHOULDERS TOSSES IT BACK ON TO THE CHAIR
It takes memories of walking the paths around Niagara Falls to cool my rage. There, my vision was refreshed with the soothing mist of the great powerful rush of water. My chest was full of excitement. I saw a huge rainbow signaling promise and hope.
That was America. I'm among the lucky ones. I've been outside our prison. I have dreams to shore me up. Others of my countrymen have nothing at all except the experience of oppression.
Why, I ask, cannot America's government understand that Palestinians, like most people anywhere, would much prefer a walk in a waterfall's mist than a trudge through the smoke of tear gas and hostile fire?
Why has America joined with Israel to take away our simple lives? Why do Washington leaders insist that they will always back our oppressors and ignore our very being?
As one living the daily trauma of existence in the backyard that has become Israel, I wonder if anyone in America imagines what actually goes on here?
Some would surely answer, “Yes.”
“Yes?” But does anyone out there care? They talk about security… and pre-emptive strikes… And as Golda Myer said, “A people for a land without a people…?”
Accepting these concepts - these policies and actions at face value - shows ignorance of the human realities of being Palestinian. The stench of death and the decay of morality - these are the demons that rear their heads inside mine as I walk my own Via Dolorosa.
Here's the rub.
SAMAH PICKS UP THE MEDICAL BAG SHE HAD PUT DOWN EARLIER
Relief from anger comes in small doses, mostly through work.
STANDS, DOCTOR’S BAG IN HAND, WALKS BACK TO THE TABLE
"Scrub up," my teacher says to me.
"You can do a plantar corn excision on your own today. I will be your assistant, your nurse," he chuckles.
OPENS THE DOCTORS BAG, PLACES STETHOSCOPE AROUND HER NECK, PULLS OUT NEEDLE, SCISSORS, SCALPEL, BANDAGES, BOTTLES OF MEDICINE, ALCOHOL
"Am I ready for this?" I ask, forgetting the world outside the clinic outpatient-procedure room.
REMOVES HER STETHOSCOPE
The local anesthetic given, I begin with all the hesitancy of a learner and the compassion of a soon-to-be doctor who fears unnecessarily hurting her patient. I make a nice elliptic cut around the corn and excise it. Then, I gently stitch the wound.
The patient smiles kindly, amused by my tenseness. He expresses approval of my work. I excise his other corn with more confidence. I give him pain-killers and tell him, “Stay off your feet for one week, at the very least.”
"You'll need time to heal," I tell him, proud to have handled an entire operation from start to finish on my own.
SAMAH PACKS THE DOCTORS BAG AND SNAPS IT SHUT
I walk out feeling happy. I have my work. But that is not the end of it. A few hours later, two men holding him up by the armpits drag the discharged patient back to our clinic.
"My home is in Surda," the man explains.
“The Israelis won't allow my brother to drive me home. They say I can walk around the mountains if I need to go home. I walked a few kilometers and collapsed. Doctor, please tell them I cannot walk."
My teacher laughs at his innocent thought that the Israeli soldiers would listen to a Palestinian doctor. "Stay in Ramallah until you can walk the mountains," he says.
SAMAH WALKS FRONT CENTER CARRYING THE BAG
I know the joy of walking. Our globe is too closely connected for us not to know what lies beyond our prison. I've roamed the ancient streets of Athens. I've laughed at street performers in Piccadilly and sipped coffee in a café by Lake Michigan. I know the relief of walking in a cool desert night, stars floating above me. These are mere dreams now… in my world of gunfire, ditches, harassment and clashes.
SAMAH GRABS A CHAIR AND SITS FRONT CENTER
Face it, I think to myself, you live in a ghetto, a bantustan, an island far away from any turquoise sea. You're one of the lucky ones because you have the energy to do whatever it takes to get to work. You can lose yourself in fixing corns on an old man's feet and feel the inner reward of knowing that you care about and can help Palestinians injured and crushed. But unreleased anger and unwanted leisure crushes what is normal in us - a rationality - a coherent connection with one's home and being.
SHE PLACES HER DOCTOR’S BAG ON THE ADJACENT CHAIR
How do you center yourself, find a peace within when an unconditional love of home requires a constant state of being at war… simply to be…to exist?
SAMAH PICKS UP THE LARGE BLACK SHAWL
I live in a ghetto prison connected by potholed patches of my own Via Dolorosa. I am not safe at home, or anywhere in my country. I am not alone, however. Israelis may have their "safe" highways, separation, and disdain for us, the "others" who simply will not go away. Just like us, however, they do not have peace of mind. As they increase the constrictions around us, they pull us together in our anger and longing.
SAMAH TURNS HER BACK ON THE AUDIENCE, PLACES THE SHAWL OVER HER HEAD, MOVES TO THE BACK OF THE STAGE. SHE IS JOINED BY THE DANCER/CHANTERS, SEVERAL OF WHOM GRAB SHAWLS FROM THE BASKET AND COVER THEIR HEADS. THEY CHANT AND DANCE THE DABKEH AT THE CENTER OF THE STAGE. WHEN THEY DISPERSE, SAMAH MOVES TO THE BACK OF THE CHAIR.
Who, I wonder, is better off? Is it we, the prisoners of our era - or they in the "ghettoed" villages built on our hillsides? I await the return of another time when I or my children, or their children, once again will walk the Via Dolorosa and marvel about what it took to maintain the walkway of peace.
SAMAH REMOVES THE SHAWL, PLACES IT ON THE CHAIR.
For Sara who died mute, I speak. For those who use violence to gain recognition, I urge use of their life and words to bring understanding.
No one is in this world alone. We all have each other.
I can speak, because I’ve come to understand how close we all really are.
At 62, Sara faced death. Brought into Al-Makased Hospital, she was dying of a severe lung disease. Our physicians gave her medications and physiotherapy. Nothing worked. Finally, she was connected to a ventilator.
I was there when the T-shaped plastic tube was inserted to connect her trachea to an oxygen machine. It pleased me to see color return to Sara’s face and watch her lips turn from blue to pink. I thought she would relax and, who knows, maybe even get a reprieve, allowing her more precious life.
SAMAH PICKS UP THE DOCTOR’S BAG, CROSSES DOWN CENTER
Sara revived and surprised all of us with her considerable physical strength.
As suddenly as color returned to her face, energy spurred her on. She reached up and grabbed one of the attending doctors by his coat, pulling him so forcefully that he found himself eyeball to eyeball with his patient.
Sara had something to say.
SAMAH CROSSES BACK TO THE TABLE, PUTS DOWN THE DOCTOR’S BAG AND SEARCHES FOR A PAPER AND PEN – HOLDS IT OUT AS IF GIVING IT TO SARA
No matter how eagerly she tried, however, she could not speak. The T-piece in her throat, her last link to life, had separated the out going air from her vocal cords. She could not share her thoughts, cry out about her pain or chuckle, should she improbably have something to laugh about.
SAMAH SITS DEFEATED THEN BEGINS TO WRITE, LOOKING UP OCCASIONALLY AND PAUSING IN HER WRITING AS SHE SPEAKS
Wanting to help, I suggested getting something for Sara to write on, but the physician to whom Sara had entrusted her last attempt to speak, gave me a condescending look and said quietly, “Dr. Jabr, Sara is an illiterate villager from Turmusayya. Let’s move on.”
All day, Sara’s desperation troubled me. When I finished my duties, I slipped in to check on her. As I bent over to look into Sara’s face, she reached up and strongly gripped my arm, again, trying to communicate.
I put my ear to her mouth. No sound. I tried to speak through my hands and she, in turn, waved her hands and shook my arm. All futile.
One of the nurses in the unit saw my frustration. She told me that she’d tried to contact someone in Sara’s family who might be able to tell us how to “speak” with her. A nephew promised to try and visit his aunt, but it was clear that he could not help us understand Sara.
SAMAH WRITES A BIT MORE THEN STANDS DROPS PAPER AND PENCIL INTO HER DOCTOR’S BAG, THEN SNAPS IT SHUT.
The next morning, Sara died of cardiac arrest. I knew she was at peace, free from suffering, but I could not get her effort to communicate out of my mind.
I began to think of Sara as a metaphor for all the millions of human beings who have no voice: minorities, battered women, husbands, wives, children who cannot make other family members understand, oppressed people who live in fearful silence under monarchs or dictators, people embarrassed to speak out. Most relevant to my reality and background is the Palestinian plight.
CROSSES DOWN CENTER, ADDRESSES THE AUDIENCE DIRECTLY
This is what I want people everywhere to understand. This is why I write.
ISRAELI SOLDIERS APPROACH FROM STAGE RIGHT AND STAGE LEFT, RIFLES DRAWN. ONE SOLDIER SEARCHES HER THEN ORDERS SAMAH TO LAY PROSTATE ON THE FLOOR, GUN TO HER HEAD, AS THE OTHER SOLDIER SEARCHES THROUGH THE BASKET OF SHAWLS AND THE DOCTOR’S BAG WITH THE RIFLE. HE THEN SCATTERS THE CONTENTS, SMASHING THE DOCTOR’S BAG, THE BOOKS AND SHAWLS ONTO THE FLOOR AND OVERTURNING THE CHAIR.
But like people, everywhere, I find it hard to articulate what I want to say. Furthermore, knowing how the stresses of my life cut me off from much of the rest of the world’s sorrows, I can imagine that hearing about our situation is just too much for most of the people around the world.
Like the team of doctors who did what they could for Sara, but, then, walked away, people can only absorb so much before they click off and think only of the duties and stresses before them. Still, I want to speak effectively.
I feel an urgency to express myself so that the light of my country does not go out with the world unaware of who we Palestinians are.
ONCE THE SOLDIERS EXIT, SAMAH SITS ON THE FLOOR BREATHING HARD AND SLOWLY COMPOSES HERSELF. SHE RISES, DUSTS HERSELF OFF, STRAIGHTENS HERSELF UP AND PICKS UP THE CONTENTS OF THE BAG, THE SHAWLS, AND HER PRECIOUS BOOKS AND ATTEMPTS TO REGAIN HER DIGNITY BY IGNORING THE INCIDENT.
SAMAH PICKS UP THE BOOKS, THEN GENTLY PLACES THEM BACK ON THE TABLE.
Prior to the election, the American media talked as if the Palestinian State had already been established. They announced Palestinian peace negotiations with Israel without recognizing that they are not two equal powers but rather an occupied people struggling under the brutal oppression of one of one of the strongest military forces in the world. Israel wants Palestinians disarmed so there are fewer repercussions when they bulldoze our land, limit our water, destroy our crops and fruit trees, kill our livestock – separate us into the tiniest spaces possible – squeeze the life out of our culture, our pride, our ability to fend for ourselves. If there is a state it will have a net over the top – an Israeli infrastructure that will choke all true freedom and render us more and more powerless. Arafat is dead but the bitter reality is nothing has changed.
My poor father, what a dear man he is. A few days after I was selected by the Palestinian Ministry of Health as the recipient of a French government scholarship to study psychiatry, I was returning to Jerusalem from the scholarship interview in Ramallah. I had to squeeze myself among the hundreds of people waiting to show their papers at the Qalandia checkpoint. It was raining heavily, and I had all my certificates and letters of recommendation in my bag. By the time I was allowed to pass through, I was dripping, and my papers were all wrinkled and wet, the soaking ink rendering my certificates illegible.
I was horrified and enraged at what happened, but my pacifist father-a life-long educator-though silent, was deeply wounded at the sight of
my papers. But there were far deeper wounds to come…
SAMAH FINISHES TIDYING UP, PUTTING EACH ITEM CAREFULLY BACK IN PLACE
These books are from my family library. When I returned from Paris recently, the Israelis permitted me to…. (strains to keep from breaking down)
Oh, no matter…. (clears her throat)
On the few days when the Israelis would lift the curfew on Bethlehem, I, along with Bethlehem University students, would sneak into the town past the District "Coordination" Office in Beit Jala. Together we traversed a narrow pathway on the edge of a steep hill to cross the border to the bus that will take us to the University campus.
A few mornings ago, the bus’ 50 passengers were ordered to stand still at the edge of the steep hill while a few insane Israeli soldiers drove their jeep crazily in the mud, deliberately splashing our clothes and luggage.
In Jerusalem, Israel's policy of discrimination seeps down to the bones. Not only does the occupation's oppressive law prohibit Jerusalemites from driving West Bank residents into the city, but Jerusalem taxi drivers are forced to assume a police role and investigate their passengers' papers. Any driver caught with a West Bank passenger faces arrest, an expensive fine and confiscation of his van. Driving from Damascus Gate to Jaffa Gate-a distance of two kilometers-we are stopped several times to be searched, questioned and
harassed by any Israeli soldier in the mood to subject Palestinian civilians to his or her arbitrary sadism.
These are just small examples of what Palestinians face every day. We live with unrelenting oppression, daily fear for our safety and deliberate humiliation that targets our dignity. The pathological behaviors exhibited by the Israeli occupation troops illustrate the moral and psychological aberrations that can result from a history of oppression and victimization.
In Hebron, Israeli soldiers entertain themselves by making Palestinians caught breaking the curfew select a paper from a "lottery basket." On the papers from which they must choose are written arbitrary punishments like nose breaking, arm fracture, undressing, or "Bingo: Go Home."
I know enough about oppression to diagnose the non-bleeding wounds and recognize the warning signs of psychological deformity. I worry about a community forced to extract life from death and peace through war. I worry about youths who live all their lives in inhumane conditions and
about babies who open their eyes to a world of blood and guns. I am concerned about the inevitable callousness chronic exposure to
violence brings to a human conscience. I fear the revenge mentality as well as a people's
instinctive desire to perpetuate on their oppressors the wrongs committed against them.
The process of psychological rehabilitation should go hand in hand with our steadfastness and resistance to occupation. Not only is
psychological health a mandatory element for freedom and independence, it is a priority for a nation living in torment and hostility. Our trauma has been chronic and severe, but by recognizing our suffering and treating it with faith and compassion, we shall overcome.
MEN AND WOMEN GATHER AND MOVE TO THE SIDE OF THE STAGE
Israel offered the disengagement plan from Gaza with the left hand. Then what did they do? But blockaded Gaza so that the agricultural goods they raised rotted in the trucks and food and medicine were denied to 1.5 million people. And in exchange for relieving us of Israeli settlers in Gaza, they take more of the West Bank land, and continue to imprison Palestinians behind the apartheid wall, while they advance their political access and “normalisation” with other Arab nations and claim international acceptance in their right hand. What kind of future does that bring?
The disengagement plan was a ruse for redeployment. The people of Gaza live in isolation with Israel calling all the shots. And there are plans for three walls to be built around Gaza with watch towers, gun turrets and 24 hour surveillance cameras.
Incinerating a family on a beach, can you imagine? No food, no money – of course they resist. They are even killing the bees that pollinate and forbidding fisherman from using their boats. One Israeli soldier is kidnapped so that gives them the right to bombard Gaza – destroy power plants, roads, bridges. There lives were horrible before.
Their lives are even more brutish now – tens of thousands of people left homeless in Gaza, their homes demolished – for what? To protect Israel? Israel used the disengagement as a smokescreen to justify ethnic cleansing of the Arabs from East Jerusalem. Throughout the West Bank Israeli-Only roads and Israeli-Only settlements spring up like mushrooms – pushing out more and more Palestinians – but to where? Jordon will take them, they like to claim.
The conditions outlined for the Palestinians in the nearly forgotten ‘Road Map’ included an American-defined democratic government and an Israeli-defined Palestinian security force. We accomplished the first; the next is still in the making. Then, we are expected to have a State; it was promised in 2005, it didn’t happen, we will wait! The signs are very ominous. There is no change, whatsoever, in discourse or negotiation dynamics. And conditions grow steadily worse. Power in Israel continues to be exclusively Jewish - holding on very dearly to Zionist ideology and working eagerly to confiscate more Palestinian land – confining us to smaller and smaller spaces. With hunger and disease rampant, perhaps that is all they believe we will need.
SAMAH SITS WEARILY AT THE TABLE, POURS WATER, DRINKS
Israel divides up what little remains of Palestine with the special Israeli counting system – One for you, two for me. One for you – two for me - until there will be nothing left - except scattered concentration camp conditions surrounded by the racist Apartheid Wall. More and more often we are given fewer permits in or out – confined – millions and millions of Palestinians are held in confinement. The plan is to imprison us in a non-Sovereign State called Palestine.
Our people are weary. After such a long struggle, we do not need leadership that is quick to dim our hopes and act against our collective feelings. Hamas offered hope but that was soon crushed. We fear a new Unity government that may engage in a warm peace with Israel while the everyday oppression smashes our bones and dignity.
Israel continues to do what it started in 1948. This is the endless Palestinian Holocaust – Al Nakba repeated over and over again. Our right to live as other humans do – denied.
THE GATHERED CROWDS BEGIN TO WALK TOWARD ONE ANOTHER AS IF ON A BUSY SIDEWALK DURING LUNCH HOUR. A MAN APPEARS FROM THE SIDE AND MERGES INTO THE CROWD WEARING A BULKY JACKET. THERE IS A LOUD EXPLOSION. ALL SCREAM.
One Friday morning, it was January 4th I remember, I finished my on-call shift at Maqassed Hospital. It was 7 a.m., and a bright day was just dawning. Breathing a sigh of relief, and knowing that I had two whole days of weekend to spend at home, I left the hospital in a rush to get to my mother¹s kitchen in Dahiat Al-Barid, where I knew strong Arabic coffee would be prepared as soon as I entered the house.
Soon after I entered the taxi, the driver switched the dial to Palestinian news, The Voice of Palestine. The news carried full coverage of the visit of the American Envoy’s efforts to bring peace to our land, and included the story of three Palestinian boys, Muhammad Labad, 15, Muhammad Al Madhoun, 15, and Ahmed Banat, 16, all murdered by Israeli troops. The news account explained that Israeli soldiers had killed the youths because it was assumed that they were on their way to do damage at the Ailey Sinai Israeli settlement in Gaza and had to be stopped.
Ah, I said with as much aloofness as I could muster, Israelis have all the answers. Arafat put a boat of explosives in the Red Sea; any and all young men from a Gazan camp are out to do evil. All this from the democratic state of Israel. Whatever happened to the idea of having trials and no one is assumed guilty until proven so?
The radio report continued. It seems that it took international intervention to retrieve the boys' bodies four days after they were killed. The soldiers had reported that we thought we may have killed three armed Palestinians who were on their way to Ailey Sinai. When doctors at Al-Shifa Hospital examined the bodies, however, they discovered that the boys had been tortured, stabbed and burned. Their limbs and skulls were fractured and two of them had been shot, before a missile had been fired to rip them to shreds, along with all evidence of what really had happened.
Thoughts of a relaxed, pleasant weekend began to drain from me. I was glad to get out of the taxi and, in merciful silence, cross the Al-Ram Checkpoint that separates Jerusalem¹s C-Zone from its B-Zone Oslo's infamous classification of who is in and who is out of the city. I began the walk through the newly installed metal barrier, a long and narrow tunnel-like impediment that tears at the heart of anyone passing through.
I was just a few meters from the end of the tunnel when I began to catch up with a tall, well-built Palestinian laborer. He appeared to be a painter, because his hair was dusty and speckled with unhairlike colors.
Except for henna, our ancient dye, few Palestinians color their hair, and it would be quite unusual for our young people to go out deliberately looking as hip or funky as this man did.
In his hand, he carried his Arab headgear, his keffiyeh tied neatly, as a sort of lunch box. Most of our laborers use their keffiyehs as bundles. It's a sight one sees every day at every checkpoint. The young man I was fast approaching wore a tight muscle-shirt that showed off his huskiness. Even though his jeans were as patched with paint flecks and remnants of plaster dust as his hair, he displayed a quiet dignity that made me proud. If only Hollywood could see this hunk, I thought, a little irreverently.
As the man and I reached the checkpoint at the end of the tunnel, a soldier stepped out and put his gun-barrel against the man's chest. With great calm and pride, the man simply gripped the gun-barrel and moved it away from his chest. Seeing this, I was even more proud of this man because he reacted strongly, but with extreme gentleness. His was a beautiful human response.
Immediately, however, three more soldiers jumped from their jeep, took hold of the man and pushed him against a nearby cement wall, grabbed his bundled keffiyeh and tossed it behind them. Neither the soldiers nor the man spoke, but the soldiers began to beat their victim of the morning. I and others who had come through the tunnel were ignored, but we dared not move.
The soldiers pounded the painter's head against the wall over and over and kicked his abdomen and groin with their large boots. They struck his chest with their gun butts. I knew that the beating was breaking the man's ribs.
Those of us watching were crippled with fear and anger. We could see how helpless we were, given that we were among not only four violent soldiers, but a fully armed unit of Israeli military watching in amusement from the other side of the street.
Finally, two middle-aged women tried to stop the soldiers, but were shoved down into the mud of the street. The soldiers continued to beat the man until he collapsed and fell on the ground, his mouth and head bleeding. He did not move. As if washing their hands of the victim and the rest of us,
the soldiers didn't trouble themselves to check anyone else.
I wanted to step forward and ask if I could call for an ambulance, but the soldiers started shooting in the air and waving us away. As I and the others trudged off, I looked back at the fallen man, his once food-filled keffiyeh lying beside him as bloody as he. The contents of the bundle, oranges and a bag of bread, were scattered nearby. Stomping around on the oranges and bread as if they were mere stones, the four soldiers who had beaten the young man appeared oblivious to what they had just done.
That was on Jan. 4, 2002, a few days after the New Year. As I entered my mother's kitchen, the only thing I could feel was a sickening sensation brought on by the smell of food. The bright day that was dawning just a few hours before was replaced with the image of the provisions lying around the destroyed body of another proud young Palestinian.
RED SCARVES ARE PULLED FROM SLEAVES AND WHIPPED ABOUT LIKE SPILLED BLOOD. SEVERAL FLEE. OTHERS FALL TO THE STAGE FLOOR AS IF WOUNDED. SAMAH RUSHES TO THE UPSTAGE AREA AND TENDS ONE OF THE WOUNDED.
ANOTHER MOVES TO STAGE LEFT AND BECOMES A REPORTER NARRATING THE SCENE WITH A HAND-HELD MICROPHONE. AS SHE NARRATES SHE MOVES OFF STAGE INTO THE CENTER AISLE CONTINUING TO NARRATE AS PEOPLE ASSIST THE DEAD AND WOUNDED OFF STAGE.
SAMAH WATCHES AS THEY EXIT, THEN RETURNS TO THE TABLE, BURIES HER HEAD IN HER HANDS.
The scene here is horrifying. Never before have I seen such carnage. Once again the blood of innocent Israelis has been shed by a disgruntled Palestinian bent on slaughter. What would have happened if on Saturday, three days ago, the bomber had struck? Then the streets were packed with tourists anxious to take part in the festival of....
SAMAH RISES AS IF STANDING BY THE BEDSIDE OF THE SUICIDE BOMBER’S MOTHER
I'm tired, not a new state of affairs for me. I haven't slept enough since I started medical school and my studies in Paris and my not very relaxing visits back home to help however I can. I've eaten in a rush for as long as I can remember and I'm never finished with work. All this is pretty normal for young doctors everywhere. It's more than being tired, however, that racks me with exhaustion and discouragement.
Since the 2nd Intifada when the suicide bombings started, I simply cope without enthusiasm, seemingly sapped of energy or inner strength.
Were it not for having to cover at Makassed Hospital for colleagues who could not get to work because of curfews and closures, I can't imagine what dullness would cloud my spirit. I remember being on call for four nights during the Intifada taking care of the sick or injured arrivals. That it took three hours to get to Makassed on the Mount of Olives, less than five miles from my home in Dahiart-Al-Barid, created a perpetual frown on my brow my friends would tell me. But even this horrendous affront, this endless journey, did not seem to be the source of the pain that lulled me into hopelessness. Thinking about why I am more disheartened now than I have been all these years, I decide it must be my realization that we Palestinians are, finally, alone in a cage.
SAMAH WALKS TO THE EDGE OF THE STAGE
To provide comfort in the only way I know, I place my hand on the head of the hospitalized and heartsick-unto-death mother of one of the latest to use his body as a weapon against our hopelessness. As I do, I hear a radio down the hall announcing the world's reactions to this one young man's attack.
The White House reassures Israel that America remains as staunchly supportive as ever. The British express their sympathy-for Israel. In Rome, the pope announces, through prayer, that the church is in "solidarity with Israel's victims and their families." Newspapers around the world ask, "What kind of mother does a Palestinian bomber have?"
I feel the sting of disregard. I continue to try to get the dead bomber's mother to open her eyes, to remain alive. Where are the reports of her story and mine? Where is the mayor of a major U.S. city-a national hero in his country- why doesn’t he visit our injured and receive international coverage for his trouble? Where is the pope's sympathy for all people, even us - for we are, after all, flesh and blood, too? Where is the press when I stand helplessly looking at the influx of patients arriving in the Makassed Hospital emergency room? Our people are not brought here only because they have been struck by bullets or whipped by guns. They are suffering from the terminal illness of despair.
To many Israelis and others throughout the world, we Palestinians, simply happen to be in the way. We are a problem because we exist. How despicable of us to dare defy the world, using terrorism against people who chose Ariel Sharon, a war criminal, as their leader… and now Olmert, Peretz and Halutz, the butchers of Lebanon and Gaza. While a few American bishops ask for mercy and a few moral leaders defy the slur of anti-Semitism to recognize our humanity, most of the world rejects us for what we have become during the past half-century of occupation, humiliation, death, destruction, injustice. We are left alone, caged, living lives which "civilized nations" suggest we might escape were we to resist passively or, in a kind of Zionist wishful thinking, just shrivel up and die.
Fighting back is not to be our right, regardless of the battering we take, day after day after day.
But whether we stand and take our punishment for merely being where we are or fight back passively or violently, it doesn't matter. We remain caged, a final tribute to Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky, who in his Revisionist Zionist writings of 1923 suggested chasing us away, killing us or caging us.
Journalists decry the dangers young Israelis face when they want to go out for ice cream or to celebrate a birthday. No one points out that most of these young people are here because of an earlier generation's violent Zionist ambitions. If they are harmed, I agree, it's not their fault and it's a genuine horror for us all. But there are no stories about our young people, whose ancestors have lived here for century after century. Israeli curfews force them home and inside a locked metal door by 3 p.m.-forget about ice cream or parties of any kind. How many people know about the land mines that kill our children when they try to go to school? How many people read the tales of children shot in the back, because they're still outside the family complex when the curfew begins?
How many people know how we have to sneak around simply to pick an orange off a tree?
I continue to look after the bomber's mother, lying in our cardiac care unit. She is in respiratory distress. Her face is a mask, washed blank by tears she can no longer shed. She is uncooperative, refusing to speak.
She is the mother of Nabil Halabeieh, the young man from Abu Dis who blew himself up over the weekend, I am told quietly, pulled away by nurses who think we should leave her alone.
Early in the afternoon, I received a phone call. Sixty students from Al-Quds University, my alma mater, have been arrested as suspected collaborators in Nabil Halabeieh's action. I don't know what to think.
Outside it is raining heavily. I can go home now.
At the Al-Ram checkpoint, cars are lined up as far as I can see. Israeli soldiers bark at people to get out of their cars and to stand in the rain against a wall, like prisoners about to be shot. Some are waved through, but not before a soldier batters their cars with gun butts. I do not have a car, and so I stand dripping in the rain.
It seems like hours. It is growing dark. I hear the call for prayer announcing the breaking of the Ramadan fast. I think of my family waiting for me so they can start their meal with a juicy date. I decide to call them to say I'll be late. Seeing me take my mobile phone from my coat pocket, a soldier rushes over and grabs it from me and starts yelling in Hebrew. I am in a cage. I am numb.
This is the cage from which our suicide bombers come. Is this how they feel when they decide to kill themselves as a protest against those who will not recognize their humanity?
Few people will submit to death when there is hope for something better. I'm one of the lucky ones: I have my work, which leaves me without the energy to resist so dramatically. But I am only one in the cage that is all that's left of Palestine.
SAMAH EXITS THE STAGE AND WALKS INTO THE AISLE AND MAKES EYE CONTACT WITH AUDIENCE MEMBERS AS SHE RECOUNTS THE STORY OF DANI
We humans often ignore our inner voice. When we shut our hearts and close our ears to that inner voice, and to each other, we deny ourselves such essential human qualities as beauty, kindness, truth and goodness.
SAMAH TURNS AND CLIMBS BACK ONTO THE STAGE
One day I was in the midst of a group of Israelis and Palestinians gathered in the 'Dutch' Christian ecumenical village of Nes Ammim - tucked between the Palestinian village of Al-Mazra'a and the Jewish Israeli towns of Naharia and Carmiel in the northern Galilee. It was there that I met Dani, a middle-aged Israeli man who introduced himself as a former Israeli soldier. My encounter with Dani was not easy. We had gathered there to discuss the lives we lead as Muslims, Christians and Jews in a state of severe political conflict.
Dani pointed at me and loudly declared: "Samah looks familiar to me. I served at the Bethlehem checkpoint months ago and I recognize her from there." He then added, "I come to meet the Palestinians on an equal footing."
Dani's words left me cold. As an anti-occupation activist, I am critical of Israeli leftists whose Zionist principles presuppose the exploitation of another group and who fail to condemn, on ethical or moral grounds, the Israeli occupation forces, which had quite obviously commanded and shaped so much of Dani's life and being.
Although our eyes often met while we were helping ourselves to meals, attending common lectures, or wandering along the shady lanes of Nes Ammin village, I avoided Dani as I would have were he still in uniform.
Near the end of our weekend encounter, the whole group played the Fish Bowl game, in which two people meet and exchange thoughts and feelings before the group at large. The discussion about a peaceful solution brought me to the center of the group. Before I could speak about my vision of peace, however, I was paired with Dani.
This big, tall, bald man came to the chair opposite mine, looked me in the eye and said in a blunt, manly way, "I was an IDF soldier. I served in the Palestinian territories and shot at, and maybe killed, Palestinians. What do you feel about me?"
I am used to being asked what I think, what I envision, how I explain things, but I really did not expect to be asked how I feel, especially about such a painful and highly-charged revelation as Dani's. I didn't know at that moment whether he was challenging me to a fight or offering reconciliation. All that came to my mind were the endless reflexive images of cold death and bitter humiliation sparked in my mind by the very mention of the IDF.
"Anger is what I feel about you," I finally replied, trying to give the briefest possible answer.
"I understand your anger," said Dani, who went on to express his regret at having served in the IDF and his disgust at their practices. He said that he was haunted by guilt and that he loses sleep because of memories from the time he served in Gaza and the West Bank. He spoke of horrible acts he and his colleagues committed against Palestinians, and then of a sudden awakening he experienced that brings him to such encounters in the hope of reconciling his feelings with himself and with others.
Here is an Israeli to the bone, an older man, born in the conservative Gush Etzion settlement, and brought up to hate and dehumanize Palestinians, speaking of his psychological transformation.
Although my anger with him and hatred of what he had done did not vanish, I was amazed at his ability to let his inner self, his better self, speak out.
Dani spoke courageously of his mistakes, despite the risks: the possible agitated Palestinian reaction and the certain Israeli embarrassment at such a voluntary and scandalous exposure of its occupation policies. That embarrassment was laid bare when Dani, the former Israeli soldier, concluded that had he been born among "the other people" he would be doing what the Palestinians are doing now.
When Dani's chair finally was occupied by another person, the classic question about forgiveness came up. "Samah, now that you've heard what Dani has to say, do you forgive the Israelis for what they've done and are you willing to live in peace with them?"
"It is too soon to talk of forgiveness when the occupation is still oppressing all of us," I replied. "If I am ever able to forgive, I'll forgive what I personally have suffered. I can never offer my forgiveness on behalf of other Palestinians."
A German Lutheran minister smiled at me and said: "Samah, you are very Jewish!"
When it was time to depart, Dani told me that the other Jewish Israeli participants, who had presented themselves as more liberal than he, were angry with him for his confession.
He gave me his business card and told me that he was an occupational therapist and a writer. Like my parents, he is a father of five girls and one boy. I had to wonder why he had not stated that at the beginning. I appreciated that, unlike many “dovish” Israelis, he did not hide his military involvement behind a humanist profession and lifestyle and pretend to be a safe friend.
The Nes Ammim encounter was soon over, and we all went back to our real, and profoundly unequal, lives. As I go about my hard life, struggling for a
future as a Palestinian in my occupied country, I know that I will never feel less anger and hatred at what Dani had done, and what is still being
done to my people. But I know the feelings of rejection and estrangement Dani must be experiencing, the brave yet painful isolation familiar to all who speak their hearts and say what is true, rather than what would please
and appease others. In that sense, Dani and I have unintentionally agreed on a moral premise, and could be equal partners in that stand.
Reconciling the contradictory parts of one's self and achieving inner peace is the first step of the long journey toward realizing peace and reconciliation on a much more external and more inclusive scope. Dani gives me hope - and that awareness, at this point in my people's history, is all that I can give him in return.
SAMAH PICKS UP THE BOOKS AND HUGS THEM CLOSE
In late January 2003, just after listening to the 6 a.m. news broadcast, I called work to find out if there would be a curfew in Bethlehem. I wanted to decide ahead of time whether I had to risk sneaking along the edges of Beit Jala or subject myself to the torture of the Gilo checkpoint.
The receptionist told me that the District Coordination office of Bethlehem announced that the curfew would be lifted from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. today. “It is the Armenian -Palestinian Christians’ holiday and the city will be open for prayer,” he explained. I finished my coffee in a rush and prepared to leave for work.
“You work overseas,” my family jokingly tells me. In addition to Al-Ram checkpoint, Gilo junction is the second permanent boundary I have to cross on my daily trip to work. Except for the Israelis who go into Bethlehem to pray at Rachel’s tomb and the few Palestinians who have special and hard-to-come-by entry permits, Gilo junction is almost a desert land.
I got off the bus about 1 kilometre from where I would encounter the soldiers at the Gilo checkpoint which is located between the Arab villages of Um Tuba and Bethlehem, the southern municipal boundary of Jerusalem.
I walked alone on that windy and rainy morning gazing at two of the settlements that now surround Jerusalem and seal off the city from its original people—the Palestinians. Gilo settlement is on my left and the Har Homa settlement is on my right. Har Homa was built on the green, confiscated Palestinian land of Jebal Abu Ghneim and Sur Baher villages in 1997, during the honeymoon of the peace process. At the time, it represented a brazen violation of the Oslo peace accords and was condemned by the United Nations, which demanded an immediate cessation to the construction of the settlement. However, the U.S. administration twice vetoed the UN Security Council resolutions that were aimed at halting that violation.
At 8:10 a.m., I arrive at the Gilo junction checkpoint where I am confronted with six white male soldiers who speak Hebrew with a Russian accent. They take my documents - a Jerusalemite ID card, the Palestinian Medical Association’s membership card and the Bethlehem hospital employee’s card - and my two bags inside their office and start making their investigatory phone calls while two others interrogate me as I stand in the rain. Of the little they revealed, I learned that lifting the curfew was cancelled and that Bethlehem would be under curfew for the fifth day in a row.
The presence of those fresh-off-the-boat Israeli-ized Russian, Ethiopian, European etc. army soldiers at Palestinian doorsteps and their brutal behavior toward the natives of this land is one of the manifestations of the Jewish exclusivity of the state of occupation. Anyone who claims to have “Jewish blood” and who is willing to make Aliaa (Jewish immigration to occupied Palestine) becomes an immediate citizen and is soon given a gun to fight the Palestinian existence in this land. However, if a Palestinian leaves the country for a few years to work or to study, he or she is very likely to be denied the right to return to or to live in their birthplace.
Now that the Jewish immigration rate to the land has dropped dramatically due to Israel’s political and security instability, the government seems to be liberating its criteria for citizenship to include the “Jews for Jesus” and is welcoming its collaborators in the former South Lebanon army to “join the club” on the basis of their contemptuous hatred of the Palestinians.
An hour passed without my being allowed into Bethlehem or even getting my papers back to go to Jerusalem. I was being held by two soldiers who were entertaining themselves during their desert assignment by chasing Palestinians. Suddenly, my boss, the Medical Administrator of the hospital I work for, appeared in his car at the checkpoint. He was stopped by the Russian-speaking soldiers at first and was ordered to turn around and go home immediately, but the arrival of two fast-driving jeeps coming from Bethlehem put an end to the argument. Hurriedly, two soldiers came out of one jeep—a middle-aged man and a woman who appeared to know “my boss.” They were anxious, sweaty and breathing fast as if they were on a “mission.” They shook hands with him and ordered the soldiers to allow him in. Out of the other jeep came four soldiers and two tied up Palestinian teenagers that were crying with bloody mouths and bruised eyes. One look and I figured out what that “special mission” was and felt the rage growing in my chest. The two young men were handed over to other soldiers coming from the Jerusalem area and were forced into another jeep that took them away from the sight and mind of the Gilo junction soldiers. My boss, seemingly disgusted at what he had just seen, but denying his feelings in order to grease the wheels, got out of his car and came with the woman soldier to me. ‘Samah is our resident doctor—Shushana used to be a psychiatric nurse.” I was stunned at Shushana’s “dual conscience” and her ability to be a killer and a healer.
“Shall I take Dr. Jabr with me to the hospital?” he asked.
Shushana tried. She went to ask her boss and came back to tell him:
“You go alone or the two of you go back to Jerusalem.” But sympathetic Shushana was helpful. She got me my papers and allowed me to go home.
I am not used to stepping backward. Going back home according to the soldiers’ orders could have filled me with a sense of defeat. My parents always ask me to not take chances, but sometimes the drive of anger is stronger than a parent’s advice. I decided to try one of the dangerous sidewalks. I sneaked into a big garden and olive grove of a nearby Christian institution, Tantour. Tantour institution is a place well known to many Israelis and Palestinians due to the peace-promoting activities that were held in that place. Walking in the land of Tantour was a terrifying experience on that day. I had to run and then stand still behind the wide stalks of the ancient Roman olive trees whenever I heard shooting. Then I jumped over a high wall and crawled through barbed wire to reach the edge of Bethlehem, only 200 metres away from the Gilo soldiers. A kind family living on the mainstream opened their house for me. There I called the hospital and hid near the window waiting for the ambulance driver to come pick me up. While waiting, I saw the soldiers from the other end of their station holding the taxi drivers and the people who broke the curfew, making them undress and stand against the wall. I was crippled with fear. I felt the helplessness and humiliation of my people whose only crime is trying to live and keep going despite all the odds. I could not help but weep generously for what I saw and felt. I hate to cry, but if I don’t weep for this, then what are tears made for.
I grieve for the injustices of this world. I am angry at governments and people who condone our occupation, permit our torment, and allow foreigners, like Russian immigrants, many of them non-Jews, to come to our birthplace and make us live like aliens and hide like criminals in our homeland.
A century ago, when the French Authorities imprisoned Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus on Devil’s Island for being suspected of espionage on behalf of Germany, the French intellectual and novelist, Emile Zola wrote the famous public letter, “J’Accuse” (I accuse), in defense of human rights and a searing denunciation of fanaticism and prejudice. Where are the Israeli Emile Zolas? Where are the brave international intellectuals to denounce the human atrocities committed in my homeland? Are there sincere efforts to enlighten officials and the public opinion of Israelis?
We, the Palestinians, are made to pay the price for the crimes of others. We accuse our judges. We accuse all the governments, authorities, institutions and passive people who permit our torment and agony of the human atrocities that continue to be committed in occupied Palestine. We accuse the Israelis, our exploiters, their fascist politicians and army and their “liberal-Zionist” people who are consuming the fruits of a dispossessed people. We accuse the American and European partners in crime, the United Nations who has little more than refugees’ tents to offer us. We accuse the Western mass media that demonize us as terrorists, sub-humans and unworthy of freedom and dignity and the international community that deleted our name and existence from the world and made us live like a nameless, faceless, voiceless nation in this world.
The Palestinians are deeply rooted in this land despite all the odds and the poor conditions that are incompatible with life. We have no place to go to, even if we want to; we cannot go to school or work, let alone going to outer space or to the moon to escape the shadow of conflict. We want a just peace in our homeland; we want to live in a safe place, and we want the power and the empowerment that will allow us to burn our registration cards and to revolt against our oppressors and tormentors like the Indians in the movie, “Ghandi.”
As for me, estrangement seems to be my eternal fate. I cannot go home again to live. My family has been evicted from their home and now my parents live in an apartment so tiny that there is no room for me to stay.
THE CROWD ENTERS ONCE AGAIN AND PUSHES SLOWLY TOWARD THE CENTER, AS ONE SIDE PUSHES IN ONE WAY SAMAH MOVES TO THE OTHER SIDE, THAN THE OTHER SIDE PUSHES IN AS SAMAH ADJUSTS
All I have left are these books. The Israeli soldiers generously allowed me to enter my home and retrieve a few things. I chose these books. All my family belongings have been abandoned to dust and grime. Will the Israelis trash everything, or sell the furniture? I have no idea. The house is beautiful and valuable. Hopefully they won’t bulldoze it. I have no idea. I went into my room and grabbed a few books from my library. To be back in my room, perhaps for the last time… My mother and father are devastated - my brother and sisters… (sobs)
I have my life in Paris, until I graduate. What the world needs is a good psychiatrist! From there I will continue my struggle for interracial harmony, inter-religious respect and human sanctity, for people to live together. Palestine is always with me; the people and the land will always be nurtured inside me. Every town and every village is in my heart and in my mind, especially Bethlehem now totally encased, ensnared by Israel; the memory and the very name of the city will always be heartrending to me.
SAMAH FEELS INCREASINGLY TRAPPED SHE SHOUTS OUT HER MESSAGE LOUDER AND LOUDER AS THE CROWD CONVERGES ON HER
Israel and their partner, the United States of America, totally reject the historic rights of the Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes during the violent birth of the State of Israel. The Absentee Property Law sealed their fate. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, the Absentee Property Law of 1948 that was reaffirmed in 1950 where Palestinians were declared absent from their land, their property, their bank accounts and worst of all were denied any and all rights. They committed mass robbery and we are the ones who are punished.
THE CROWD GRABS SAMAH AND TRAPS HER IN THE CENTER OF THE CIRCLE. THEY DANCE AND CHANT CENTER STAGE.
All that we are left today is to “bargain” for our basic human rights and what little remains of historic Palestine. Our rights are supposed to be protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention! But Israel’s partner America insures that these rights are not recognized.
The contemplation of peace, the feeling of progress and all of the past’s fake optimism was misplaced. Israel continues to do what they do best - exploit Palestinians. We are being crushed – but for every action, there is a reaction – despite our fervent hopes for a true peace.
IN A FINAL GESTURE, THE DANCERS EMIT A SOUND AND THROW THEIR HANDS INTO THE AIR IN A SIGN OF LETTING GO, RELEASING ANGER AND DISPAIR.
SAMAH ESCAPES, GRABBING HER DOCTOR’S BAG, SHOLDER BAG AND BOOKS.
THERE IS AN EXPLOSION. ALL SCREAM. RED SCARVES ARE PULLED FROM SLEEVES AND WHIPPED ABOUT LIKE SPILLED BLOOD. SEVERAL DANCERS FLEE. OTHERS FALL TO THE STAGE FLOOR AS IF WOUNDED.
SAMAH TURNS THEN RETURNS TO ASSIST THE WOUNDED.
FADE TO BLACK