Opinion

Palestinian pupils yawning

El bostezo de los alumnos palestinos

The epic is all very well: flags, anthems, trumpets, uniforms, medals, martyrs, heroes; anyone who has experienced an act with these ingredients up close cannot help but feel sincere and momentary emotion.

International legality is another field of enormous relevance: United Nations resolutions, the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, every centimetre that is advanced in these instances is an achievement that cannot be rolled back, a new brick in the construction of a society regulated by justice and law, and therefore those responsible for its violation can be denounced; success is also usually temporary in this case, given the surprising impunity of non-compliance.

There is another space that is more difficult to access: that of the everyday.

It turns out that the moments of the epic and of international tribunals might be said to be public holidays, but our lives are mostly spent on weekdays.

The spring of 2021 and its Ramadan have been marked in Palestine-Israel by the umpteenth repression of Palestinian civilians in the wake of the umpteenth case of confiscation of Palestinian property to be handed over to settlers, plus accumulated frustration. And this time coincides with the recent reading and discovery of 'I have seen Ramallah', an autobiographical novel by the Palestinian writer Murid Barguti, born in the West Bank in 1944 and who died in Amman in February 2021 (a discovery to thank Separata Árabe, a website and reading club on Arab literature with Silvia Rubio and Maribel González behind it).

FP/MAHMOUD KHATAB  -   Un niño palestino observa el humo que sale de los objetivos durante los ataques aéreos israelíes en la región de Khan Yunis, al sur de Gaza, controlada por el movimiento Hamás, el 11 de mayo de 2021. - Israel lanzó mortíferos ataques aéreos sobre Gaza en respuesta a una andanada de cohetes lanzados por el movimiento islamista Hamás
FP/MAHMOUD KHATAB  -   A Palestinian boy watches smoke rising from targets during Israeli airstrikes in the Hamas-controlled Khan Yunis region of southern Gaza on May 11, 2021. - Israel launched deadly air strikes on Gaza in response to a barrage of rockets fired by the Islamist Hamas movement.

"It is enough to suffer the first experience of exile to feel exiled forever", says Barguti in a book in which he conveys feelings and impressions of his first visit to Ramallah after 30 years of exile. The 1967 war broke out when he was studying in Cairo and he could not return to his village until the mid-1990s, when Oslo opened a window that has now been definitively ruined by reality.

Conflict turns normality into a symbol, and people disappear. "The usual Jerusalem, the one of our little moments, the one we quickly forgot because we didn't have to remember it, because it was as normal as water was water, and lightning was lightning. But when it slipped through our fingers," writes Barguti, "it climbed upwards and became a symbol. To the sky. All struggles prefer symbols. Jerusalem is now the Jerusalem of theology. The world is concerned with the 'status' of Jerusalem, with its idea and its legend. But they don't care about our life in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem of our life.

Barguti recalls in the novel the everyday life lost and impossible to recover: "They have taken the addresses of our houses and the dust on our stairs (...). They have taken away the yawning of the pupils at the desks, the drowsiness of the last class on Tuesdays. They have kept my grandmother's footsteps on the way to Mrs. Hafiza's house".

The double estrangement of the exile and the poet appears constantly in the book: impossible to return to childhood, frozen in the memory of an unreachable past; and without a future. "The occupation left us as we were. This is its crime. It is not that it forbade us to remember yesterday with ease, but that it deprived us of the beautiful uncertainty of tomorrow".

REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA  -   Manifestantes palestinos durante una protesta contra Israel en la valla fronteriza entre Israel y Gaza, en el sur de la Franja de Gaza, el 25 de octubre de 2019
REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA  -   Manifestantes palestinos durante una protesta contra Israel en la valla fronteriza entre Israel y Gaza, en el sur de la Franja de Gaza, el 25 de octubre de 2019

Permanent temporariness has set in in Palestine and among Palestinians: "Since '67 everything we do is temporary and 'until things become clearer'. But things have not been cleared up after thirty years," writes Barguti, not two decades after the novel was published. And the situation is compounded by the arbitrariness always present in authoritarian and/or colonial regimes.

"Exile is like death. We think it can only happen to others". Barguti's life gives names and scenarios to the Palestinian diaspora, the Gulf monarchies as a work destination, the dispersion of the dead and the living throughout the Middle East and the rest of the planet, the dependence on the telephone, today on networks, always in search of papers that often open borders except one's own.

Palestinian dispersion does not prevent violence that is also dispersed, such as the murder of two of Barghouti's friends, the writer Gassan Kanafani, murdered in Beirut in 1972, and the cartoonist Nayi Ali, murdered in London in 1987.

I have seen Ramallah' is an extraordinary invitation to learn from a poet about the situation of Palestinians in exile and on the ground, marked by colonisation.

Let us remember that the settlers gave their name to colonisation, a perspective that illuminates and facilitates the understanding of the Palestinian question, with the great peculiarity - the journalist Teresa Aranguren argues - that here we are witnessing a strange case in which the coloniser wants to expel the colonised, beyond exploiting them (which is also the case).

The biography of Barguti and many Palestinians is marked by the 1967 Six-Day War, the origin of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"In our calendar, numbers lose their neutral, objective meaning and become something that can only mean one thing. Since the 1967 disaster, I have not been able to look at the number 67 again without thinking of defeat. I see it immersed in the telephone number of a relative or a friend, on the door of a hotel room, on the number plate of a car driving down any street in any country in the world, on the entrance to the cinema or the theatre.

Numbers, many numbers, have taken over the Palestinian conflict: 1948, 67, 73, 82, 88, 93, 242, 338, dates and UN resolutions that Palestinian children know with a premature political coming of age.

Two decades after the Madrid Peace Conference and a couple of years after the Oslo Accords, the two-state solution (the Palestinian one on 20 per cent of historic Palestine, territory truffled by 700,000 settlers) is now impossible, which may not be bad news; and the Palestinian administration created in the process runs the risk of being a collaborator of the occupation (for example in security matters) or directly part of the colonial administration. Murid Barguti and Edward Said were highly critical of Oslo already in the 1990s, and time has proved them right.

The current situation is one of more than fragmentation of Israeli society and the political landscape, with four general elections in two years; to which must be added the further postponement of the Palestinian elections originally scheduled for this May, fifteen years after the last ones.

In this May 2021 of growing violence, phantoms are appearing, such as a new intifada to provide a temporary outlet for the humiliation; and others may even be thinking of a new episode of ethnic cleansing (as the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé calls what happened in 1948) that would break the demographic balance tied at 6.8 million people (the same number of Arabs as Jews, not counting the Palestinians in neighbouring countries).

The systematic violation of Palestinian rights in a kind of new apartheid, institutionalised racial discrimination in South Africa, is a diagnosis shared both by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, with a report released this April on the subject, and by politicians with a proven track record such as Shlomo Ben Ali, who was Israel's foreign minister as well as ambassador to Spain.

REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA  -   Manifestantes palestinos durante una protesta contra Israel en la valla fronteriza entre Israel y Gaza, en el sur de la Franja de Gaza, el 25 de octubre de 2019

It is surprising that the South African diagnosis does not correspond to a South African solution, since any other alternative would be unacceptable today - the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people - based on the conviction that the continuation of the current situation (a non-democratic Jewish confessional state with third-rate Arab citizens) is a sure bet on instability and a burden for future development.

Question: can there be any project for the future other than a single democratic state that would provide for the coexistence of all the people living in Palestine-Israel? 

If we want to find people in the past, present and future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the yawning Palestinian pupils at their desks, we will have to turn to literature, because the media do not have that as their main mission, but to find clients, often presenting a non-existent equidistance: it is not the same to be coloniser as colonised, occupier as occupied, militia as nuclear power, aggressor as attacked.

"The pillow is the daily Last Judgement", says Murid Barguti, pointing to that moment of solitude in which every human being finds himself.