In the Shadows of Men: To Live Under Occupation



During one of my travels, a soldier stopped me for a detailed check, as usual, using a new ultraviolet X-ray machine. I had become accustomed to that checkpoint, which had become much harsher than before. The individual inspections conducted by female soldiers are apologetic, filled with timidity and embarrassment for violating your body. I let her search me, looking for suspicious items. I was amused by her personal dilemma while she searched me, trying to forget the humiliation I feel in such moments.

The machine should decrease the humiliation of a direct body search, but nothing can actually satisfy the soldiers’ obsession. The Palestinian is guilty until proven innocent. I became accustomed to wearing minimal pieces of clothing to the airport, so the guards’ hands wouldn’t touch me. But this is also ineffective. Once, the machine buzzed, insisting there was something suspicious upon me, traces of something unnatural on my body. This machine sees every detail of the body, even the stretch marks of my pregnancies. I said mockingly, “There used to be Palestinian children in there.”

Our need to build happiness is often simple. A look fills our lives with happiness—and a look destroys them completely.

I hated turning harsh. I tried to remain keen and mindful, to remain on the inner path of ease and tolerance. I wanted peace within myself, so that I could endure everything that happened outside of me. But peace never comes through hate and rage. I learned to reconcile those feelings that were inside me. Even toward the soldier at the checkpoint who would insist on violating my humanity.

I would busy myself in the long lines at the checkpoint with a book. In the past, these long lines would enrage me, and there were times when I almost got killed. The guards take you to the depths of humiliation, and you lose any will to live. You lose your fear, and your universe becomes a surreal emptiness. They cruelly and coldly strip you of your humanity. They strip you completely. I had three such incidents with the soldiers over the years. I understood how they could allow anger and hatred to control them. I understood the meaning of deprivation, which makes you finally reach out, burst out, to become someone new.

One time, I quarreled with a soldier who was busy eating a cracker while working at the checkpoint. At that time, suicide attacks threatened Israeli cities. I waited for two hours with one single car ahead of me, because a twenty-year-old soldier chose to violate our life. I was taking my daughter to her tennis class, and the class ended while we waited at the mercy of that young man dressed in a uniform and armed with a gun. I looked at him and said, “Do you know why people blow themselves up? It is because of people like you.” An exchange of loud words took place. He took my ID and yelled at me. It was the first time I noticed I could speak Hebrew—when I realized there was another person speaking to me in Hebrew. I studied in the Hebrew university for three years, and I never spoke more than a sentence. I quit during my last year so I wouldn’t have to struggle with the language anymore. Because I was not an Israeli citizen, I was considered an international student, and international students did not have to speak Hebrew in the university. Otherwise, it would have meant learning a new language (the language of the occupier) in a university that was literally a few meters from my birthplace. But inside me, I refused the language as much as I refused the state that accompanied it. In the years I spent at the university, I never saw a single Israeli. I didn’t recognize them. They were not there.

I was confident they would disappear exactly the way they appeared: suddenly. My Arabic teacher at school always told us, “They are called Jews, not Israelis. Israel is a temporary word that was imposed on us, and it will recede someday.” While I was attending school there, the second Gulf War was underway. At that time, I believed liberation was coming. I wanted to believe that Saddam Hussein’s attacks on Israel would bring an end to the occupation, but I could also see that his attacks were having little effect. In order to justify exposing myself to Israelis, I said I was only talking to Jews. They were Brits, or Americans, or French, and so they all had nationalities other than Israeli. Which would disappear someday soon, I believed.

Ten years later, we were living in the Second Intifada, Saddam was under attack, and I had changed. I realized my denial would not bring a solution. So I accepted the occupiers and heard their stories.

But that soldier represented the disorder that exists in occupation. He was the reassurance that they are only there to violate you and steal your life from you and keep you breathing just enough to continue living. The truth is that the occupation pushes you towards an abyss, a hell you walk through on your own two feet. To suicide. To exploding yourself.

In that moment, when he ordered me to obey and shut up and I refused, I was screaming in Hebrew with a gun pointed at my head. The world fell away. I saw only a blank whiteness, an emptiness, and could only hear the sound of my voice. With his gun pointed at me, he told me my existence no longer mattered. I lost entire moments, unaware of my surroundings, like I was in a trance. Suddenly, I was taken aback by the sound of my daughter crying and my young son saying, “Mommy, Mommy… enough.” I was surrounded by people. I don’t know where they came from. A nice soldier was trying to calm me down, while another pulled the first soldier away from me. I came out of that trance, which had pulled me powerfully into the unknown. I wasn’t feeling myself. I was in a state of fearlessness, and it was wondrous. I broke all the walls of fear in that moment, and I opened my arms to death, screaming and calling for it.



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