"You are occupied"
A poem by Anne Brunswic (2003). Translation by Caz Sheldon.
You fear that, on their way home from school , your sons may get too close to the soldiers, throw stones at them. You tremble at thoughts of them injured, mutilitated, killed, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the last three years, two hundred children have died like that1 . You are occupied by the life of your boys.
You particularly fear for the eldest, married last year. From you, he got that shape, big as a bear from the steppes. His sharp black eyes came from his father. So long as the soldiers don’t take fright at his looks... You are occupied by anguish.
You are worrried, watching your children grow, knowing you will not be able to pay for studies for all of them. You will have to chose who will go to university and who will stay home or marry young. And yet, who knows if this or that one will not chose a kamikaze suicide, just to do something, just to feel worthwhile ? You are occupied by the future of your children.
You can only meet your wife and your little ones by taking a long path leading to the bottom of a garden and a hidden wall that you step over under the cover of darkness. Some night, there will be a hidden sniper waiting for you ; end of story. Tonight you will not go. You are occupied by lonelyness.
It had been three years since you had last seen your elderly parents in the city of Gaza, an hour’s drive from here. It hurt you to go ask the authorities for a pass. You had to go to the police station four times, four whole days you waited in line, four times you told your story to the administrators, newly arrived colonisers. Finally they gave you a three-day pass, of which a whole day was spent getting there and back. So you saw your parents for two days ; two days in three years. The fact is that it is easier for your cousins in Toronto and Chicago to get to see them than it is for you, living in the nearest town. You are occupied by the fate of your parents.
To get to your mother’s funeral in Jerusalem, your only option was to get a medical certificate and travel by ambulance to the other side of the demarcation line. Despite the fact that you were born and grew up in Jerusalem, you know every stone of the city. While you were away studying in Paris, the authorities decided to remove, permanently, your right to put a foot there. You are occupied by tears.
Every day, you take the road reserved to natives. Great boulders dumped by the occupying forces make you slow down and drive along the ditch. Here, explosions have left unfilled holes, irrigation canals flow with muddy water and rubbish is piled up. Maintenance of these roads depends on the ill-will of the authorities. Often, it is more convenient for them to simply close the roads and forbid travel, even to the next village. You are occupied by humiliation.
You lift your eyes and look up. The hilltops are covered in brand new housing estates, protected by radar, electrified barbed wire and electronic entrances. Those inhabitants can take the main roads, which are perfectly maintained and lit, with road signs in three languages. Those roads are protected by military barrriers. You can only use them if permitted by the citizens from the estates, the new masters of your country. You try not to catch the eye of the soldiers, to give the slightest hint to their suspicion, to be nothing more than an anonymous piece of coloured background in the native crowd. You are occupied by anger.
The new masters have not been here a year, but they have guns to hand. You had better not carry even a knife, or you’ll join your brothers in prison. You are occupied by rebellion.
All the manufactured goods you consume have been made or imported by your masters, who pick up the profit. When you go into a shop you fill their pockets. You are occupied by shame.
Your town only produces for the local market. Transport to the neighbouring district requires so many permits and there are so many militaty checkpoints that the lorry drivers have given up. The cheese factory, that used to employ 70 people and deliver to the whole county, now only has 17 paid workers. Most of the local enterprises have cut back or closed up. There is galloping unemployment. You are occupied by poverty.
To be sure of their tranquility, the masters have cut your olive plantation in two and put a road through the middle, lined with barbed wire, two metres high. Their bulldozers ripped up 65 trees your grandfather had planted and left them lying there. You cut them up one by one for firewood. You had to get a permit to stay on the farm, and a second to pass the electrified barrier to the other half of your olive grove and to your village. The soldiers let you through, but only at certain times of day and only on foot. Your wife was not granted a pass to go through with you, neither to the olive grove, nor to take the children to the village. At harvest time, you have to carry the olives out in a sack on your back. The other day, the soldiers decided your tractor was too close to the fence. They fined you a sum equivalent to ten sacks of olives. Since the fence was built, every minute of your life is occupied.
Your father has a heart condition, but there are no cardiac services for the native, even though the masters’ hospitals deals with every medical need . Are you going to try to solicit a special permit from the military administration so that he can be treated on the other side ? It will surely be refused : you have a cousin in prison. The masters have excellent doctors, but they do not treat the families of terrorists. You are occupied by illness.
You woke this morning with severe cramp in your jaw. Last night, again, you gripped your teeth too hard in your sleep. You are occupied by pain.
Copyright Anne Brunswic. Translation Caz Sheldon.