Here, Askar

“This Askar,” he says jabbing a finger at the lit screen. We are sitting in the darkness at a round multi-colored elementary school table. He is slouched halfway into a plastic lawn chair, staring at a screen covered in Arabic.

His finger touches a picture of a boy, or maybe a man, I’m never sure of the distinction. He stands, unsmiling, holding a sign in front of his chest. Behind him is Askar, narrow streets and tall, worn buildings. Almost no  one, except  maybe some white justice crusader describes Askar as beautiful. It isn’t, but it is home to some thousands of refugees.  Some of them, like the boy in the picture, were born in the camp.
So there he stands, staring into a lens, holding a sign featuring two rockets and red, green and black writing which reads:

“نحن قوم نعشق الموت كما يعشق اعدائنا الحياه “. ‘We adore death as our enemies adore life’.

A, the volunteer at the center I work at and the person currently slouched down next to me watches me mouth the words silently to myself.
I look at him confused. “Shoo yani?” I ask. ‘What does it mean?’
He struggles for a while, his hands clawing in front of him as he attempts to remember his English . Like all Palestinians he studied English through school, but English and Arabic are very different languages and there aren’t many language learning opportunities after.
Eventually he types it into google, google completes it before he hits the second word. Later I go home and search for it. I type the first three words and hit enter; hundreds of thousands results appear, the first of them linking me to videos and facebook pages. Some pages feature a Hamas flag, others militants dressed in all black.
He translates the phrase for me, I stare at him still uncertain. What do you mean adore death? How is this being used? Why the juxtaposition between death and life; us and enemies?

His arms move from his pockets to his chest, in front of him and back again as he explains. He speaks little English and my Arabic leaves something to be desired, so it takes several revisions of his explanation before I think I understand. Israel took, and is taking, Palestine. Without Palestine we are dead. This is what he tells me, but still I wonder how the phrase became so common. Later I find a sound cloud of a man speaking these words, over a microphone in front of what I imagine to be a crowd at a rally.

Back in the room, I look at the picture which had been pasted next to a picture of a smiling military boy, kneeling on the ground in his camo, showing off his gun.

I wonder, if we had compared their lives what would they look like? What led each of them to that moment? I ask A why he thinks the boy did this. Why did the boy cross the border illegally? Why did he stab a soldier in Tel Aviv station? Did the soldier shoot at him? Did he aggravate him? Ahmed shook his head.
“It’s because of Al-Aqsa,” he said simply.

True, the closing of Al-Aqsa could be seen as a catalyst for recent events but perhaps,more than that, it’s the daily reminder of where you cannot go. It’s hearing the stories of grandparents who lived maybe a hundred miles west before ‘48. It’s growing older and realizing more and more that you may never really see more than this refugee camp or the small bit of land you’re allowed to walk on; that no matter how hard you work it will be difficult to get out of Askar or Nablus. It’s knowing that seeing another country is practically impossible. It’s being denied freedom of movement, economic rights, freedom of expression for an ever growing, changing list of reasons.

Not everyone reacts with the same sort of anger. Some withdraw themselves into apathy; but the anger, the exhaustion is almost, if not completely, universal.


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