Deleted passages follow the underlined portions on the pages indicated.
CHAPTER 6: BOMBINGS, WEDDINGS, AND A KIDNAPPING
(p. 129) Shadi is silent for a moment. “Please call me if you hear anything.”
“I will. Same to you, OK?”
“Of course.” I hang up and think, Qais must have told Shadi he was coming to visit me, even though it was supposed to be a secret. I feel a slight pang of betrayal, but it’s quickly replaced by the realization that it was a very sensible thing to do in a time and place where he knows he can disappear at any moment without warning.
(p. 131) If you want to live in Palestine and not be a complete greenhorn ajnabiya, you’ve got to put a little starch in your spine.
On the one hand, I dread and fight against losing this sensitivity. If I begin to accept things no one should ever accept, I’ll have lost a part of my humanity. But if I weep for every kid killed in Gaza, if I waste a day with my gut aching hollow and my back bent in dread and fatigue every time a friend disappears, I’ll never stand up.
But if we don’t put ourselves in others’ shoes now and then, we risk losing sight of the silent helpless horror that lies just below the surface of what we think we know. We can’t ignore it just because it is silent, snuffed out and shut up. It is there, manifestly, and it will come for all of us if we don’t put out the fires somehow.
Shoot ’em Up
(p. 139) At the end of the week, feeling exhausted, I went with Yasmine to
a place called Almonds, a cozy dance club near Sangria’s. It felt amazing
to forget everything for a while and just dance. I’d never heard
anything as infectiously, shoulder-shakingly danceable as Arabic pop
music. People kept buying my drinks (including an ex of Yasmine’s,
though I wasn’t sober enough at the time to notice her ire), and I chatted
with cute Palestinians and fascinating foreigners on the balcony
outside with its little potted palm trees.
Two days later a Belgian girl got married to a Palestinian man in Ramallah, and Osama invited me to their wedding. I borrowed a slinky amethyst evening gown and white satin shoes from Muzna and got my hair cut and styled. The wedding was in a swanky banquet hall at the Casablanca Hotel near the Clock Circle. The crowd was young and sleek, drinking beer and Johnny Walker at their tables and dancing to Arabic and Western pop music at an ear-splitting volume. Afterwards Osama and I had sangria at Sangria’s with some of his Communist friends, and we talked and joked and laughed. It was the perfect cap to a gorgeous weekend.
A few days later the Israeli army invaded Jenin with thirty tanks backed up by aircraft. With my heart in my throat I called Qais to make sure he was OK.
“I’m fine,” he said in a soothing tone. “Don’t worry. It’s normal.”
I rested my forehead wearily on my arm. Sweetie, it’s not normal.
(p. 144) Every few minutes Thaher would yell from whatever tree he was in, “Heyyyy, ya ammmmmmi!” He was greeting a favorite uncle, Abu Dia, and when breakfast was called I met the great man. He told story after story with a stone-straight face and a subtle, sincere voice that had everybody in tears from laughter, including myself even though I could barely understand a word. Nael turned to me, his eyes moist with mirth, and asked, “Did you ever watch the Cosby Show?”
“I think Abu Dia would be bigger than Cosby. He says all of that with no preparation.”
(p. 147) The kids were adorable and funny and full of energy, and they played any game they could think of while we picked olives. Armored vehicles patrolled the access roads that ran along the Fence, and each time they came into view the kids would excitedly yell, “Hummar! Hummar!”
When things became too quiet we’d call out each other’s names: “Ya Shadi!” and wait for acknowledgment: “Na’am?” and ask, “Keef al saha?” (How’s the health?), “Shu akhbarak?” (What’s new?), or “Keef halak?” (How are you?) Qais told me to answer, “Ahsan minak.” (Better than you.)
When that got old, I started listing in Arabic all the things I was better than, including carrots, Yasser Arafat, and the King Hussein Bridge. When I said I was better than khara (excrement), Qais laughed and asked, “W’Allah?”
“Taqriban,” I answered cheerfully (almost), and everyone laughed.
Days of Penitence
(p. 155) “No. These may be my last days. In a way, I hope so.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. He sighed exhaustedly. “Ya skuchaiu po-Allah.” (I miss God.)
Suddenly I was overwhelmed by a flash of anger. I wanted to shout, “Fine, just give up and sleep in for all of eternity! How can you even say that to me?”
But who could watch so many proud young women and dignified old men humiliated at checkpoints? Who could watch the obscenity of helpless, impoverished, dispossessed people being bombed in Gaza like fish in a barrel? How long could and should someone stand it? A diminished life was better than no life. There was always a secret space no oppression could ever touch. But how could a valiant, or a sensitive soul bear it?
CHAPTER 7: ARAFAT’S FUNERAL
The beginning of this chapter should have been a section called “Grapes of Aboud” that ended up getting cut. Read it here.
(p. 158) But I loved the star- and crescent-shaped lights glowing in windows and public squares and the special greetings of the season.
One evening two friends from Jayyous named Ali and Fadi were visiting Ramallah, and they invited me to join them for Iftar at a restaurant called Tel al Qamar (Moon Hill) on the top floor of a building on Main Street. Ali was a dapper high school counselor with a mellow baritone voice and an impeccably-groomed goatee. Fadi was a skinny young man with big brown eyes who liked to make puns in English. He had just come back from the Muqataa, where he’d delivered homemade food to his brother who worked as a guard there.
I asked Fadi, “How’s old Arafat doing anyway?”
“He is fine,” Fadi said. “You know any good Arafat jokes?”
I told him I didn’t know any Arafat jokes, and his eyes lit up at the prospect of a new audience. He told me a few that made fun of how Arafat’s lips trembled involuntarily:
There was an earthquake in Palestine. Why? Arafat decided to kiss the ground.
A man asked Arafat, ‘Why do your lips always move like that?’ Arafat answered indignantly, ‘I’m talking on the telephone!’ An aide beside him started moving his lips, too. The man asked, ‘What are you doing?’ The aide answered, ‘I’m receiving a fax.’
Someone asked Arafat, ‘Why do your lips move like that?’ Arafat said, ‘Sorry, my mouth is in Area C.’
Others made fun of Arafat’s powerlessness:
At a press conference after Israel bombed the Muqataa, Arafat held up two fingers. A reporter said, ‘Are you crazy? Why are you making a V for Victory sign?!’ Arafat said, ‘No, no, I’m saying stop bombing, I only have two rooms left!’
Fadi was interrupted mid-joke by the call to prayer. We got in line for appetizers: dates, almond juice, and vegetable soup infused with cardamom. Several men lit cigarettes immediately, but neither Ali nor Fadi did. I remarked on this to Ali.
He said almost cheerfully, “Sometimes in prison, the Israelis will take away a man’s cigarettes to pressure him. I don’t want anyone to have this kind of power over me.”
I looked at him in amazement. “How do you say this kind of thing with a smile on your face?”
He shrugged. “Yes, we smile. But you have to understand. Sometimes we are smiling with our mouths only.”
A musician played the lute and sang beautifully, and a view of the waxing crescent moon was framed perfectly in a window. Eating good food felt marvelous after the long hungry day. I could practically feel the nutrients percolating giddily into every cell.
On the first of November, I was finally able to move into the apartment provided by my employer. It had a huge living room with comfy blue couches, satellite TV, a sunroom, a bright, clean kitchen, and three bedrooms. The windows overlooked the Plaza Mall shopping center, which has a Western-style supermarket, hair salon, Italian restaurant, and dry cleaners on the lower level. Upstairs is a coffee house popular with teenagers, a fast-food joint called McChain Burger, a toy store, and an astronomically expensive United Colors of Benetton.
Palm trees lined the front of the mall, and a mosque with a tall white minaret blasted the call to prayer five times a day from behind it. Empty villas sat in the hills above, the abodes of diaspora Palestinians who had left due to the violence or been denied IDs or visas and thus had been bureaucratically expelled. I frequently heard gunfire from the settlements nearby, but it was usually far away and soon became part of the normal background noise.
On the day I moved in, three Israelis were killed and more than thirty wounded in a suicide bombing at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. The Nablus branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility. The bomber was only sixteen years old. The PA condemned the bombing, and a Nablus spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said the bombing was an “embarrassment to the Palestinians seeking to reorganize their own internal affairs” (even though the Al Aqsa Brigades had committed the previous bombing).
The news didn’t make much of an impact in Ramallah. Three more people killed far away by a group none of us belonged to barely registered. It was just more of the same—carnage on top of carnage, crimes on top of crimes, and no end in sight.
Osama called a few nights later and invited me to a restaurant called Ziryab (‘blackbird’). It was the nickname of a famed Iraqi poet, musician, fashion designer, geographer, botanist, and astronomer in the 9th century Umayyad court of Córdoba in Islamic Spain. He was reportedly a former African slave, and his nickname was due to his dark complexion, eloquence, and melodious voice.
(p. 159) It seemed a strangely irreverent thing to do given that only a few days earlier, Arafat had been flown to a hospital in Paris suffering from a mysterious illness.
I mentioned this to Osama as we were walking home. He said worriedly, “Yes. If Arafat dies, there’s a chance Israel will invade Ramallah with tanks and helicopters again.”
A thrill of excitement passed through me, followed closely by dread. A full-scale invasion in Ramallah… Tanks! In the streets! Jets and helicopters circling overhead. Blood, bodies, and broken glass. It seemed impossible that it could happen here. But it had already happened here, in 2002.
Rest in Peace, Abu Ammar
(p. 162) A brief controversy arose over Arafat’s final resting place. He wanted to be buried in East Jerusalem near the Al Aqsa Mosque, which everyone knew the Israeli government would never allow. In order to avoid an awkward confrontation, Palestinian leaders suggested he be buried in a stone tomb in the Muqataa in Ramallah, which could be disinterred and reburied if and when East Jerusalem came under Palestinian sovereignty.
(p. 170) Soon it was time for me to go. Dan had agreed to pick me up and take me back to Jayyous in a borrowed van. I shook Omar’s hand and held it for a while as I met his pale blue eyes with mine. There was nothing to say. We were fundamentally no different from each other. Yet he knew as well as I did that I would never have to come to terms with a misfortune anywhere near as incomprehensible as his. Something horrific might happen to me, but I probably wouldn’t be shot for no reason, and I certainly wouldn’t be transferred to a foreign country and held captive by people whose indifference was somehow worse, more degrading, than cruelty.
I left the hospital in a daze. After walking a few steps in the fresh air, I ducked behind a column and sank to the ground and wept. On the weight of my tears was not just Omar but all the people like him whose stories would never be told and for whom help would never come.