I am back to Nablus. And when you travel any place you go back to feels a bit like home. Every Tuesday the Turkish bath is destined for women and so I decided to come back for that. I of course also came because I like Nablus and the people I met here. The day I spent in the Hamman, or Turkish bath, was interesting. I was able to talk, or at least attempt to communicate with many Palestinian women. The Turkish bath becomes a huge party. Women smoke narghile, dance, drink teas and coffees, have beauty masks put on, massages, lay down in the hot stones, seat in the steam rooms, and of course talk. Although my experience in the Hamman was really interesting, as I just come back from watching Real Madrid beat Barcelona I feel I should talk about that.
I watched the game with Yahya, Ehab ( sam’s brothers) and Jaafar. It was with Jaafar and Yahya that I drove to Bethlehem and saw the wall. Today for the first time we talked of the Intifada. I dont know how it happened as Yahya does not usually talk that much and definitely not about politics. The thing is that life here is political so not talking about is not really an option. I think I asked him whether he remembered the second Intifada. I knew he would as he was 15 at the time. But my question just demonstrated my naivety. Learning about the Intifada from afar is just so different. Yahya told me that of course he did remember there was no way not to.
“I remember we were waiting for 2 weeks and we knew they would come any day. so we bought food. we were told not to leave the house but for the essential. every night i put Mahmoud ( his younger brother) to bed and told him stories so that he would not be scared. but the thing was that I was scared as hell. But just the first three days then you get used to it.” He showed me videos and spoke casually of being shot at with rubber bullets while rescuing people. I asked if he thought that that would be a third Intifada. he said no ” nothing can be worse anymore”. I asked what was worse. ” i lost 6 of my closest friends he said. that is the saddest. the rest you get used to” He showed me videos of the roads I now know being invaded by thanks, and houses demolished. He showed me human shields. And then said ” you know. i was next to a soldier and he shot at a kid purposely to miss. I asked him why he missed it. and he said he could not shoot a kid. he had kids of his own. he did not want to be there but had to. not all soldiers are bad. but you must understand that many of them do horrible things.”
I again had tears in my eyes. he spoke with calmness and that probably is what breaks me. he told me of being in jail. he told me of having his house invaded. of rescuing children. then we went to watch real madrid. Jaffar and i were supporting barcelona while Yahya and Ehab supported R Madrid. We smoked Narghile and he asked me to ask Jaafar how he felt about the Intifada. ” It is sad” he said quietly. He told me about having a soldier in his house, being tide, having eyes covered while special unit soldiers used his window to shoot. then he told me about his father going to another house they owned and not returning. mother sent jaafar to go after father, so when he got there he was kept. mother wondering why they were not back sent daughter… and eventually whole family was in the other house with the soldiers. they told me laughing. “they were in a secret mission but did not think that having my whole family missing would be suspicious. so they let them all go, but kept me as a way to make sure my family would not tell anyone”. they laughed. Ehab, 18 seeing my pain said ” jules, we know they have to do it, they also have not choice, they have to do what they are told.” that broke me a bit more. how could these guys be that gentle ? My eyes filled with tears once more. ” Jules, don’t cry, if we don’t laugh about it what do we do? that is how our life is. i wish i could travel like you. i wish i could have a job. but now it is like this we never know what could happen. please don’t cry. we are ok.”
I walked away to cry in the bathroom on my own, in silence. When I was able to I went back to watch the game. I apologised for crying. ” Please, Don’t apologise. You are the most compassionate person i have ever met. Meeting you has changed me a lot you know? You have open my mind” said Yahya. The kindness these boys who have been shot at, arrested, and who have thrown stones at jeeps treat me, the extent to which they are willing to go to rethink their beliefs, and ideas because of my questions bewilder me. There is a mix of maturity and matter of factness they take life which coexists with a naiveté and search for love. I have not encountered nothing of what I heard about Palestinians from my Israeli friends or from the media here.
I have been asking questions to all of those I encounter. I ask women and men of abuse, of veils, of children, of war, intifada, sex, west, friendship, family, humanity and they are far from being these incapable of critical thought islamophobics all over want us to believe they are. They are indeed religious and try to understand the world through the Koran but they would never refuse to think about a question not as a Muslim, not as a Palestinian but as an individual human being. It could be that I have been really lucky only to encounter the people who are really kind, human, and open to me. Or maybe it could be that kindness and respect allows for even those with the most different of beliefs to stop and think if it is ever truly ok to hurt someone. So far I have yet not encounter a single one that thinks, or says it is.
” Our life is like this now. we must not stop laughing right?” I agreed. And watched Cristiano Ronaldo score for R Madrid. The city went mad. Like anywhere else in the world football invokes all these emotions and feelings. Like anywhere else it brings joy to some, sadness to others, but most importantly it definitely distracts all from the harshness of the real world.