Sunday, April 08, 2007

Welcome to Absurdistan

A West Bank woman has developed special socks to help Palestinians suffering from swollen feet as they wait at Israeli military checkpoints...The socks are made from nylon and gel that molds around wearers' feet to prevent discomfort, even if they stand for hours, as they sometimes have to...Ms Latif says the socks are "like sleeping on a waterbed, which is far more comfortable than a regular mattress.
Jean Zaru is the matriarch of the Ramallah Friends (Quaker) Meeting and one of my favorite people. She has a gift for both honesty and love- a rare combination. I'm told that she has been know to quip that occupied Palestine should be called "Absurdistan." I couldn't agree with her more.

When we think of war, we think of dead children, bombed out buildings, a pulverized infrastructure. Those who live in safe, wealthy, well-guarded lands are often drawn into a strange sort of algebra, a calculus of how many people must die before the situation is really "bad," before we'll bother to care. 926 Palestinian children killed since 2000? 118 Israeli children? Oh, that's nothing. That's hardly a war. It's hardly worth caring about.

I could pontificate about this sad lack of compassion that privileged people, like me, fall into, but that's not my point. Palestine has no lack of dead children, demolished houses, or destroyed infrastructure. But what privileged people are most unable to see is the systematic injustice, the death-by-unfair-bureaucracy, the economic strangulation, and the utter absurdity that comprises so much of Palestinian daily life. Perhaps we are blind to this aspect of Palestinian oppression because it too closely resembles the systems of oppression and exploitation that our own privilege rests upon. But for whatever reason, we are able to see (and dismiss) the death, the destruction, and the grand tragic elements of the occupation, but we are utterly blind to the pain of daily life. We can't see Absurdistan.

Absurdistan is the land of gel-filled socks to ease the discomfort of standing at checkpoints for hours. It's a country where 14 year-old-boys are beaten and jailed for throwing rocks at well-armed men and women. Its citizens are 6 year olds who are denied permission to visit the zoo, only 5 miles away. Its cities are cut in half by a concrete wall, separating Absurdistanis from fellow Absurdistanis. The homes of Absurdistanis who fail to obtain impossible-to-obtain permits are demolished, but the practice of demolishing the homes of alleged terrorists has ended because it's been shown to increase terrorism; naturally, demolishing the homes of law abiding Absurdistanis will have no consequences.

Absurdistan is an unending and always changing maze. Roads close, checkpoints move, and walls appear suddenly. On a hot summer day, my friend Allyn and I drove around the back roads of Ah Ram, trying simply to find the entrance of the checkpoint so that we could flash our passports and re-turn to Jerusalem. The "security" wall had been built and then re-routed since Allyn had last been in Ah Ram and the streets had been transformed into a maze we couldn't see our way out of.

'This is what drives people over the edge,' said Allyn.

30 minutes later, still driving around Ah Ram, I believed him.

Welcome to Absurdistan.

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