What will this sad, silent, fallen city by the old sea oppressed by time give you? It will give you a lot if you listen to its nightly voice strewn amongst the rustling of the trees and the lapping of the waves. No one tries to listen to that angelic voice emanating from it. Everyone only hears his own voice and strives to search for himself among the city’s heaps.
Often I think if only geography wasn’t so clever, if only it bestowed the city with a few more coastal kilometers and released it from its existing borders; how would your seashore look oh, Gaza? Which ships would reach you? What would be the state of your residents, teeming with feelings of exile, cries, and fear?
Perhaps it is the constant thought of escaping the city’s boundaries weighing on me, or at least the idea that my city is without borders, drowning in isolation. A city where whoever enters is lost, and whoever leaves writes himself a new life story.
Now there is no leaving and no entering. A city of imprisonment that consumes its own inhabitants and which everyone wants to escape. To be more precise, they are not trying to flee the geographic location itself. But rather, they want to find what was lost. They want their freedom that was caught unawares in circumstances that they had never, for even one day, dreamt of. The city was becoming more confined each day, with new chains forced upon it each year. After it was completely open to the outside world, it was seen as too narrow to encompass all its residents’ desires. How is this so and yet the contradiction of aspirations wrecks all attempts to survive. How are love, death, and life all possible on one street? How can you shake hands with your brother’s murderer and reply to his ‘good morning’?
Before Gaza transformed into a city of conflict, I was a participant at a poetry conference in Paris. What surprised me was that everyone I met was stunned when they learnt I hailed from Gaza.
Gaza, this magical word! No sooner had the others heard it than they looked at me with all the world’s amazement and astonishment. They began to ask me all the questions that had crossed their minds, after hearing one day about this city’s existence and about its old and new troubles. I transformed from a poet participating in a conference with more than other thirty poets, to a representative for the common Palestinian people - the dwellers of the dark, unknown city. A city that does not disappear from the daily newscasts of cities the world over.
Their curiosity to know and their attempt to understand what is truly happening was greater than my ability to reply. When I returned here, there was a strange longing to go back to Paris. Maybe I liked it more through their eyes, and maybe I wanted to experience more of this city’s character.
I am taken by surprise upon my return. The city is no longer ours, and all that was in the past is mere rehearsal for what happened afterwards. The changes are visible in such a short time. There is a demand for everyone to erase what took place and live anew, as if nothing had happened.
Oh this paradox! I did not enter a state of shock, I did not change, and I do not understand - what happened? We went back to the daily routine that we know, only to find that the context had changed completely. But it was dialogues, more events, and more testimonies. Everyone knew what they had to say, and everyone was utterly silent.
Too many deaths. Many dreams run through the minds of those who live in this forgotten town and who continually occupy a large part of the media. No one truly tries to know what is being lived here, and no one wants to start changing anything. Perhaps this city’s misfortune is that whoever lives in it takes on a strange quality; it is the strength to endure and wipe away what one cannot live with. They do not grumble, they do not cry out. In silence they accept each new reality as if they were created for it. This capacity to adapt always used to amaze me. It clashes entirely with the personalities of those residing in this city, but they continue in their wordlessness and I in my astonishment. How then is it possible to go on living here, waking up every morning with a smile on your face and hope for a clear, new day?
There is a small secret. If you know it, then it is possible to carry on. In order to live in Gaza you must create your own secret world. This beautiful world which contains you and those like you; those who carry small dreams that come true in the rain on a winter’s day, or staying up late into the night with melodic music and friends. Because this matter becomes forbidden in the laws of the invaded city, you must search and you will find it inevitably. You will hide well your small secret and in that moment enjoy what you can from it; in order to create for yourself days contrasting completely from those of the news reports. Days abound with death, poverty, and foolish fighting that does not change anything. Or filled with nameless rockets releasing a sound resembling some sort of explosion, though unable to even harm a cat. You persist in your beautiful isolation and your ultimate wish to get tobacco at a price cheaper than in the market. You continue thinking about New Year’s night and how you can spend it outside the walls of your room.
Translated by Sawad Hussain.
Welcome to a World of Literature
Everything you need to know about the world's great writers and emerging voices is being collected and shared on the English PEN Online World Atlas
. Head over to the Atlas to create (or edit) a profile for your favourite author or book, leave a comment or contact another user, and discover your next great read. We believe that great writing has the power to change your life and change the world, one book at a time.