Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Border of Dispossession

After returning from Doha on Sunday, my family and I drove off to the Egyptian border town of al-Arish yesterday-a five hour drive from Cairo, and a 30 minute drive from the Rafah Crossing. Al-Arish is the closet (and largest) Egyptian town to the border.

During times of extended closure, like this summer, and last year, it becomes a Palestinian slum. Thousands of penniless Palestinians, having finished their savings and never anticpating the length of the closure, end up on the streets. The storeowner and taxi drive relay story after story to us from this summer.

In response, and under Israeli pressure, the Egyptian police no longer allows Palestinians driving up from Cairo past the Egyptian port city of al-Qantara if the border is closed and Al-Arish becomes to crowded. "They turn it into a ghetto. That, and the Israelis didn't want them blowing up holes in the border again to get through."

We carried false hopes last night, hopes transmitted down the taxi driver’s grapevine, the ones who run the Cairo-Rafah circuit-that the border would open early this morning. So we kept our bags packed, slept early to the crashing of the Mediterranean-the same ones that just a few kilometres down, crashed down on Gaza's beseiged shores.

But it is 4, then 5, then 6am, and the border does not open. And my heart begins to twinge, recalling the last time I tried to cross Rafah; recalling how I could not, for 55 days; 55 days during which Yousuf learned to lift himself up into the world, during which he took his first fleeting steps, in a land which was not ours; 55 days of aloneness and displacement.

The local convenience storeowner tells us he hears the border may open Thursday-“but you know how it is, all rumors”. No can be certain. Some say tommorow, some say Thursday-but in the end, no one ever knows. Even the Egyptian borders officials admit that ultimately, the orders come from the Israeli side. Its as though they take pleasure as we languish in the uncertainty. The perpetual never-knowing. As though they intend for us to sit and think and drive ourselves crazy with thought.

Even the Palestinian soccer team has been unable to leave Gaza because of the Rafah closure, to attend the Asian games. No one is exempt. Peasant or Pro-football player, we are equally vulnerable.

So, as always, we wait. We wait our entire lives, as Palestinians. If not for a border to open, for a permit to be issued, for an incursion to end, for a time when we do not have to wait any longer.

Why is so frightening about borders-and particularly Rafah- that it drives chills down my spine? They are after all crossings like any others I tell myself. What divides one metre of sand from the next, beyond that border? It is exactly the same. It is history and occupation and isolation that changes it.

For Palestinians, borders are a reminder-of our vulnerability and non-belonging, of our displacement and dispossession. It is a reminder-a painful one-of homeland lost. And of what could happen if what remains is lost again. When we are lost again, the way we lose a little bit of our Selves everytime we cross and we wait to cross.

So it is here, 50 kilometres from Rafah’s border, that I am reminded once again of displacement. That I have become that ‘displaced stranger’ to quote Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. Displacmenet is meant to be something that happens to someone else, he says. How true. To refugees that the world cares to forget. Who have no right of return. Who return to nowhere and everywhere in their minds a million times. When the border closes, we are one day closer to become that.

Of course, that, is Yassine, who cannot even get as far as I-cannot even get as far as Egypt, to feel alone. He feels alone everyday, and is rejected everyday, finding belonging in other, non-static things: family, love, work.

But the Palestinian never forgets his aloneness. He is always, always reminded of it on borders. That, above all, is why I hate Rafah Crossing. That is why I hate borders. They remind me that I, like all Palestinians, belong to everywhre and nowhere at once. The Border of Dispossession .


Anonymous livid said...


I am so moved by your words. I feel what you feel. I think what you think. You say what I feel and think. And in the end, when you speak of displacement, I know exactly what you mean because I too, feel it eating me alive. It's funny how this occupation has turned us into poets. Sad poets, displaced poets. Sad, displaced poets. How when I speak of belonging, nobody understands the strength of the concept but those who don't belong, who will probably never belong ever in their lifetime. How tragic it is to be Palestinian, how miserable. Yet how grateful it makes me because it adds another level of perception to me. An anonymous olive tree in Granada could be my Palestine because I will carry with me little pieces of it wherever I may go, wherever I may land to remind me that it is not the physicality of the place that makes me who I am. It is the spirit that it breathes into me.

11:30 PM  

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