Politics as Usual

_42606761_water203My friend Silvia, from Deir Ballut village, had barely had time to sit down after returning through checkpoints and roadblocks from her university in Nablus, when she turned to me and asked, “Want to hear a joke?”

I couldn’t resist, so she began:

A man saved a girl from dying, and in the process a cat died. A journalist went to talk with the man and told him, “Tomorrow in the newspaper I’m going to write, ‘American hero saves girl from death.'”

“But I’m not American,” replied the man.

“Okay,” said the journalist, “I’ll write, ‘Spanish hero saves girl from death.'”

“But I’m not Spanish,” said the man, “I’m Palestinian.”

The next day the newspaper came out. The headline read, “Arab terrorist kills innocent cat.”

We laughed, continued to tell a few more jokes, drank tea, and talked. As the rest of the world continues to respond to the Palestinian elections as though Palestinians have killed an innocent cat, life here continues. Of course, the elections and the political situation in general are never far from people’s minds these days. Every time any leader makes a speech about Hamas or the Danish cartoon, the room I’m in goes quiet as people’s eyes are glued to the television.

I’ve gotten into the habit of asking children who they voted for, although of course they didn’t actually vote. Usually they say “Fatah” or “Hamas,” generally following the party line of their parents. I was in the home of a Palestinian policeman (Fatah) a couple weeks ago and I asked his 3-year-old daughter who she voted for. “Hamas,” she replied. Her father looked at her incredulously and asked, “Whose daughter are you?” She quickly corrected herself: “Fatah.” I was in the home of another friend a few days ago and I asked his 3-year-old son who he voted for. “Dr. Waji,” he replied, giving me the name of the specific candidate who had gone from Fatah to independent during a series of misunderstandings among the Salfit Fatah party.

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Last night my host family here in Dheisheh told me that the PA has been meeting and making as many decisions and changes as they can before Hamas takes power. Apparently they have voted for many significant powers to be transferred back from the parliament to the president’s office (Abu Mazen / Mahmoud Abbas is still president), essentially meaning that Fatah will retain power. “Will Hamas accept this?” I asked. “They have no choice,” was the response. And meanwhile, I heard that the US Congress has officially decided to boycott the PA because Hamas will be taking power in the PLC.

It’s all a bit of a mess, but people are excited to see what will happen. Even people heavily involved in the Fatah movement have told me, “The people taught us a lesson. We weren’t united, we ran too many candidates and our support was split, we were corrupt, people wanted change.” Several people have even told me that Hamas is the only party that can make peace with Israel and make it look like a victory for the Palestinian people, rather than a compromise of more and more rights. I’m curious to see what that might look like, although I’m not convinced the Palestinians will have a partner after the Israeli elections. Netanyahu’s mean face is plastered on huge billboards all over Israel right now, with the simple phrase, “Strong against Hamas.” Olmert continues to talk about unilateral steps that he will be “forced” to take. It doesn’t seem anyone is willing to actually negotiate. I’m not sure if this will make any concrete difference in people’s lives here, since negotiations have mostly benefited Israelis and harmed Palestinians, but again, I’m curious to see what will happen.

Last night while we were watching the news in Dheisheh refugee camp, my host father told me about the “old days” when there was no electricity. Dheisheh got electricity in 1978, but before then, he remembers going with his father and brothers to a big room to watch the only television in the camp, run by a motor. Now it’s hard to find a house that doesn’t have the TV on all the time. Usually it’s music videos from Lebanon and Egypt, interspersed with the news, but these past few weeks people have definitely been watching more of the news. And it seems people are especially interested in what’s happening in Israel as well. Every day people ask each other if Sharon is still alive, though the next comment is usually, “It doesn’t really matter. And anyway, it’s like with Arafat, he’s been dead for a while and they’ll just tell us that he’s dead when they want to, probably around Israeli election time.” Last week we read the streaming headline on the bottom of the screen that Sharon might die that night, followed by the statement: “Before he goes to the grave, ask him how many centimeters of Palestinian land he’s taking with him.” My host family started laughing and said, “I can’t believe they wrote that on the news, that’s great!” Last night we watched a very cheaply made program that is on every night, in which a person holds up an Israeli newspaper, and a voice translates the headlines into Arabic. I asked my host father if there’s any commentary. “No,” he said, “just the translation.”

The program ended, and on came a speech from a Hizbollah leader about Denmark. I asked my host family why the community is now so organized in boycotting Denmark and Norway, and not Israel and the US. “There’s no substitute for the Israeli vegetarian schnitzel I’ve been feeding you,” responded my host mother. It’s not about the schnitzel, I told her, and I’d happily give that up as part of a boycott. But they would hear nothing of it. We’re too intertwined with each other, they said. Israel is here, it’s not going away, whereas Denmark is not “here” (in Palestine) in the same way and it’s not so difficult to boycott them. Another friend said something similar. “When the Arab world and the rest of the world implements real sanctions and boycotts and divestment against Israel, then you can start talking to us about boycotting.” I see the point, but I’m still not entirely sure I agree that one needs to come before the other. In any case, it does frustrate me that Denmark and Norway are taking the blame for what is perpetrated more by the US than any other country in the world. Of course, I’m happy on a personal level not to walk down Salah al-Din Street in East Jerusalem and see the sign, “Americans are not welcome in our land,” but on a political level I do think that would make a lot more sense than, “Danish are not welcome in our land,” which I saw in the window of a shoe store yesterday.

Well, I suppose I did have a lot to say about politics after all. I had planned to write more about the daily interactions I’ve been having, but I suppose politics infuses them all these days. I will share one final story which perhaps can be seen as a feminist response to the political situation, but which is probably more indicative of teenage girls’ obsession with love. On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, almost every girl I know defied the school’s rules and wore red to school. Some of the bolder girls wore red jackets and shoes, others wore red t-shirts under their uniforms. One friend told me, “The headmistress made an announcement that everyone wearing red would be punished, but what are they going to do, punish the whole school?” If only this principle would be applied again to resistance, maybe something could change for the better.