The House, its Demolition, an Interview, or: Palestine as Metaphor? (h2so4 12)
This house was built on land, sloping in inclination, ever seducing and often enslaving, with grape vines spreading, embracing the land, the unpicked fruits falling, rotting as they do, the seasons ever different, the land never changing, the borders slightly shifting, the house still remaining.
Had the Ottomans not collected taxes by the gun, I speak here--she said--of those early efforts, however doomed they were to failure, to encode upon the land a grid of knowledge, entered into ledgers stashed away in Damascus and Istanbul, gathering dust and weevils while acting to nominate the lands that were to be held in the Sultan's favor... and later, if the British had not sent their brigades of inspectors and recorders, so-called servants of her Majesty, to examine and quantify the shacks and treehouses we built, as it happens, on hills and in trees... if... but enough of conjecture--and here she shifted her weight--we did in the end succumb and take the deeds with their seals, pay the taxes, and let ourselves be counted, that is, our ancestors themselves, under bureacratic threats. But those were idle threats, those that emanated from the pen and its carto- grapher, so unlike these threats that face us now--here she pulled out what I had been waiting for--these threats that are written on papers such as these, demolition orders so-called, two years pending, and every moment of our sitting here being a moment stolen from the slow machinery of occupation... an order for the demolition of the home I have made of this house, on land that was always mine, just as I am my own ancestor, and these unsmiling immigrant conquerors have their own left behind on some other land, just as we both are ancestors of our progeny.
But this--she said as she adjusted the hem of her dress--is not about who or where from, really, man aou min ayn, as much as it concerns the threat posed to the plan of occupation by an object as simple as this building, a simple space, created by these simple walls that are covered by that roof above, divided as this space is into discreet inner areas, each with its own meaning to the members of a family. And we challenge an opposing ideal, one which would destroy us, simply by living, for to this dream we are nothing but a rotting grape, a vine to be cut off at its roots. If I could illustrate what I understand about this ideal, the grid of control which it opens across this land, I think it would frighten you (I nodded, Chapter One, I was thinking), criss cross as it does the entire landscape, invisibly yet effectively separating me from that well, or the village beyond, and thus separating me from myself.
And who will I call to when the soldiers come, as I am assured they will some day, to tell me in voices I cannot understand that which I already know, pulling as they will a piece or two of this furniture outside, striking me as they will when I do protest, shooting as they do with teargas and bullets into the crowd of neighbors who will gather, all so as to ensure the dissolution of a structure which does no more than contain us, destroying thereby the careful and arbitrary webs that a family and its domicile create in defining each other... in a short twenty minutes give or take a few, this wall will prove no match for the bulldozer, just as my fists will prove no match for theirs, and perhaps in the ensuing predictable chaos a son of the village will be sacrificed, or I will fall hopelessly into a void of grief and loss... and after that where will I be, who will I be?
I thanked her, and, the interview over, I set out to walk the town over, to make my foreignness known, for there are more places in the world where people will recognize an outsider than not, and while walking I set about composing to myself the words I would use to explain, to qualify, to balance, to narrativize, and moreso to use words to draw a picture, to make a map of the invisible lines, to describe thereby the sounds of helicopters and the rattling of military jeeps, Chapter Four perhaps, the expression of the soldiers who sit in the back, peering out as they pass. I sat upon a rock, ancient as all rocks are, and said something to myself--this is Palestine--unsure as I now remember it if I meant it as a statement or question.
Later by some days, I returned in a sense to a house but not hers, to a story that was in fact hers, however later in its narrative arc, a story of a different house, a different family, but an experience that was the same, the story of a house and its termination, or, more pedantically, the story of a heel upon a neck... here, in this chapter, she had cracked as the walls were falling, now, here in a later chapter, her parents had put her in a room she seldom left, as her children played in the dust outside, while on occasion her husband returned for a day or two at a time, with the frequency of the full moon, on break from his overnight construction employment across and inside the green line, so as to maintain the fiction of their union to the community outside. She had spent time in hospitals and prisons, the latter for resisting the demolition order by throwing herself before the bull-dozer, the former as a consequence of the mundane violence she endured at the hands of the soldiers, the scars of course being emotional, scars being the intended outcome of the demolition, scars that lead to fears that cut across a community.
Her parents took me to the house, the rubble that once was it, and it was familiar in a way, the legacy of the hundreds of these stories that are repeated by virgin lips on a yearly basis. The tea her mother offered was as sweet as always, the mint floating as it does on the surface. Just imagine--she whispered--for two years every rumble of a passing truck had sent her scurrying, every loud voice was that of a soldier, every moment was the moment she had known to be coming.
Walking back, I passed the first house, Chapter Two perhaps, which still stood under an undulating sky, and I knew what I was looking at, or looking for: a metaphor, the metaphor of a house, the house that is a nation, the house that housed dreams, the dream that is a family, the family that is a nation, the house itself a dream, its continued standing a fiction, the fiction that is always a family, the violence that borders both family and nation, the house that is the border, the fiction of the metaphor, the dream that is my own, which is of a house, a house that houses dreams, and the violence that maintains it, that destroys it. Is this why the house is not to stand long, is this how its metaphor undoes the rationale of the occupation here which undoubtedly will continue, and is this occupation a metaphor itself for the order of this age, an age of the domination of dreams...?