Saturday, June 28, 2008

War as daily life

If, like me, you don’t read the Arabic newspapers, it can be difficult to follow the clashes that are happening almost daily around the West Bank and in Gaza. The local news stream is mainly in Arabic so it’s difficult to get an overview. Here, I am thinking particularly of clashes connected to the Israeli occupation that, amongst the locals, have a tendency to become normalised and get pushed a bit into the background. This happens especially when you live in Ramallah where, at first sight, the war is not experienced as particularly present. Many of my Palestinian friends are aware of this tendency to just accept things the way they are and not bother a lot when there has been an Israeli raid or an arrest in a village up north. But when we discuss this process of normalisation, several of them have underlined that it’s important to not just accept checkpoints and the armed Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian territories even though it is part of everyday life. It’s just not right! A parallel tendency is that due to the limited freedom of movement, people just snuggle up in the big cities and avoid travelling between the cities in the West Bank. Many say that from Ramallah to Hebron is as far as from Ramallah to New York. The cities have deliberately and definitely been isolated. The connections are limited and people have a tendency to stay in their city and try to make the best of life where they are. During my stay, I’ve yet to meet a Palestinian visiting from any of the other big cities in the West Bank such as Nablus, Hebron, Jenin, and definitely not from Gaza which is entirely cut off. After I’d found the online English-language, Palestinian Ma’an News Agency on the net the other day (http://www.maannews.net/en/index.php), an entirely different image emerged of the situation in the occupied territories. It was a graver picture than what I’d experienced and enjoyed here in Ramallah with the ongoing socialising and parties. When you look at Ma’an’s telegram list, you see that there are constant hits and Israeli raids. In the last week alone four Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in connection with a series of clashes and searches in the West Bank. I asked Samar about this low key war which apparently happens almost entirely hidden from view and she said that there could easily be shootings by Israelis on the main street right now as we were sitting in Café Pronto drinking lemonade and that we would probably never even hear about it. In this way, the war has become daily life. This normalising process has been staged by the very mobile and unpredictable Israeli occupation and, at the same time, from the Palestinian side, this process is probably a natural reaction to living in an environment characterised by continuous war. Ma’an, and also Electronic Intifada (http://electronicintifada.net), are very useful ways to zoom out of the everyday and to follow and understand the more brutal reality of the occupied territories as seen from above.

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