'Despite it all we still laugh'
A vignette of modern Palestine shows the invidious strategy Israel uses to ethnically cleanse while playing by the rules, describes Tamar Fleishman*
from the West Bank
This March marked the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria's liberation from the French occupation that lasted 162 years. Throughout the years of French rule, tens of thousands of immigrants from France and its neighbouring countries settled on Algerian land and were granted French citizenship, while the original residents of the land were granted no rights under the apartheid rule.
On 18 March 1962, after nearly eight straight years of guerrilla warfare led by the National Liberation Front (FLN), the French army withdrew and as a result approximately a million European settlers fled.
And on the very week which marks this historic event, in which the rule of one people over another ended, thousands of victims and thousands of bristling arms gave witness to the fact that in Palestine the occupation forces were still invading and destroying the land and people of Palestine, Britain's one-time colony.
Men and women in uniforms under the lead of people from the Civil Administration came busting out of the side gate of Qalandiya checkpoint. They flanked the peddlers in the neighbouring squares and along the main road, confiscating their merchandise, throwing the content of carts into the garbage, spreading fear in the hearts of the people and causing financial damage to each one of the victims without any remorse.
This wasn't the first time that such a violent action was implemented against the peddlers, under the pretext that they don't have permits, and it probably isn't the last. Experience has shown that the silence that falls after such events is temporary and fragile, and one can't say from where and when the representatives of the occupation will bust out again. But these downtrodden people don't have the time to take a break. They hurry to get up from the wreckage, overcome their desperation, rise up like the Phoenix and start all over again.
Peddling was not the goal they set for themselves nor was it the childhood dream of these people. Peddling is the default of reality and they cling to it with their last strength, pushing the loaded cart from one place to the other, from dawn to dusk, presenting their merchandise before tens of thousands of people who are forced to stand in cramped lines around the checkpoint. Most of them don't live there but are migrating workers who rent a room or a bed in some stranger's house and return to their families only once a week.
One such person is old Abu Suleiman from Hebron, who sells candy for a shekel and a bag of salted dried beans for two shekels.
Such is also Fadi whose family originally came from Bisan, which after the expulsion of its residents during the Nakba became Beit Shean. Most of his family members are refugees in Jordan. His wife and children are in Jenin and he himself lives at Qalandiya refugee camp.
And such is also my friend Abdallah Tamimi -- the firstborn son of a family that originally came from the village Bir Nizam (near the extended family that came from Nabi-Salah) where they owned a plot of land, whose father used to work as a night guard at a factory in Petah-Tikva. "When I was little, I used to love it when my father took me for a stroll in Petah Tikva. Today I'm not even allowed to go to Jerusalem, our Jerusalem," said Abdallah.
When the gates of Israel closed before the residents of the West Bank, Abdallah's father, whose employers had never once questioned his reliability and honesty over the years, had now turned into a security threat along with the rest of his people as an act of collective punishment, and was fired. To add insult to injury, the family's plot of land was taken from it by the authorities of the Israeli state: "The settlement Halamish is built on our land," added Abdallah. In search of a source of income and in hope of providing a proper educational structure, the family uprooted and moved to Ar-Ram, where the educational systems' good reputation was widely known.
But this glimmer of hope was also shattered. A wall was built around Ar-Ram, the prestigious educational facilities were closed, the opportunities for employment were reduced, and Abdallah who had graduated from high school with honours and dreamt of going to university, was forced to help provide for the family. Now he stands in for his father at the square, by the family stand that is loaded with seasonal fruit.
A couple of months ago Abdallah went to the offices of the Civil Administration to try his luck and explained: "I need to make a living. I'm about to get married and I don't even have a house. Give me a job, any job so that I could make a living, either that or give me a permit for a stand." As a response he heard: "You want a job? Go to Jordan, work there," and then the official added: "You will never get a permit!"
"They simply don't want us here." That was Abdallah's conclusion. Then he laughed and added: "And despite it all we still laugh."
Words the likes of which I had heard from my grandfather when he would talk about life in that far away country, where he was part of a persecuted minority. Because the laughter of the weak can't be beaten, not even with a thousand rifles.
* The writer is a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and a volunteer for the organisation Breaking the Silence.