הצרות של אבו עומר
בעת העגלה מקלנדיה
Abu Omar's troubles
abu-omar's heart is woven into his skin, a man without undertones,
ambiguity, double meanings, everything straightforward, everything said,
all there, a good man.
a man whose life is shattering, in these very days, like everyone
else's, and especially, a friend.
maybe the jobs he had when he used to work in israel were extremely
satisfying, or it might be an idealization of what was, when placed next
to the present, and therefore seems like a faraway good dream, maybe
because it isn't now, which seems the possible limits of misfortune.
with misty eyes he talks about how he used to work at the co-op (chain
supermarkets), and how he went with the other co-workers for a weekend
at a hotel, one time he remembers it was to dan-panorama in tel aviv,
another time it was to tiberias, where he also swam in the sea. he was
picked up on thursday and brought back saturday evening.
he had a salary, an occupation he seemed to enjoy, security, and
permanence or so it seemed, and freedom to travel from one place to
another, that is how he begot six children, the eldest 17 now, when he
was born he received a bonus of 150 shekels for the occasion.
those were good days.
since the beginning of the intifada, he is what occupation calls,
for unclear, or transparent, or explained or overt reasons, most of the
population, especially men and more particularly in their working years,
young breadwinners, have become 'prevented'. forbidden to enter israel.
which means that most of them hence lost their source of livelihood.
the 'prevented' are not accused of anything, nor are they taken for
questioning, or to administrative detention, or prison or some other
confinement. no one comes looking for them at night, and they are not
'killed' like flies using the renowned premeditated murder, which is
'targeted' (sikul memukad) as if by being called in this way it becomes
less of an execution without a trial, of who is apparently suspected of
something, and of all those who happened to be close, only because they
are palestinians, and human life when concerning palestinians, is not
something to keep, to cherish.
so what does 'prevented' mean.
'prevented' means prevented from working, and feeding your children, and
making a living. that's what it is.
in the beginning he was without work, like many, like most, then a few
years ago, he began moving loads in a wooden cart from one side of the
cp to the other. one of those sad jobs stemming from occupation and
the cp is a point of prevention. people arrive, mostly by taxi. private
cars very rarely can pass the cp. they get off at one side of the cp,
and stand in line; there they are subjected to its rules, its blows, to
the particular abuse this cp, and these soldiers, and this day, and
hour, hold in store.
here comes abu omar and his friends' job. for 7-10 shekels they will
move belongings of all kinds, mostly heavy ones, too heavy for the owner
to bear while queuing, from one side to the other, while the owner will
stand in line.
on this job, in the 'good days', from dawn to dusk, he earned 100
shekels a day, but mostly no more than 50-70, a day, a man with eight
we met abu-omar a few years ago, after he shyly approached us, didn't
know us then, but nevertheless, he asked whether we had an idea of how
to help qassam, his son, then nine and a half years old, who had
shrapnell in his head and suffered great pain. two years before, 2001,
kassen then eight, was standing close to a demonstration of boys from
Qalandiya refugee camp protesting against the checkpoint, and the
soldiers, as always, were shooting.
This is how it goes. children or teenagers throw, or don't throw,
stones, mainly at occupation's symbols; the wall, the fence, the cp,
mostly from afar, and soldiers shoot at them. three children have been
murdered this way.
qassam was standing on the side. small. and a soldier shot at him.
Just missed his head. The bullet hit a pole and qassam's head filled
up till then he was a good pupil, abu omar tells us. now, now not.
kessem's head, big, and crooked, and echoes an eggplant. very strange
looking. a sweet boy, smiles a lot, .
with the help of physicians for human rights, we arranged for qassam an
examination in Ichilov hospital in tel aviv. the parents were not
allowed to come with the child to the hospital, "prevented", only the
uncle who isn't was allowed, and us. We didn't mange to help qassam.
helping him requires an operation that costs too much money, and which
cannot be performed anywhere in the west bank.
there is no money.
and to sue the army for compensation is not possible, because it turns
out that if the process hadn't been done within three month of the
incident, one cannot make a claim, or file a complaint anymore.
as if when you sue them in 'time' it helps.
meanwhile qassam is alright. he doesn't always have pain, and he likes
school, although not very good, says abu omar, sewing his pain,
suppresses himself, endures.
abu omar is 40. his father was run over by a woman settler many years
ago. it was 1982.
ten years later, his mother hurried out to bring her son back home, abu
omar's youngest brother, who had participated in a demonstration of
teenagers, it was 1992, and was worried for him. she ran, was looking
for him, an old woman, and a soldier coming from her back, presses a
tear gas bomb to he face, 'hugging' her from the back, and she fell, and
the other wagoners like him a lot. It's difficult not to. he is a man
with out shades, everything on the surface, disturbingly honest, open,
with those warm warm eyes. when waiting for his turn he mostly falls
asleep, like a child, his face open to the sun, then he wakes up
alarmed, self conscious, shy, blood streaming, welling in his skin, and
all the rest laugh at him with affection.
a while after we were with his son qassam in Ichilov hospital, and some
time had passed, and we knew one another better, he one day told me with
reserved excitement, that his wife was asking my forgiveness. I have
never met his wife and this was extremely strange. puzzling. she used to
think, he explained, that all Jews were bad, then he looked down,
shifted his eyes, only in her heart she thought, he added, not meeting
my eyes, but thought so, yes, and asked him to come up to me and ask my
forgiveness for thinking this in the past.
qalandiya checkpoint is changing all the time. but these are physical
changes, cosmetic, however its essence doesn't change. a checkpoint. a
structure, which is a system, that is intended to prevent people to move
from one segment of their life to the other. forbidden to pass unless
proven 'allowed'. sometimes they are shades, sometimes they aren't, once
the passage is paved in concrete and once it's all plastic, the criteria
for passing is never constant, fixed, all this intentionally, as a
system... sometimes yes to teachers and no to merchants, sometimes woman
aren't allowed, but all men over 50 are, once only those who live in
ramallah and once all those who don't live in ramallah, once not to
everyone, once yes to everyone, sometimes the prevention is rendered
'politely', or not, sometimes with beating, one time everyone should
stand with their back, another they should crouch, in the mud, in the
rain, at times they should not pass some imaginary line because
otherwise they'll be sent to the end of the line, a punishment, so they
will learn.... the soldiers change, all ages, all units, but it doesn't
change anything regarding the essence, that it is a prevention of
movement, and of life, and all the different ways, are variations on the
same theme, the same essence, the same fundamental abuse.
these days the checkpoint has become something 'resembling' a huge
'terminal'; all the coarse stitches of violence, welded into sterility.
the soldiers in this new version of the cp don't have contact with the
palestinians any more, there won't be a need to shout with the usual
vulgarity, obtuseness, and cruelty, that which one cannot be mistaken
about. however now the abuse will be 'polite', sterile, removed, using
loud speakers, behind thick glass, and physical space, and background
colors, the palestinians from afar like mosquitoes on the window pane,
abstract, faceless, fluttering, the hands of the abuser won't touch that
which they are abusing..... all clean, all horrifying.. so the abuse
will appear ascetic, hidden..... occupation in its raw essence, in its
stinging disturbing, blunt nakedness... this version of qalandiya cp is
not temporary, doesn't seem temporary, it looks and says that the
checkpoint is here to stay... and that, it turns out, depresses people
more than anything else, so it seems.... more than getting wet in the
rain or burnt by the sun... more than the filth and dirt and absence of
toilet facilities, and the right over their time like clay, to mold and
perforate and crush in the hands of the young occupiers.... because as
it is, with the new yellow paint, and the signs and placards both in
hebrew and in arabic, and the conspicuous amount of money spent, and the
flower pots, and the neat cement lanes it looks like it will remain here
forever.... and a new lurking unease, a new peeling dread, is permeating
the air, the hearts, the color of the sky.... sadness, and a feeling
that it was the end, like commas, poured into, soaked, in the warm
wonderful survival beat of qalandiya.
a while ago the wagoners, at first only once in a while, but more and
more like what seemed an overall order, were sent back by the soldiers
who said that they were not permitted to move merchandise.
merchandise isn't always the quality but the quantity, not more than one
bag, one box, and that's it. it turns out though, that merchandise can
mean everything, vegetables bought in the market, or a refrigerator a
family bought in ramallah and want to move it to their house in ar-ram
or jerusalem, it means new cloths, or cups and glasses for the kitchen,
it's everything, if the soldiers want it as such.... more and more times
abu omar and his friends come to the standing place of the soldiers with
this or that that they were asked to move to the other side, asking as
usual to pass, but not, this is merchandise they are told, go back.
from making 50 or 70 shekels a day the very same amount abu omar makes
every two days.
35 shekels a day..
shadi passed by the cp, a 'high' officer in the dco (the dco is the
army's department 'marketed' as a department for the benefit of the
occupied, though in fact, it a system which sustains occupation, a place
for enlisting collaborators, and this is a place that as a system, don't
give passage permits). so abu-omar approached him and asked, and said,
and told, and pleaded.... and shadi said that yes, there was such an
order, which came from higher places this time, that you cannot transfer
merchandise through qalandiya, only through beituniya. because there
they pay vit. what shall we do then, abu omar asked. how shall we make a
living. alright, i'll speak to the checkpoint's commander, so he will
allow you more than one box. i'll ask him to loosen the grip, the
harshness, to be more flexible...... that is what shadi said, and went
and abu omar was hopeful... that is the way he is.
by the way, these lingual terminologies, of tax in beituniya, forbidding
'merchandise', are not accidental, are not detached.... they are part of
the attempt to turn the apartheid separation wall and with it qalandiya
checkpoint (that the word laundering has been calling for a while
'passage' and not a cp), to the new border between israel and
palestine.... to hint that qalandiya is a border, that's why like in a
border transferring merchandise demands paying tax... this is a
political statement that exposes political intentions.. it isn't said
explicitly, but it is indicated in things as such and in the mesh of
overt and covert 'laws' that exist there....
that way, all of a sudden, what was already difficult as it is became
almost impossible, unbearable. we were eight workers he tells me a few
days ago, a week maybe, four had left.
a few more days passed. by now each one of them works a day on and a day
off.... he reports.... hours of waiting will pass before someone under
these conditions will ask any of them to move something to the other
side. who under occupation when all are in a bad state will pay to have
a suitcase carried across, when he could carry it by himself, just as
only what cannot be carried, one will pay to pass in the cart.
but now, with this new law, anything bigger than a box can be called
merchandise, which means that anything for which their work is
required... and that is what happens..... by the way, we didn't check
whether in beituniya it is permitted.... most probably there they will
say only in qalandiya.
we asked him about omar his eldest 17 years old son that a while ago was
diagnosed with very high blood pressure. did they find out why, i asked.
no they haven't, he is taking medication but they don't know what is
wrong with him. they said that in hadassa or jordan they have equipment
to find out, but that costs money, which he doesn't have.... omar is
good at school, he adds, and the hope is that he may finish school and
go to university, and after a year maybe will be able to help in making
a living, then maybe they could send him to jordan and try and find out
why he had such high hazardous blood pressure.
he never looked so dejected, so despondent, says the children ask him
for money in the morning, 10 shekels each, so they can take transits to
school, pennies, but that he can't give them.. that he isn't a good
father......... what kind of a father is he, he says, what kind of a
father is he....
he tends to think he may not be a good enough father... feels guilty....
loaded to the brim with emotion, suffused in his skin, in his eyes,
everywhere.... tangled in his always open overflowing feelings, like
pearls glowing in the sun....
on ramadan, not the last one, he told me that there is this custom to
give presents to the children, something new, and also said, how can it
be that he won't be able to give them something, how can that be... what
kind of a father is he, he said then too... said that he was ashamed....
but he managed to give them something, he told me later.... something
small.... i am religious, he explained... i have to...
again and again he reiterates that how can it be that the same parcels
the soldiers forbid him and his friends to carry in their wagon, if
would be scattered amongst the children hanging around, who would take
them across, then it will be permitted, then they won't prevent their
passage, why then is it only when on a wagon, why is it only when taking
across meant a living, why only then do the soldiers call that
merchandise..... because if the issue was what they were carrying, the
type of 'the merchandise', why does its character as such, alters when
transferred in a different way... why.....
and then catches himself for being self centered, only said things about
himself, and didn't ask, smiling too, apologetically, asks how we were,
because that is the way he is. a good man.
a day or two passed.... shadi the dco officer passed again, he tells us,
and again he dared and pleaded and complained, and shadi said well i'll
talk to niv, the cp commander, who was the main one who sends them back,
time after time....
he waited a day, then approached niv and told him that shadi the dco
commander said that niv would be told that they should be let to work a
bit. niv said that it makes no difference what shadi said. i helped you
once, and you caused a problem he said. no, you won't take anything
abu omar explains that when he an azuz were at the haj in mecca, a car
with pittas arrived and wanted to cross the checkpoint, he was told he
couldn't and was sent back. the car owner approached the wagon owners
and asked them to take the pittas to the other side. niv the cp
commander saw the pittas in their wagons, sent them back, but since then
he won't permit any of them to pass with parcels, boxes, anything....
abu omar explained to niv that it wasn't their fault. that they were not
aware of that niv had sent the pittas back. how could they have known?
so you will learn, said 19 years old niv. after that we'll talk.
again a bit of hope, he tells us with excitement that a company who
arranges trips to mecca and which he helps from time to time in a sense
that he sends people to them was going to give him the gift of a trip on
their expense to the big haj.
this is the big haj which every man who isn't sick and can afford it
must do, he explains, must go there, this is our law.
there i'll pray he says, i'll rise my hands to god so he will help us.
we were there yesterday, last time, when we arrived he was just swinging
his fists to the sky, and shouting, his limbs scattering to all sides,
enraged, we have never seen him like this before, shouting in public, in
front of everybody, he is a shy person, he didn't notice us, that we
were watching, he was exactly sent back from the cp, and then he saw us,
and stopped. trying to calm down.
then he told us that niv the cp commander had left, and he thought well
good ridding. a new one arrived, so maybe, he hoped, and shadi had
promised, told him he'll tell the soldiers to show consideration, to be
more flexible with this merchandise instruction, that they will make a
distinction between what was a gift, personal, and what is in order to
sell later..... that they will understand that abu omar and his friends
must work... so a new one arrived instead of niv, a ro'i, and abu omar
with a new hope approached the cp pushing his wagon, loaded with a few
boxes.... and was sent back now...... you won't pass roi told him just
now, this is 'merchandise'..
you won't pass or make a living or live or eat, told him the new
commander, didn't hesitate....
cloths in a bag is merchandise? vegetables from the market is
merchandise? presents bought in ramallah for the holiday is merchandise?
his words were short, carved, his look turning around in circles, his
voice stronger than usual...
they don't want us to work. why?
again and again like a broken record, he points out what is so
strikingly illogical, what is crying out nakedly as abuse for its own
self and nothing else, and which is not consistent with their claim,
even if one accepts their legitimacy.... look, he points at a man barely
carrying two huge sacks, he will pass without a problem, you will see,
only we aren't allowed to receive seven shekels and take the things
across.... i told ro'i, he says, i told him...
as if there was ever a chance that niv or ro'i or their sort, could
possibly listen to him, and see him and contain him, and his needs, and
his children, and his gaping, entitled life, 'sprawled' in front of
them, so to find him innocent or guilty, to permit or deny him his
pennies..... will he who is willing to stand there, and by that alone,
crossed so many lines, of the humane, he who with his own hands and
existence is an executioner of occupation, he who makes sure that people
will not cross the cp, from one part of their life to the next, even if
following orders, he who is willing, who participates, he who executes,
who abuses, how could he possibly see and perceive the particular abu
omar, the unique, the distinct abu omar? his humanness, his realness,
his suffering, his right, his victimhoodness? how can it be that someone
will be there, and see abu omar? .... because had he seen abu omar, a
man, 40 years old, a father and son, and a man, that his blood is red
like there's, that is in pain when pricked, that brushes his teeth, and
showers, and throws his children to the sky, then catches them, who
likes red peppers and not tomatoes because he is a bit allergic, had he
seen all that he couldn't have been there....
if children will take what we have in these boxes, and move them by
foot, then it is alright? why is it only called merchandise when we
pass? why when in a car, or by foot, it is alright and in a wagon not?
why? why? why?
they don't want peace, he says..... they don't want peace echo the
others after him, vendors who the army tries to prevent them from making
a living, as a system, and the other wagoners, and the children who sell
peanuts and soldiers kick their pathetic tin containers and throw their
peanuts on the ground so to pick them up and clean them, and sell them
again...... they don't want peace.
abu omar, a friend, a gentle man with light in his eyes, a man who had
gone through everything, that his life it a path of loses, of anxieties,
a good man. abu omar lost his livelihood.