Monday, June 30, 2014

Fight the Palestinian Leaders

Mohammad, 83 years old, lives in al-Azzeh camp, the smallest in the West Bank and where the unemployment rate is high. “I cannot explain my feelings with one sentence,” he says. “Those who have no country have no dignity. I have no dignity. I always think of the past. Life was better then. We had our land. Now if you don’t work, you don’t eat. I feel angry. I was a fighter against the British and the Zionists. If I had the strength to fight, I will fight the Palestinian leaders.

This photo is one in a black and white collection by French photographer Anne Paq, titled "Generations of Palestinian Exile" published on the Electronic Intifada website.

Paq wrote:

"With the conviction that the right of return is not a side issue but is at the core of the so-called conflict, this series depicts a Palestinian refugee child with a grandparent, a first-generation refugee. Through it i hope to emphasize not only the duration of the plight of the Palestinian refugees, but also to visualize the extraordinary bond and solidarity that Palestinian refugees share across generations, preserving their dignity and determination during the long wait and fight for justice."

For me, this 83 year old man's words resonated loudly. I don't believe anything else needs to be said, other than that Hajj Mohammad is still feeling angry, is not pacified, calls a spade a spade, and is not the typical stuck-in-the-rosy-past geezer.

I'm reminded of one experience I had with old people in Qaddoura refugee camp in Ramallah. Many people don't even know a camp exists there, due to the construction of trade centers and buildings and the presence of a few bars around or a few yards away from the camp. I was writing a feature story for Al Jazeera English and I was running on a very tight deadline. I thought that it would be easy as pie; after all I needed was a quote from five different people, take their photo, and quickly transcribe/write the piece up. I wanted to interview people from the camp, workers in their stores, the falafel guy. I was politely rebuffed almost every single time. People didn't want their names to be written down, they sure as hell didn't want their pictures taken, and while some were willing to speak candidly they refused to be on record. I  was in my full asshole journalist persona, and I was getting frustrated. I went to the cart-sellers and made small talk about vegetables before asking them sweetly if they would mind getting interviewed briefly. They did mind. "We don't want any trouble," they said. The falafel guy was more generous in his explanation. "I just had a run in with the Palestinian Authority a few months ago. They're watching me. I'm just a man who sells falafel. God be with you. Allah ma'ik."

Time was running low. What I thought wouldn't take more than an hour and half stretched into three hours, and I was tired of walking all over the city center begging people to speak into my recorder and pose for a photo. It was also something of an eye-opener for my fresh off the mill mind. The academics, the professionals, the NGO people, the elite activists--they all had no qualms in publicly speaking about a sensitive topic. Even if there were repercussions, they would be backed up some way or another. The other people however, didn't talk about politics not because they were indifferent or desensitized or "too stupid." They kept their mouths shut because there was a real threat against them, their families, their livelihoods. And they had no one to back them up.

I made my way back to Qaddoura and noticed an old woman slowly shuffling by, wearing the traditional thob and carrying a load on her head. She smiled at me as I walked up to her, which was all the encouragement I needed.

After we exchanged greetings and she showered me with phrases full of blessings, I asked her the question. Immediately, her whole expression changed, she dropped her eyes from my face and stared hard past my shoulder.

"Oh look, my son is coming. I must be on my way. ma'salameh." She walked off at a brisk pace. I stared after her, standing there on that narrow street where there was no son, and no other people.

Fight those corrupt, exploitative, collaborative bastards. Fight the leaders.

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