Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My new favorite thing to say in Arabic is "kul ishi teht assaitara," everything is under control.

It's taken on a new meaning today.

Yesterday Haj Sami had some good news. Representatives from the Israeli Civil Administration  came to Al Aqaba to meet with him and talk about the status of the village. They sat with him for an hour and a half, drinking coffee and tea and answering all of Haj Sami’s burning questions-“why do you damage our houses?” “why do you stop Israelis at the checkpoint when they want to see Al Aqaba?” “why do you not give us permission to build here?” The general’s responses varied…. “I’m just doing my job,” “Well, just don’t build too quickly” and “I want to help you with the checkpoints, and make a Master Plan for the village.” Haj Sami told me all of this over the phone, and he sounded pleased. A visit like this hadn’t happened for a long time, and it seemed like communication with the army was finally opening up.
The next morning I taxied to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, where Haj Sami was attending a conference for rural development. After he gave me directions over the phone, he told me hurriedly, “the soldiers came to Al Aqaba today, to give seven new demolition orders.” He hung up. As I got into the taxi, I called my friend and told him I’d be late for our meeting, but I’d call him when I was finished at the conference. He asked,
“Kul ishi teht assaitara?”
“Kul ishi teht assaitara.” Saying it made me feel fluent, and confident. But I didn't feel under control. I was thinking,  there are bad guys. This isn’t a movie, but there are bad guys. 
The next hour was disorienting. Haj Sami and Ribhi, the engineer from Al Aqaba were at the post-conference buffet when I joined them. I looked at Haj Sami, someone had retrieved him a plate of food but he didn’t look hungry. I didn’t know what to do. The world was still turning, the Ramallah bubble was still a bubble, and these dozens of rural developers who lived under occupation were chatting away and eating from plates heaped with chicken, fish and stuffed eggplant. This was a time to relax, a time for a little bit of optimism. But after we finished our lunch and I escorted Haj Sami down to the parking garage, he asked me, “why, why do they say this, and do this?” He was choked up…“why are the Jewish like this?” He’d never asked that question before. I didn’t know what to say.
I helped Ribhi hoist Haj Sami into the driver’s seat of his car, and promised to visit the village tomorrow, and write some letters. As the car drove off and I headed for the elevators, I wondered what the hell I was doing. I want this visitor’s program to work, I want tens of thousands of dollars for Rebuilding Alliance so the 2nd and 3rd house can get built, I want to put a roof and windows over the 4th floor of the kindergarten, I want to make a football field, and an arts center, I want to smack as much infrastructure down in that village as humanly possible.

It gets so desensitizing after a while, it really does. To see human beings controlled like animals.

The army is training outside the village right now. If I open my front door I can see them on the hill with their red lasers and flashlights.