Toine van Teeffelen
Tamer lately said that he wanted to be Ben Ten, a popular youth hero with magic powers. He would take over the whole of Palestine. He never wants to loose his computer or play station games, especially not the musaara’ – the wrestling matches, which are now the fashion among youth. I tell him he should not game those matches longer than an hour because it’s disgusting, this throwing of meaty bodies through the air.
Jara also watches. A few days ago she dreamt that she was defending grandma’s house against an unexpected thief. She succeeded because of the extraordinary muscles she suddenly got, like Pipi Longstocking. In the past she was fascinated by fairy tales in which invaders tried to enter the house, such as the Wolf and the Seven Little Goats. That was at the time of the curfews and house searches, in 2002, when she was about four years old. Now she is teenager and the loud, assertive voice of Lady Gaga blasts out of her bedroom.
What do you do with your anger and anxiety, the difficult emotions? At the moment the lack of water is a main source of anger. For toilet and shower we go to a house near grandma’s whose occupant is presently abroad. This Sunday morning we walk in the heat of 35 degrees with plastic bowls full of dirty dishes and cups. I brush my teeth with mineral water, no problem. “If foreigners would be here, they wouldn’t believe their eyes,” says Mary’s sister Rita from Paris, who is here on a visit and not yet used to the necessity of very fast showers, or no shower at all. We are not sure how much water there is in the neighbor’s containers. Rita mentions that the local authorities should do more to at least introduce a clear schedule when the water arrives, so that you can better judge whether or not there is need to buy water.
“And you are blaming the people here who want to leave,” says Mary. In case of lack of water she is even more upset than when facing traveling problems. With a lack of water you get other problems, with food preparation, hygiene and insects. In fact, the summerly niml, the ants have arrived. Now we can also not give water to the beautiful row of plants on the balcony. Imagine, how it is in the refugee camps. When we have lack of water, they usually have more problems. “Closed up without water,” is Mary’s brief conclusion. Her uncle mentions how much water there is in the aquifers under the village of ‘Abediyyeh, to the north east of Bethlehem, of course under Israeli control.
The problem with frustration and anger is that you do not have an outlet for it. The Israelis sit high, in watchtowers above the Wall, in their settlements on hilltops behind barbed wire and walls, or behind bulletproof glass at the terminal on the way to Jerusalem. You would like to talk with them in earnest, at the least. How many youth would have dreamt like Tamer to enter a real “duel” with the Israelis, similar to the musaara’, and preferably supported by magic powers. But there is in fact little confrontation, no seeing eye to eye, except perhaps where the Wall is built, such as at the weekly demonstrations in the village of Walajeh, to the west of Bethlehem. But few people are prepared for nonviolent confrontations as they do not want to risk loosing their traveling permits, or create a problem for their family.
The Israelis have the weapons and the blockades and in addition they are able to “outsource” confrontations, such as they did with the Greek who prevented the Gaza flotilla and even with the French security personnel in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, who these days stopped most of the activists trying to “fly-in” Palestine through the airport of Tel Aviv.
“The Israelis do what they want to do, and the world watches or cooperates.” These and similar expressions are said literally hundreds of times among the families. Like, “everything is a problem here.” Which is true. Among my colleagues we sometimes say that hope is not the same as optimism, but that you keep hope despite pessimism about the short-term future. But hope never disappears. The flotilla, the fly-ins, the walks of refugees from Syria and Lebanon across the borders, they are all actions which dramatize the Palestinian story of loss of rights and attempts to regain them. In this way they express hope.
But there is another source of hope too, the one born out of cultural self-esteem. Such self-esteem can get a boost in unexpected ways. Rita told yesterday about the well-known fashion designer Christian Lacroix from Paris, who incorporates Bethlehem and Palestinian embroidery motifs into his designs. Bethlehem and Palestine are traditionally known for their beautiful embroidery. In Bethlehem the women used to work less on the land as elsewhere, and so they had more time to work on embroidery patterns magically inspired by warm colours and nature. In fact, Bethlehem used to have a “bourgeois” element; it still has. Sometimes it is the best medicine against anger and frustration to keep your cultural pride and dignity.