Palestine lies on a hospital bed and wants to die. Her heart has stopped beating, but doctors – the United Nations – bring her back to life.
Breathing again, Palestine explains to the UN that her attempted suicide must be seen as a political act. She is desperate and has suffered enough. She can’t cope with life anymore. Palestine’s decision to die greatly upsets the countries present in the hospital.
“Suicide Note from Palestine” is the latest piece performed by the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. Premiering on April 4, it is the first play since the theatre’s famous director Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead in Jenin two years ago.
I was irritated when I heard the title of the new Freedom Theatre production. “Suicide Note from Palestine”: isn’t this all too pessimistic? Haven’t we seen progress in Palestine when the United Nations’ General Assembly granted Palestine non-Member Observer State status in November of 2012?
Not at all said my friend Dominique who recently has spent four months in the West Bank: the state of Palestine today is bad. Here’s what Dominique told me upon her return to Europe from occupied Palestine.
“During my time in Palestine, I mostly stayed in Ramallah. I consider Ramallah a five star prison. It is a bubble, a mini version of Tel Aviv or Beirut. People like to go out on weekends and there is a real party scene.
However, the population is frustrated. Really frustrated. For four months before my arrival in January 2013, many offices of the Palestinian authorities were on strike. Schools were closed because the teachers hadn’t been paid. Instead of getting an education, children were playing in the streets. Many people in Ramallah have no job. And all the while, the Israeli settlements are growing.
I traveled a lot while being in Palestine. Together with the Israeli NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ I visited Susia, south of Hebron. On every little hill, there was a Jewish settlement. The NGO organizes trips to Palestine to show to Israelis the realities of the occupation.
In Susia, we visited Palestinians who live in tents right next to a settlement. Every day, they must fight for water and electricity. These people don’t care if Palestine is a UN Observer State or not. They suffer. The Israeli administration told them that they would dwell illegally – despite their clear proof of ownership of their land. The people living in the settlement on the other hand enjoy water, electricity and even a connection to a public transportation system.
My most valuable experience in Palestine was my visit to Balata
Many Israelis who traveled with me were not aware of what was happening here. It was noticeably visible in their faces. Human beings just like them, only living a few kilometers away, are struggling with third world problems: open garbage dumps, unemployment, lack of education, corruption and poverty.
These trips organized by ‘Breaking the Silence’ may be another step to peace. But to achieve this seemingly unachievable goal, the Israeli public had to do a mental U-turn. There is no hope for a solution coming from politicians.
It should be compulsory for every Israeli citizen to visit the occupied territories. The key for peace lies with Israel. They are the stronger party, they define the rules of engagement. But then again: Israel doesn’t need peace. It can prosper without it. For Israel, it is enough to control the territories and intervene with a military operation if the situation should become too volatile. They call this ‘moving the lawn’.
Unfortunately, the Palestinians are no better. Everybody’s goal is to enrich himself if given the chance. Nobody is focused on Palestine as a whole. Everybody aims for his very personal benefit. Occupation corrupts, on both sides.
Where there are no Jewish settlements, the Palestinians are building themselves, particularly near Ramallah. Construction is mostly done for Palestinians living abroad. They construct wildly, wherever they please, much like in Lebanon. Some euphemistically call this ‘building Palestine from the bottom up.’ However, no home in Palestine is built without using Israeli cement and other building material.
It is kind of ironic: the State of Palestine doesn’t exist, the future is uncertain, but despite the dire forecasts, money is invested in Palestine. Economy and politics have their own laws. The investors don’t seem to mind if the West Bank is occupied or independent.
Palestinians used to have two things they were proud of: unity and education. Looking around in Palestine today, the ignorance is shocking. Bir Zeit was once known as an excellent university. Those times are over. Of course demographic challenges like the youth bulge are an essential reason for this road to oblivion.
And unity? The one thing that Palestinians have in common is self-pity. After years of occupation, this is the only feeling that is left. Blame occupation for everything that goes wrong in your life! I have been to Yemen and people there are much worse off than in Palestine, with a lower standard of living. But never did I hear a Yemeni lament his fate. Some poor Yemenis even go to the mosque and spend the little money they can spare for Palestine. And in Palestine? Nothing! If Palestinians would develop some degree of initiative and accept a responsibility for their lives, this wouldn’t hurt.
I know a Palestinian woman holding a Lebanese passport who lives in Norway. She introduces herself as Palestinian to incite empathy. However on other occasions, she calls herself a Lebanese to draw admiring reactions…
My most valuable experience in Palestine was my visit to Balata, a refugee camp at the edge of Nablus. Balata was meant to be a temporary installation, but for over sixty years, the United Nations have been in charge of this camp. 78% of the population in Balata is under 29 years old. Children grow up headed for unemployment, with no perspective for a better life. These are children who will never have social recognition. These are children who must get on with a violent environment on a daily basis.
Like Layla, an eight years old girl whom I have met in Balata. Layla is heavily beaten several times a day by her mother. Noor, her mother, is very frustrated: with herself, her life, the refugee camp, Israel, everything.
But most tragically: Layla was literally asking to be hit. She refused to obey her mother although she knew what would follow. As if she wanted to draw the violent attention of her mother. Witnessing Noor and her daughter, I couldn’t sleep at night. I often cried. There was only hate in Noor’s eyes towards her child.
What is my conclusion from all of this? Frantz Fanon, the French psychiatrist, who has so fiercely written about the effects of colonization, once said: violence is a man re-creating himself.
And Jean-Paul Sartre, in his legendary preface to Fanon’s ‘Wretched of the Earth’, noted that ‘colonial aggression turns inward in a current of terror among the natives. If this suppressed fury fails to find an outlet, it turns in a vacuum and devastates the oppressed creatures themselves. They fight between each other because they cannot face the real enemy.’
In his productions, Juliano Mer-Khamis, the director of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, denounced social grievances within the Palestinian society such as the humiliation of women. There were numerous death threats and two attempts of arson before the fatal shots in the spring of 2011. If these violent acts were meant to re-create Palestine, they have failed. Palestine is slowly killed, from the outside and from the inside. While the world is watching.”