Saturday, June 4, 2011

Refusing to Leave, or Leaving all the time.

An excellent episode of Radiolab talked about cities, their behaviors as organisms (growing, breathing, many units making up a whole, product in, product out) but their weirdly unique characteristic of never dying. Around here, where occupiers and cultures come and go to the tune of 7000, 10000 year histories (Jericho, anyone?), it's clear that where people dig in there heels it takes quite the circumstance to get them to leave. Radiolab gives the amazing example of Centraila, a little podunk town in Pennsylvania that was home to an underground coal fire for years, people factionalizing and bickering and never wanting to leave, the ground under their feet literally burning. People fought tooth and nail to stay there. When asked to explain why they held on so long, experts simply chalk it up to human nature. The primal desire to hold onto what you know, to what's yours.

So of course, when you're Palestinian, and someone says, "hey, leave!" you say "hell no!" And everyone knows what happened from there. A century long push-pull, mostly pushing, of new neighbors greeted with hospitality and co-existence to a tenuous balance under a mutual occupier to armed struggle and aggression and mutual conflict to the ever diminishing tracts of crowded, occupied, and strangled land under a militant, victorious, zealous foreign government. Und so weiter.

The very core of the tragedy, from a sustained humanitarian suffering perspective, is that Palestine was not destroyed quickly. It's currently halfway through an era-long strangulation, which, as the imagery suggests, isn't pretty. Couple that with the spiky, unnatural settlement compounds multiplying all over like torturous barbs, and the land starts to appear as some kind of BDSM victim. Sure, some might find that sort of thing quite cool, but I must remind everyone that a key difference between serial rape and an adventurous relationship are the issues of violence and consent.

Wow. So now kink is a metaphor for Palestine. I'm SO going to hell. Moving beyond that...

In short, the people are primally and inextricably obligated to resist the destruction of their homeland. But like the Radiolab guys mention, cities don't die, they just change hands. I think also of Istanbul, that many-named city, where buildings like the Aya Sophia were once sites of pagan rituals, then roman temples, then churches, then mosques, now 'theological monuments.' We're watching that kind of spatial-cultural takeover happen in real time. Ask an Israeli about their cultural food. Shakshouka? Felafel? Hummus (Hummus wars?)? as Arab as the hijab. Or, my favorite example, the Mid-East floor squeegee/mop:

This humble device is an ingenious method of cleaning floors, and both my Israeli and Palestinian friends have championed it as an invention of their culture, going so far as to suggest we open a business selling them, usually at the same time as deriding this:

as a unilaterally inferior way of cleaning the crap off the floor. As the American in Palestine I'm resigned to a healthy dose of anti-American cultural ribbing, but hey, if you're going to criticize, at least do it with things you don't share with your sworn enemy. But that's just it. These two cultures are and have been more similar than dissimilar, from their food to their hygiene to their religious customs. Remember that throw-away comment on hijabs? It's not like Muslims have a corner on the obscured hair market. Sometimes there's room for cultural mixing, where the two peoples create a hybrid existence that is rich and varied, but when the two are kept in constant inequality, one a militarized occupier and the other a powerless, voiceless prisoner, such possibilities are no more than a nice idea. Until the power balance is shifted Palestinians are just an oppressed people who


Now, as I'm in a retrospective vein, it's with a slightly heavy heart that I turn to where I grew up. I'm from, factually, not arguably, one of the most beautiful places on earth. It's boggling how amazing Sundance is.

This picturesque landscape raised me, trained me, gave me my desires, opinions, prejudices. I had no fear of the forest night, and knew I could walk with friends in the streets unmolested and sleep wherever we wished once night adventures wore down at 3 in the morning. We skied every day. Salt Lake, as well, is an escape from rural Sundance, and also my home. It too has never mistreated me. Yet if you told me I had to live there for the next 10 years I would probably mutiny. I have been traveling all my life and constantly running away from Utah. When I return to the states it is imperative to my plans that I move to Chicago or the Bay Area as soon as possible.

Clearly I'm from a radically different environment. Through the comfort and security afforded me by my privilege I have only the slightest qualms about abandoning my land, primarily because I know I will probably always be able to return. Palestinians, obliteratingly obviously, do not have that privilege. Their land has been threatened for close to a hundred years, and resistance is their existence. Some days I see what's happening in Palestine and I want it to die, everyone packing up and moving to the margins or wherever fate takes them, so that the suffering ends, people can have closure, and have lives concerned with something beyond the conflict.

But in reality I want to see more justice than that.

No comments:

Blog Archive