Mail, in most stable countries, is serious business, as well it should be. Consider, as a case in point, the quasi-official motto — at times cited impishly — of the United States Postal Service, attesting to postmen’s pledge to deliver your mail to your doorstep, and always on time. ‘Neither snow, nor rain, nor the gloom of night”, the motto declaims, “stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.’
And consider, further still the sanctity that Ernest Vincent Wright, author of Gadsby, the 1939 playful, lipogram novel (written in its entirety without the letter ‘e’) attributes to a stamped, addressed envelope once you’ve dropped it in a mailbox. “A magical transformation occurs, and anybody who now should wilfully purloin it, or obstruct its trip in any way will find prison doors awaiting him,” he wrote. “This small stamp which you stuck on it is, you might say, a postal official going right along with it, having it always in his sight.”
Well, not when the mail is addressed to Palestinians living in their occupied homeland!
It was revealed last week that ten tonnes of postal items, addressed to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, had been lying dumped in Jordan since 2010 because Israel, for security, administrative or, as seems more likely, vindictive reasons decided to hold up their delivery.
No come on, you may say, measured against the angst Palestinians feel as an occupied people, surely delay in receiving their mail is the least of it. Assuredly, there are more dreadful things to fret over, living as you do under the rule of the gun. True, very true, but the incident served as a reminder to this columnist, living a comfortable, normal life in the Palestinian diaspora, of the terrors of life under occupation, the kind of life that entails fear, stress, depression and a thousand and one other petty humiliations that a Palestinian endures from sunrise to sunset everyday of every week, and every week of every month as an occupied human being.
Folks, let’s face it, we have long since ceased to turn away with outrage or with nauseated disbelief at how Israel, after five decades at it, has mastered the art of being an occupier, one that, with impressive ease and with nary a furtive glance over its shoulder, now goes about demolishing homes, imposing curfews, robbing its victims of their land and water resources and building a separation-apartheid wall well into the West Bank, (effectively annexing 10 per cent of it), an enterprise that has pulled apart Palestinians from one another, villagers from their fields, students from their schools, patients from their hospitals, breadwinners from their workplace, and the rest of it.
And for a gut-wrenching image of that quotidian ordeal, watch Palestinian labourers at 5am, packed like cattle, as they inch through caged checkpoints to get to the other side of the wall. Nathan Thrall wrote in The Guardian on August 14 of one such labourer: “Ahmad’s alarm went off at 3am. That’s what time the 25-year-old from the village of Yatta needs to get up in order to get through the checkpoint and avoid being late for his construction job, which starts in [occupied] Jerusalem at 7am”.
We can rationalise that kind of unspeakable suffering in our thinking minds, but it is doubtful that we can actualise it in our objective reality — without going insane.
A political column is, or ideally should be, devoted to original political commentary by the columnist, not to lengthy quotations from other sources. But this week, dear reader, I ask for your indulgence, since I want to share with you a lengthy quotation from a report released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about daily life in Hebron, a city whose ache under occupation mirrors that of other cities in the West Bank. Since the report was issued in 2009, the situation there has, by all accounts, worsened considerably. We read this: “Movement restrictions, together with [colonist] violence, are affecting the Palestinians in their daily lives. Hundreds of Palestinian families have to pass through checkpoints in order to buy food, where they often face intimidation by [colonists]. Women are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse, the more so because Palestinians are not allowed to drive along many of these streets, forcing women to cross to the checkpoints on foot.
“... Because of closed roads, old people are forced to log to log shopping bags over extended distances. Ambulances taking Palestinian residents to hospital in emergencies can face long delays at checkpoints. Families have been forced to carry their sick relatives on stretchers or use mules to transport them to a pick-up points where an ambulance is waiting ... Economic life in the old city almost died out because of movement restrictions and [colonist] violence.
“Most Palestinians in the old city have had to put wire mesh on their windows and keep them shut as they risk having urine, rotten vegetables or stones thrown at them through the windows. For children, even the daily walk to a school can be frightening, as [colonists] may threaten them or throw stones at them ...”
Only a fool would romanticise this kind of hardship as a tool to build character. Rather, it’s a tool intended to break you in body and spirit. And never mind the horrors of living under occupation in the Gaza Strip!
The tale of the eight-year delay in delivering Palestinians their mail found a prominent, albeit jocular spot in western media last week, but that’s only because people in the western world live normal lives, where they expect normal tasks to be performed in normal ways, under normal circumstances. For ordinary Palestinians under occupation, the news report was a snoozer. A Palestinian mother, say, will challenge you instead with this one pressing question: “When will I get my permit to visit my 13-year-old son, sentenced to four years in a military prison for throwing stones at an Israeli soldier?”
Two alternate realities with two alternate rules and two alternate ways of abstracting the world. And, sorry, Palestinians don’t do normal.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.