The young man struggled to find the words: ‘people come here all the time searching for a headline. Chasing a story. They ask questions but don’t listen to the answers. They only want to hear about struggle, blood and suffering. But look at us, we are living. Every day we are living. And we are about more than this conflict.’
He is right. There exists a Palestine that we don’t see. Partly through circumstance but also partly by choice.
This Palestine has a day to day existence beyond the conflict as well as a narrative that is sometimes completely separate from it. A Palestine that celebrates birth and achievement as much as it suffers death and tragedy.
Everyone here has a story. Harrowing, shocking, heart breaking stories. Stories told in many different voices. Voices weighed down with sadness and regret, others raised with pride and fire while some recount their experiences with humor as if to say ‘do what you will but nothing will take away my capacity for joy’.
Ahmad, the boy at the sheesha place, spent the last two years in an Israeli jail. Part of a group of young men who dreamt of freeing their land and made unfortunate choices, he was taken forcefully from his home and tortured for information.
He and his friends laughed and joked as they shared their stories with us. He described the various methods of torture he underwent. He spoke of being made to stand in his underclothes in the middle of winter while the guards doused him with freezing water.
‘Next time bring me some soap so I can wash myself’ he would say to them. Often provoking another beating.
He stopped and stared at the floor for a few moments, remembering. Then he lifted his head and said ‘When I got out of jail I came to a realization. I realized that Palestine does not belong to us and we are nothing but ants to be stepped on.’
He was released from prison six months ago. He is 19 and no longer involved in politics.
There’s the gentleman who helps at school whose leg was shot off while protecting his friend in the fighting of 2002. He lost an eye to a bullet in 1987. His mother suffered a fatal heart attack upon hearing the news. She thought he had died.
He was also imprisoned. He spent about four years in jail in the 1980’s.
Everyone I speak to wants out. Everyone I speak to dreams of a life outside of war. A life where they are free to live and raise their families. A life where they can get in their car and drive without the fear of checkpoints and borders.
As I sat, lost in thought, Ahmad got up to leave. Dusting off his jeans he said matter of factly ‘We have lost Palestine. We have nothing and we will never get anything. Forget the politics. I go online sometimes to see pictures of the land that used to be mine. I know I will never see it again.’