Monday, July 28, 2008

I slowly learned to live with the weapons

After being in the occupied territories for nearly six weeks, I now had to start packing my things. My daily life here had been characterised by a high level of intensity, lots of socialising, parties and endless discussions and I had mixed feelings about leaving Ramallah. On the one hand, I was tired because of all the experiences, impressions and the high level of intensity, but, on the other hand, I was sad to have to leave all the incredible people I have met, many of whom had become my friends. They had welcomed me in to their lives with no reservations and they’d become a part of my everyday life here as a temporary guest.

My life in the limestone house of Al Tireh had stabilised into a kind of daily life, or at least some recognisable daily patterns had emerged. The people in the local supermarket had started to greet me when I came to buy fruit, yoghurt and lots of water and I’d found a favourite chocolate out of the selection on their shelves and had understood that they don’t sell beer and other alcoholic beverages as it’s a ‘Muslim supermarket’. Alcohol had to be bought in the Christian shops.

I had become used to writing in my blog almost every morning and it felt good to filter through my experiences in this way and to take a break to reflect on what had happened over the days. The nightmares of violent searches of my house that I had when I first arrived had slowly dissolved, and all the weapons I constantly faced in the West Bank no longer frightened me. When the Israeli soldier leaned over me in the bus and her automatic rifle nudged me on the shoulder, it was just normal to me now — or at least it had become normal. The armed guards that turn up outside of the house every evening had become people that I greet when I got home late in the evening. Their AK47 machine guns were just part of their gear.

The first nights that I slept in my apartment, I had had some terrible nightmares; a kind of after image from all the documentaries about Israeli attacks and abuses in the occupied territories that I had seen, mixed in with images of the heavily armed guards just outside my door who sat around their fire all night long. Yet another addition to the general atmosphere was my landlord’s guard dog that was chained up right outside my window. It was a large German Shepherd who during the night would regularly start barking and howling in tune with the other chained dogs in the area. The armed guards outside turned out to be stationed there in order to protect the head of intelligence of the Palestinian army who lived in the house below. I never really found out what they were protecting him from because the Israelis usually use advanced remote controlled rockets if they want to kill Palestinians who they want to get out of the way. Perhaps they were posted there to protect him against rival Palestinian factions.

However, it is actually quite frightening to realise to what extent I have accepted living in a war zone and how I’ve got used to the weapons of which there are so many here. This adaptation, though, must nonetheless get stored somehow in the nervous system and the potential violence that, like an evil spirit, is present everywhere spreads across all of the occupied territories, showing its face constantly through daily shootings and killings. So it had slowly become part of my everyday life, actually a horrible thought but which says something about what war does to human beings. I remembered the words of a researcher of evolution: the human is the animal that can adapt to anything.

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