Tightening the Siege

by Amal Amireh

“We Travel Like Other People”

“Mamnou3,”* she said from behind the window. The harshness of the word was neither softened by its familiarity nor by the lazy gesture that accompanied it when she threw my application back to me.

It was eleven on a cloudless June day. I have been standing in line since 5 o’clock that morning. I was twenty-four. She looked eighteen. I ventured, “Why?”

Her laziness immediately turned into impatience. “Mamnou3!” She repeated, already looking at the next heavily stamped travel application in front of her. Then as if to end any possibility of a conversation, and my future with it, she uttered the dreaded words: “Roukh baitak!”**

There she was in my city, actually few blocks from my home, shooing me away in an Arabic accented with contempt, and deciding my life for me. Her military uniform, her gun which is never far from her, and the bureaucratic authority of an illegal occupation gave her words a finality designed to crush. Just like bulldozers.

These words were the final stamp that sealed my application—an application that I had submitted a month earlier requiring permission to travel from El Bireh in the West Bank to Boston in the United States after receiving a Fulbright scholarship via AMIDEAST. I had graduated from the English Department at Birzeit University two years earlier, despite checkpoints and closures that in my senior year alone totaled seven months. This scholarship was my only chance for graduate education.

But the gods of military occupation had decreed that summer that no one between the ages of eighteen and thirty is allowed to leave the West Bank until further notice. Of course there was no official announcement of such a decree. That would spoil the arbitrariness of it all and give the occupied the dangerous notion that they are owed any explanation at all. You just learn of it when you compare notes with other crushed souls who were told to go home.

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Kama Sutra for Palestinian Intellectuals — Or, How to Love Mahmoud Darwish

by Amal Amireh

The new Syrian TV drama “In the Presence of Absence,” about the life of the poet Mahmoud Darwish, is giving some Palestinians an ulcer this Ramadan season. The series is being broadcast on several Arab satellite channels, including the Palestinian one. Some objected to the series before it was made because they thought those who were undertaking the project are doing it for profit and are not being faithful to the memory of Palestine’s national poet. Their effort to stop it didn’t pan out and now they are watching in horror as they see their beloved poet miscast, misrepresented, and twisted out of shape. The actor-criminal is one Firas Ibrahim that everyone seems to love to hate. Believe me, voodoo dolls of him will sell like hot qatayef in Rmallah.

They are lamenting that this great poet is being sacrificed on the altar of egos and art-for-profit. They are in a panic that the legacy of Darwish is in danger and that he is being mutilated for an audience that does not know much about him. Some of those objecting to this drama knew Darwish personally: they are friends, disciples, and colleagues. Some are readers who love the man for the poetry he wrote. I feel their pain!

But instead of using the occasion of a bad TV drama to celebrate the Darwish they love, to educate people about his poetry, to write articles that critique the drama they don’t approve of, I’m sad to report that two thousand Palestinian intellectuals are demanding taking the offensive drama off the air.  They have even demonstrated in front of Palestine TV to that effect. In other words, they are calling for censorship. Their love for Darwish seems to have obscured their vision.*

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