In the Shadow of a Military Pillbox

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, May 29, 2003

The weather in our area is just as hot these days as the political situation. We simply jumped out of winter clothes into summer clothes. But that suits me very well since I am not a winter person at all, and very often I used to contemplate hibernating during the winter season. Then I would feel ashamed of myself thinking of all the people who have been living in refugee camps for the last 55 years, or those people whose homes have been demolished.

But I must admit, the early mornings in summer are beautiful. I am able to enjoy a good book out on the terrace or a nice walk around the garden picking mint leaves for my morning cup of tea.Yet the sight of the military pillbox overlooking our street always makes me feel uneasy and reminds me that I am not as free as I want to be enjoying my terrace and garden.That monstrosity is so much out of place and does not at all fit with the landscape of our area. But then all the landscape of Palestine has been raped and this imposing pillbox is but one more sign that these are not normal times.

Almost every time I look at that pillbox I imagine a scenario with the faceless guard cooped up inside it. Bet he would love to be with his family in those early hours of the morning sipping his coffee and cuddling with his children. And I am sure he misses them most of all in the lonely winter and on cold days. I often hear myself asking him why he was there, and who was he really guarding? In our culture a neighbor has a special status and we are supposed to be cordial and hospitable to our neighbors. But then I remind myself that this is no regular neighbor. This is a military occupation, and his presence there is supposedly for security reasons. Under a military occupation, even a flying bird in the air is a threat to the security of the military machine.Yet I cannot help but think that those young men serving in the army are human beings to start with, and the occupation has probably turned them into hard, bitter and brutal stormtroopers. No wonder the number of refuseniks is increasing.They would rather serve sentences in jail than lose their humanity.

What choice do we Palestinians have for not losing our humanity when so much brutality is imposed on us? Everywhere we turn around to go about our business we are faced with the occupation machine either blocking our ways, grabbing more of our land and groves, demolishing our homes, shelling residential areas and killing young and old, while thousands are held in jail. The humiliation along with those brutal measures is part of the occupation policy — to make life difficult in an effort to break the people and make them lose hope or turn them into violent time bombs.

So really the big challenge for us Palestinians is how to maintain our humanity and how to derive hope out of a hopeless situation.That is not an easy task after all those long years of dispossession and occupation. And unfortunately I do not think the Road Map is the answer. I am not dealing with the Road Map in this article because a lot has been written about it, and professional politicians and writers have analysed it. But I can envisage one thing at least: Unless Israel offers a genuine gesture for peace, the Road Map will be doomed to failure like its predecessor, the Oslo Accords, and all the agreements and plans that followed it.

Mr. Sharon claims he has no problem with the Palestinian people. His problem is with the Palestinian leadership. Maybe it is also our problem, because we think our leadership was too accommodating to Israel. With good faith and a yearning for peace, the Palestinian leadership made too many concessions and agreed to establish a state on only 22 percent of historic Palestine before guaranteeing the withdrawal of Israel from the Occupied Territories. What has Israel offered as a peace gesture? A separation wall?

Israel has a problem admitting that it has done the Palestinians a grave injustice. Its noncompliance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 regarding the right of return of refugees, and Security Council Resolution 242 regarding the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, certainly confirm that Israel has offered the Palestinians absolutely nothing to give them hope for justice, liberation and peace.

In the meantime we continue to draw on our resources for hope. This past week, alongside the traditional rallies and seminars commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Nakba [the dispossession of the Palestinian people for the establishment of the state of Israel], a number of civil society organizations were working diligently and relentlessly in innovative ways with the young people and the community.

The National Conservatory of Music (NCM) held its concert in Jerusalem for the winners of the Marcel Khalifeh award. Marcel Khalifeh is a Lebanese musician who forfeited his award from the Palestinian Ministry of Culture for the benefit of the young musicians at the NCM. Twenty-nine young musicians, girls and boys from Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem ranging from ages 7 to 20 performed on the piano, violin, flute, clarinet, lute (oud) and zither (qanoun). In spite of the roadblocks they and their teachers showed up at the Palestinian National Theatre (known as the Hakawati). They brightened our hearts and assured us that nobody can crush our spirits as long as we have a way of expressing our feelings through music. At the same time El-Funoun Dance Troupe gave a new performance in Ramallah. With colorful outfits they danced and swayed to music, feeling a taste of freedom as they moved elegantly from one scene to another asserting the presence of Palestinian culture and folklore in spite of the siege and curfews.

At Rawdat El-Zuhur we finally had our open house and the jubilee photo exhibit which was postponed from last year. The pride the children took in showing their guests their art work, science experiments, computer skills, sports, drama, folk dancing and music assured us that those children are the source of our hope. Later in the afternoon I watched the Helen Keller schoolchildren doing gymnastics. I was absolutely amazed by the excellence of the performance of those visually impaired children who seemed so determined to overcome all obstacles to make life as normal as possible.

As much as we derive hope from those young people, they should be our incentive to keep working for justice, peace and liberation so as to give them hope in turn and raison d’etre.


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