Personal note: it’s hard for me to talk in detail about the Israeli military occupation of Palestine.
-One reason is that I’m terrible at talking politics. I don’t have a television or speak Arabic well enough to listen to the radio, so news is slow getting to me. There are people doing a good job blogging the cold hard facts about Palestine and the military occupation of Palestine by Israel. They have a grasp of the politics and history of this situation. They share pictures of the devastation and humiliation Palestinians are subjected to on a daily basis.
Me? I’m a full time mom living under occupation. I see the occupation in terms of kids’ toys and groceries, safe playgrounds and clean bathrooms. My corner of Palestine is ruled by my 2 kids who need to eat, play, and get to bed before 9pm and who (I confess) I love more than anything else in the world.
-Which brings me to the second reason I don’t feel I can “blog for Palestine”. My life in Palestine is cushy compared to Palestinians who are living outside Ramallah. Ramallah is relatively stable, free of Israeli soldiers, and has the benefit of being on the media’s radar. If something big happens, coverage starts in Ramallah where one can find a 5 star hotel, a chain of American-style coffee shops called “Stars and Bucks” and a KFC.
Of course, coverage also seems to end in Ramallah because just outside Ramallah people are getting their homes demolished, people are being brutalized, imprisoned, and killed in actions sanctioned by Israel in the name of this occupation. When was the last time you heard media coverage about the West bank village of Az-Za’ayyem? What about ongoing shelling in Gaza? Did you hear that pin drop? So I don’t feel qualified to speak in broad terms about the occupation while I sit here in Ramallah as a privileged foreigner. But I will tell you about my “cushy” life under military occupation in Palestine. It counts…but not as much as if I were a mom in Gaza.
They call this the “Ramallah bubble.” The insinuation is that I am safer here than elsewhere in the West Bank. But Ramallah is still under military occupation and “bubble” is exactly right. It’s something rare and delicate that you can’t count on. And safety is relative, isn’t it?
I carry my passport everywhere, “just in case”. To drive to the next town causes me anxiety because if we get lost we inevitably end up on the wrong road headed to a military checkpoint or maybe (worse) a settlement. Not to mention the reports of Palestinians (or anyone assumed to be Palestinian) being attacked by Israeli settlers on small interior roads.
My eyes constantly flit to the 2 car seats full of everything that matters to me in the world as I drive from Ramallah to Jericho. “Is it worth it?” I ask myself. It’s unlikely that I would encounter any trouble, but it’s also true that I am closer to war, desperation, oppression and an unpredictable military presence than I have ever been.
*pop* goes our personal bubble:
Last week I went to Jerusalem to see the old city with a friend and her lovely 16 month old son, Z. I chose to leave my 2 kids with their Baba because I had an agenda (agendas and my kids don’t mix well) and I knew the day would be much longer than either of my kids would enjoy. Plus absence makes the heart grow fonder…it’s good to get a break now and again. Z did amazingly well, and at the end of the day I decided that I ought to bring my 2 kids to Jerusalem next time with no agenda and just spend a few hours wandering the old streets with them. It would be nice to do something outside our box and learn to travel a little more together. Plus we’d have pictures of it forever: them in the old city beside the beautiful antiquities, them walking the cobbled stones and winding streets. By the time I got home I had made up my mind and had even recruited my friend and her son to come back with us. Smiling, we agreed it would be a great way to spend a day together as 2 moms and 3 young kids with nothing to do but explore.
It took me until that evening to remember that my plan was impossible.
You see, my kids have a Palestinian dad. And while my American passport has a stamp that allows me to visit Israel, my kids were denied the same stamp when they entered Palestine 10 months ago from Jordan. So my American passport holding, Texan, home-birthed kids ages 2 and 4 have been denied entry to Israel, denied the very same stamp that their mother has. Are my 2 and 4 year old children a threat to Israeli security? Of course not. This is just a little peek at the big, Kafka-esque, crazy-making occupation machine. I can enter Israel, but my 2 and 4 year old kids cannot.
And while I’m venting, I might as well mention that my husband also cannot enter Israel. Ever. So any trips to the old city of Jerusalem or the beach at Tel Aviv will never shared with him. He can’t come to the airport to pick anyone up. If we need medical care from an Israeli hospital, he can’t get there.
Not being able to take my kids to Jerusalem was a rude awakening, and it is the first time the occupation has directly affected my children. The occupation suddenly felt personal and creepy, like an insult. Like a threat. Someone who doesn’t know them at all has decided precisely what my children are, and based on that they determined what my kids cannot do in their lifetimes. At 2 and 4 years old, their lives have already been restricted. Limited.
It’s not right. My kids are so young, the world should still be their oyster. That’s how I want to them to see the world they live in and that’s what we tell them (and I am fully aware that this is my version of the White Man’s Burden, because even with this restriction my kids are among the most privileged in the world).
This was also the first time it hit me just how powerless I am over here. Welcome to the occupation, mom. We’ll take it from here. Palestinians to the back of the bus.
If I want to travel out of Palestine I am funneled along with all West Bank residents through one (just one!) teeny tiny portal to the outside world called the Allenby Bridge where I can expect fees, questioning, long lines, dirty bathrooms, confusing processes, hostile soldiers, and a lot of stress. Did I mention I have 2 very young children who travel with me? And when I return, it’s a guessing game whether or not Israel will issue me a new visa and for how long. 3 months? 1 month? Or will they tell me I have 48 hours to get my things and go? I’m told never to use the word “home” when referring to Ramallah because I’m not allowed to live here. I’m told I must mention my strong desire to see holy sites in Israel or I will be denied that little stamp in my passport just like my kids.
None of this even begins to address daily life under occupation. Add kids and you have my daily life under occupation: off brand groceries, dismal playgrounds, iffy healthcare, electricity going out whenever it rains or if I plug in 3 appliances at once, inadequate sewage solutions, diesel fuel to heat my home…this blog.
The occupation does not entirely define Palestine.
Palestine is not the occupation. The occupation is like a cancer that Palestine is fighting: insidious and uninvited and apparently really damn hard to get rid of. Palestine itself is full of good people, and other loving moms who are also unhappy with broken or non-existent playgrounds and iffy healthcare. Moreover Palestine is full of people who are stronger and more resilient than myself and than most people I know. And it’s really beautiful here.
We moved here to be close to family, to see Palestine, and to permanently connect our children to this half of their cultural heritage. Seeing my kids get to know their Palestinian grandparents has been totally lovely. And both my kids speak a growing amount of Arabic and have a taste for Arabic food. They will never be able to eat those hockey pucks that pass for Falafel in the states! And they will not know what to do with fish sticks or bagels.
While I’m not yet sure where I fit in, or where we fit in as a family, here we are. We are making the best of it for now and I am enjoying blogging my personal experience of life under occupation. So there you have it: this is my non-political life in the eye of middle east politics. As you can see, the politics of the occupation are unavoidable no matter how hard you try. If you avoid checkpoints, your groceries will remind you.
Mom Thought for Today: a little laughter.
For some reason today the kids and I were talking about our “star signs”. Sufyan’s an Aquarius and Laila is a Capricorn. These are new words for my kids so they’ve both been practicing telling me over and over what their star signs are.
Sufyan says he is an “Aquarium.”
Laila swears she is a “Peppercorn.”
Yoga Thought for Today: asana with toddlers continues
I have been away from my practice for 2 weeks owing mostly to having had a visitor and prioritizing our excursions into Palestine. My body aches and I feel like I’ve got lead shoulder pads on. I realize once again that my practice is what is keeping me healthy and mobile. However, Laila is going through some serious separation anxiety right now and a closed door (while I go practice) is so overwhelming to her that I really can’t leave her. So we are trying an experiment. I am practicing in their playroom.
They are free to come and go, and they get to try some asana if they want. Plus they get to see me practice everyday so in some ways this is better for them because yoga practice will be a part of their awareness from this early stage in life. I always envied friends who’d grown up with yoga. I do miss closing a door and having some space to myself, but I’m sure there will be plenty of years ahead that I WISH they wanted to just come hang out with me. Insh’allah.