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The Illness of Despair

by Samah Jabr Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2001 at 3:44 PM

How many people know about the land mines that kill our children when they try to go to school? How many people read the tales of children shot in the back, because they're still outside the family complex when the curfew begins? How many people know how we have to sneak around simply to pick an orange off a tree?

Alone in Their Cage, Palestinians Suffer The Illness of Despair

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

I'm tired, not a new state of affairs for me. I haven't slept enough since I started medical school more than seven years ago. I've eaten in a rush for as long as I can remember. Even now that I've graduated and begun my internship I'm never finished with work. All this is pretty normal for young doctors everywhere. It's more than being tired, however, that racks me with exhaustion and discouragement, now. Ever since the early December suicide bombs went off, I simply cope without enthusiasm, seemingly sapped of energy or inner strength.

Were it not for having to cover at Makassed Hospital for colleagues who cannot get to work because of curfews and closures, I can't imagine what dullness would cloud my spirit. I was on call four nights last week taking care of the sick or injured arrivals. That it takes me three hours to get to Makassed on the Mount of Olives, less than five miles from my home in Dahiart-Al-Barid, causes a frown to surface on my brow. Even this horrendous affront, however, does not seem to be the source of the pain that lulls me into hopelessness. Thinking about why I am more disheartened now than I have been all these years, I decide it must be my realization that we Palestinians are, finally, alone in a cage.

To provide comfort in the only way I know, I place my hand on the head of the hospitalized and heartsick-unto-death mother of one of the latest to use his body as a weapon against our hopelessness.

As I do, I hear a radio down the hall announcing the world's reactions to this one young man's attack. The White House reassures Israel that America remains as staunchly supportive as ever. The British express their sympathy-for Israel. In Rome, the pope announces, through prayer, that the church is in "solidarity with Israel's victims and their families." Newspapers around the world ask, "What kind of mother does a Palestinian bomber have?"

I feel the sting of disregard. I continue to try to get the dead bomber's mother to open her eyes, to remain alive. Where are the reports of her story and mine? Where is the mayor of a major U.S. city-a national hero in his country-visiting our injured and receiving international coverage for his trouble? Where is the pope's sympathy for all people, even us-for we are, after all, flesh and blood, too? Where is the press when I stand helplessly looking at the influx of patients arriving in the Makassed Hospital emergency room? Our people are not brought here only because of they have been struck by bullets or whipped by guns. They are suffering from the terminal illness of despair.

Some, it seems, dismiss our pain as the necessary result of modernization, the onward rush of civilization that intends to finally make the whole world one. I've heard it said that we, we Palestinians, simply happen to be in the way. We are a problem because we exist. How despicable of us to dare defy the world, using terrorism against people who chose Ariel Sharon, a war criminal, as their leader. While a few American bishops ask for mercy and a few moral leaders defy the slur of anti-Semitism to recognize our humanity, most of the world rejects us for what we have become during the past half-century of occupation, humiliation, death, destruction, injustice. We are left alone, caged, living lives which "civilized nations" suggest we might escape were we to resist passively or, in a kind of Zionist wishful thinking, just shrivel up and die. Fighting back is not to be our right, regardless of the battering we take day after day after day.

But whether we stand and take our punishment for merely being where we are or fight back passively or violently, it doesn't matter. We remain caged, a final tribute to Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky, who in his Revisionist Zionist writings of 1923 suggested chasing us away, killing us or caging us.

Journalists decry the dangers young Israelis face when they want to go out for ice cream or to celebrate a birthday. No one points out that most of these young people are here because of an earlier generation's violent Zionist ambitions. If they are harmed, I agree, it's not their fault and it's a genuine horror for us all. But there are no stories about our young people, whose ancestors have lived here for century after century. Israeli curfews force them home and inside a locked metal door by 3 p.m.-forget about ice cream or parties of any kind. How many people know about the land mines that kill our children when they try to go to school? How many people read the tales of children shot in the back, because they're still outside the family complex when the curfew begins? How many people know how we have to sneak around simply to pick an orange off a tree?

I continue to look after the latest bomber's mother, lying in our cardiac care unit. She is in respiratory distress. Her face is a mask, washed blank by tears she can no longer shed. She is uncooperative, refusing to speak. She is the mother of Nabil Halabeieh, the young man from Abu Dis who blew himself up over the weekend, I am told quietly, pulled away by nurses who think we should leave her alone.

Early in the afternoon, I receive a phone call. Sixty students from Al-Quds University, my alma mater, have been arrested as suspected collaborators in Nabil Halabeieh's action. I don't know what to think. Outside it is raining heavily. I can go home now.

At the Checkpoint At the Al-Ram checkpoint, cars are lined up as far as I can see. Israeli soldiers bark at people to get out of their cars and to stand in the rain against a wall, like prisoners about to be shot. Some are waved through, but not before a soldier batters their cars with gun butts. I do not have a car, and so I stand dripping in the rain. It seems like hours. It is growing dark. I hear the call for prayer announcing the breaking of the Ramadan fast. I think of my family waiting for me so they can start their meal with a juicy date. I decide to call them to say I'll be late. Seeing me take my mobile phone from my coat pocket, a soldier rushes over and grabs if from me and starts yelling in Hebrew. I am in a cage. I am numb. This is the cage from which our suicide bombers come. Is this how they feel when they decide to kill themselves as a protest against those who will not recognize their humanity? Few people will submit to death when there is hope for something better. I'm one of the lucky ones: I have my work, which leaves me without the energy to resist so dramatically. But I am only one in the cage that is all that's left of Palestine.

Samah Jabr is a medical intern in her native city of Jerusalem.

This piece was written with the assistance of Betsy Mayfield, a writer living in Ames, Iowa.

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