The Nation is pleased to publish an excerpt from Wendy Pearlman’s new book, Occupied Voices: Stries of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada, recently released by NationBooks. Pearlman’s book expertly weaves elements of her personal journey to Palestine with the oral histories of a broad range of Palestinians trying to live their lives under siege. Click here for more info and to order a copy of Occupied Voices.
Suzanne, TV Reporter:
I was in the fourth grade when the first Intifada started [in 1987]. So you can say that my whole childhood was spent during the Intifada. And I suffered as all Palestinians suffered. Because I was a child at the time, most of my experiences revolved around school. I can still remember how it felt to sit in class and hear all of the shooting and screaming coming from outside. You just tried to close your eyes and concentrate on the lesson, but it was so hard to do. There is something else that I will never forget. My school was in an area where there were confrontations, so the Israelis set up barriers to block the road that led to the school. We were able to move the lower barrier but we couldn’t move the top one. This made a little open space, sort of like a tunnel.
So every day, we got down on our hands and knees and crawled through the little tunnel. This was the only way to pass through and reach the school. It was so humiliating. Can you imagine? You and your teacher and your classmates–everyone who has to get to school–crouching on their knees. Every day we had to do it. Our hands and knees would get dirty. Our uniforms and socks would get dirty.
This is something I will never forget as long as I live. I had to get on my hands and knees every day, twice a day, in order to go to school. What more can I tell you than that?
It was hard being a kid during the first Intifada, in an atmosphere where there was no place for the kinds of feelings you begin to have as you grow up…. It was shameful to play silly games. It was shameful to listen to a love song. How could you listen to a love song while people are getting killed? You couldn’t have a birthday party. What if you had a party and played music and your neighbor heard, and someone in your neighbor’s family has been killed? You just couldn’t do it. And for many years, our lives just stopped at 5:00 because it was dangerous to go out after that….
Because of all of this, I have a hurt inside of me, and I don’t think it will ever go away.
The hurt is called Palestine. Even if someday we have peace, the hurt will never disappear. I wish I could have had a chance to be a kid. But I can’t be ten or eleven anymore. The time has passed.
Because of all this I also have a lot of spirit inside of me. It’s in my blood.
So seven years ago, when they said that all of a sudden there were peace negotiations, I felt like it was betrayal. I thought, “Oh no! All of the years of bloodshed and all of the terrible things that we endured, and then nothing.” I couldn’t believe that some form of settling would be enough.
With time, I accepted the hope that negotiations could bring us a better life. But it turned out to be nothing but disappointment. We heard all of the words about peace but never felt it. Nothing really changed. We were essentially living a big, fake peace. Everyone else in the world was happy about the peace, just smiling and saying that this was finally the end to the Palestinian problem. The world was thinking that they had done something for us. But they hadn’t actually done a thing.
When [my sister] Jehan and I were in college we participated in these encounters with Israeli youth. We wanted to know how they think. The exchanges were sponsored by an organization, but I can’t say that it was a peace organization. It wasn’t about peace as much as it was about taking photographs. They would bring us together in a restaurant and then snap one hundred photographs so they could say, “Look! Here are Palestinians and Israelis sitting together and eating!”
Once we invited the Israelis to Ramallah, and we went to a restaurant decorated in traditional Palestinian style. We were looking at all of the Palestinian tapestries and pictures, and then we came to a map. I remember that there was a guy named Ben, and when he saw the map he said, “What is a map of Israel doing here?” And I said, “this is not Israel, this is Palestine!” We were both looking at the same thing and he said this is mine, and I said this is mine. And he wasn’t wrong and I wasn’t wrong.
You know what else the Israeli youth would tell us? They would say, “We might give you the right to live like everybody else, but every time we give you something you want more. So if we give you a little, how can we guarantee that you will be satisfied?”
What they don’t see is that they’ve never given us enough. Never. That’s why it continues like this. Until they give us a fair share of the land, the water, the borders, it will continue like this is forever. The people might get tired and it might stop for a while, but then it will all build up inside and we’ll stand up again…
Many years have passed in which Palestinians were not really living. What we need is a huge change. And maybe then there will be peace.