Ramallah. Walking down the main street in al-Tireh or al-Masyoon neighbourhoods makes you feel you've been teleported to another universe! Fancy restaurants where you need to speak English to read the menu, a young woman jogging by with a fluffy puppy, big houses, new cars, wide streets, trimmed grass, everything that lends the city an illusion of stability and gives the impression of not being under occupation. But the moment you try to get out of Ramallah and bump into the first checkpoint, reality hits you in the face: You're in a prison! A nice prison, but a prison all the same.
Most of us, Palestinians, are torn between trying to keep on living a normal life or focusing all the time on the occupation. Maybe we can't change anything on the ground, but we should probably admit the reality of our situation – occupation – and commit ourselves to that central problem. Nothing is wrong with wanting to have new houses and cars, but many Palestinians are chained to long-term bank loans, and all these repayment schedules drive us away from what I want to call the ‘core struggle’.
Bank loans: even if you're going to buy a new house, an exciting experience for anyone anywhere in the world, you should be aware if you live in Palestine that your choice is amazingly restricted. If you want to buy an apartment in a high rise, there’s a good chance the view from your bedroom will be an Israeli settlement. Even so you’d be lucky. How many buyers can convince a lender to make allowances for the unstable timing of her salary, given the fragile financial situation in our holiest of holy lands?
This morning I was watching al-Taghreeba, a very moving series about the nakba. I began to cry when I saw how people in 1948 were driven from their homes and how they kept the keys because they thought they’d be back in a few days. Ten minutes later I was talking to my husband about a trip abroad this summer and the need to take a break after a gruelling year. Like many people here, I’m schizophrenic when it comes to daily life. One minute I’m crying about the nakba and the next I’m trying to plan a holiday.
But holidays are problematic, like everything else. We don't have an airport and we’re not allowed to go to Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv, which means I must fly from Amman. I have to remind myself that the first stage of any holiday is the unpredictable journey from Ramallah to Amman and that we’ll need to come back by the same route. To cross to and from Jordan at the Allenby Bridge means going through three checkpoints – Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian – getting on and off buses at each point. Anything can happen: the road may be closed, the border may be closed, anything! It's even harder when the crossing is crowded and you have to wait for several hours without knowing whether you’ll be processed. Once, I remember, the Israeli soldiers refused to let us pass and sent us away. We had to come back early the following day. That taught me that I have to be in Amman at least one day before my flight.
Is any of this ‘normal’? Normality is what I want. And travelling would remind me of reality. Every time I went travelling I’d be taking the road out of hell. My envy of normal people living in normal countries would be my permanent companion. Yet these small excursions away from daily life would probably remind me who I am.
Living under Israeli occupation is like having a low door to your house, if you happen to have a house. You can always get in and out, but eventually you’ll end up with a chronic stoop.