The Zen master hit me on the arm and said ‘where did the words go?’ They left me somewhere in Palestine, between Hebron and the Jordan Valley and Khan al Ahmar. I was writing, elsewhere, but here I couldn’t find the words. Which words would I use to describe how it felt the morning after i saw three people shot in hebron the same day sixty were killed in gaza. How it was that night after we went out in the streets again only to see more boys tear gassed, hear news of more arrests, unable to do anything, then later sitting awake at 3am unable to sleep thinking of gaza, gaza, gaza. How could this be happening and I didn’t know about it? Knew about it from books but not like this. These are the things I didn’t want to know.
Almost a year has passed and now my head is filled with End. The places I’ve been and things I’ve seen swirl in front of me: camping by rivers, cycling up mountains, the first sight of the sea in Croatia since Belgium, sitting for an hour dazzled by its blueness. What does it mean all this beauty I’ve seen? And all the pain and injustice, what of that? I saw a boy shot through the head, saw where the bullet went in through his eye and left the top of his head. And somewhere along the way I stopped asking why. We left the hospital that day happy that he was alive. Some tourists approached us one Friday in hebron and asked why are they shooting at the boys. I answered because it’s Friday. They shoot them every Friday. But it wasn’t good enough. Why do they shoot people. Why do they kill people. I didn’t find out. I went there and I didn’t find out. Maybe we don’t have to find out we just have to stop it.
And what will you do with your one wild and precious life? Was it enough? What happens now? Somehow I’m yearning for grey skies, green fields, order, home, although I know when I get them I’ll be dissatisfied. My heart is broken as my trip reveals the patterns of longing, love and loss I thought I was running away from. Turns out that like the patriarchy, you can run towards these things too, even on a bicycle. Struggling up a hill in Europe in 40 degree heat and I don’t want to be on a bicycle any more I’d rather be crying on a train thinking of kisses beside a lake or falling asleep under an olive tree.
My head and the fire that burns within for Palestine are satisfied by the thought of telling the story, not just my story but the stories of occupation, of the lives not living crushed under it but thriving despite of it. Stories of artists painting loss and pain and resistance and refusing to leave the land that is theirs. Stories of boys and their cameras, their peaceful weapons. Of a man paid by the Israelis to watch over the machines they will use to steal water from his land, his grandfather’s land. Of a village standing up against the bulldozers come to destroy them. Of planting trees in the midday heat watched over by a settlement and the wall. Of cycling through Jerusalem the streets lined with Israeli and US flags and donning my keffiyeh in solidarity because I can’t bear the sight of them. For now at least telling these stories will have to be enough. I’ll speak and write and tell anyone who listens.
Come and hear me give a talk about my trip at Bristol Bike Project in Hamilton House, Bristol on 13th August 6-7pm.
Boycott Israel https://bdsmovement.net
Some things I wrote for ISM during my time in Palestine: