Go home passing in front of the tents of the old neighborhood where the house was destroyed by bulldozers with the trees that remain smoking for days, look at the stumps of one’s legs in the wheelchair dreaming of hot nights with the wife who preferred to leave, observe the gestures of the mother who puts on the same old house dress to start cooking, realizing that the neighbors gave information in exchange for hospital care for the sick mother and so they became spies, listen to the story of her friend’s daughter of a family who betrayed everyone by blowing themselves up, dreaming of the English human rights activist girlfriend, going to volunteer at the center, trying to apply for a scholarship in London, feeling like challenging snipers and checkpoints for the mere fact of existing , hope to have enough water to shower or light to do homework: this is the daily life in Gaza that Selma Dabbagh tells us through the imagined events of a Palestinian family trying to continue a normal life despite the perennial war situation between Israel and what remains of Palestine.
In addition to the daily that tends to be dystopian, the novel by Selma Dabbagh Out of Gaza (Il Sirente), tells of Gaza a city under siege, of Gaza reduced to enclave Palestinian in Israeli territory and the tangle that being Palestinian also means for those who live out from Gaza.
In the novel of the year for the Guardian in 2012 and 2013, Rashid, one of the protagonists, manages to leave the suffocating life of Gaza, squeezed by the strip, to breathe in London dreams of normality, of a quiet and dignified life, of friendship and respect, of work routine and family, of smiles and jokes, of bars and neighborhoods, of lightness and serenity, of tasty home cooking dishes.
But the reality of Rashid’s life outside Gaza does not bring all of this. In fact, the first effort, that of the suitcase prepared at home before exile, that of the best clothes found with the few means available, produce this kind of reaction in the beloved girlfriend:
Lisa had started laughing when she saw the sweater that Rashid’s mother had packed for him to go to London: “You can’t go around with that fantasy there Rashid, ‘seriously’! He looks like a computer technician, or something like that “
So first they make you understand that you are not suitable, that you do not dress in the right way, then when you talk you understand from the looks and smiles that you are not saying the right things or that you do not have the right accent, then when you go out you understand that for the others do not know how to recognize the things that are in fashion, the right places, the right things. Very effectively, Selma Dabbagh’s “right” morality of bourgeois life outside Gaza is rendered as a blanket that at times seems to be almost more suffocating than Israeli pressure on the Strip itself.
Again Rashid thought of Lisa. He could never call her her girlfriend in front of her, much less in front of people who knew her, in case she was told. But what else was she but his girlfriend? Didn’t they sleep together?
When he told Lisa he loved her, two different expressions appeared on her face, neither of which promised well: one of “indulgence”, the other of “disgust”. She did, she had seemed disgusted to him. Only in this way could she describe herself.
So slowly, the dream of life outside Gaza is colored by the shades of London reality: the house smells like a wet dog, the professor gives off a stale smell of clothes soaked in humid air, the tea smells like sewage, meat seems to have been rinsed in cold water, the toast tastes like compressed insect carcasses. Life in London seems to slowly close around Rashid’s body as swamps engulf dead bodies.
In daily life in England, Rashid’s ideas, the experience of life in Gaza do not seem to find a place for them, but they seem to remain as a useful hologram for the ideas of others, of those who deal with Human Rights, such as his girlfriend Lisa , or rampant diplomats like the young “friend” of the Foreign Office to whom everything that happens in Gaza must be told. The Palestinian extra must perform with a certain bourgeois nonchalance, like in the evening at dinner, and always like a well-trained and obedient monkey, in order not to hurt the habits of the right-thinking society, which only wants to observe exotic trophies without really sharing their existence. , Like this
Lisa really liked the effect Rashid had in her parents’ home. She was as if she had brought a flashy piece of costume jewelery with her from a junk shop and only now, against a neutral background, could she appreciate its extravagance.
So little by little the protagonist understands that “Palestine occupies him”, that the Palestinian identity has been sewn on him with all its stereotypes, due to the inertia of history that has arrived as the occupier due to the flow of events in which one is found. As the brilliant figure of Professor Myrnes recalls in the novel, he, a cadet son sent by the English to the colonies, finds himself following the orders of His Majesty in Palestine:
As members of the Mandate Police we were asked to go around Arab villages looking for weapons. It was 1947 and the tension was high. [ …]
We once hanged a man. We had found a rusty German revolver and a magazine under the shaft head. He told us that he had given away half of his he cattle to buy it. We hanged him for that. All justified by the Emergency Laws of His Majesty’s Government in Palestine, the same laws that are now used for closures, home confiscations, curfews, demolitions, and everything in between.
All those laws are English. […]
We hung that big man up like a kid. He wasn’t the mukhtar, the head of the village, but we were close to it. Huge mustache and a cigarette filter in his mouth. I have never been able to get rid of that filter, I don’t know why. A very decent fellow. In every respect he was a true gentleman. What a shame. […]
You see when we were killing Arabs for hiding a couple of rusty bullets, we were setting the example for Jewish immigrants, we were putting weapons in their hands. Then the Jews decided we weren’t doing enough so they started attacking us.
Well of course you know the rest of the story.
As Rashid’s professor observes after rereading a passage from a book to him:
These pages show how some Jewish immigrants to Palestine were absolutely shocked. On the one hand there were them, just escaped from the infernal jaws of Nazi Germany, or some other place in Europe. They arrived in Palestine, this Holy Land, the place of the new beginning, where they soon found themselves witnessing the tactics used by their people against the Arabs – the Palestinians – as they had been used against them.
Absent in Gaza, absent outside Gaza, the Palestinian body finally seems to have stopped pulsing, to have a life of its own, becoming an almost voiceless body which is only occasionally allowed a breath.
Selma Dabbagh, Out of Gazatranslated from English by Barbara Benini, Editrice Il Sirente
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