Image by Naji al-Ali. Painted on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier close to Bethlehem.

by Ammiel Alcalay, Warscapes,
August 11, 2014,

You know as well as I do that a people under occupation will

be unhappy, that parents will fear for the lives of their precious children,

especially when there is NOWHERE TO HIDE.

You know as well as I do that a husband’s memory of his wife forced to

deliver their child at a checkpoint will not be a happy one. You know as

well as I do that the form of her unborn child beaten to death in the womb

will never leave a mother’s mind. And you know as well as I do that a girl will

have cause to wonder at the loss of her grandfather, made to wait on his

way to the hospital, and she’ll have cause to cry at the bullet lodged

in her brother’s head — You know as well as I do that watching

someone who stole the land you used to till water their garden

while you hope some rain might collect to parch your weary throat

might cause bitterness — You know as well as I do that a family,

a village, a city, and a people punished for the act of an individual

might not react well to the idea of “two sides.” You know as well

as I do that Hamurabi’s Code was a great legal precedent and that

the translation of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth means

ONE PUNISHMENT FOR ONE CRIME— no thing more and

no thing less. You know as well as I do that aerial bombardment

and white phosphorous and naval blockade and tanks and snipers

and barbed wire and walls and house demolitions and land

confiscation and the uprooting of olive trees and torture without

trial and collective punishment and withholding water and

access to the sea and even the sky itself are no match for rocket

propelled grenades and all the nails ever put into every homemade

bomb ever made even though metal still pierces every skin — You

know as well as I do that justice dwells in the soul as in the soil

and though you can’t ever know what you’d do if you were in

someone else’s shoes, maybe you would have the strength to carry

your elders on your back, the courage to stay at the operating table

or drive an ambulance after your children were killed, the nerve

to face the daily grief compounded by loss after loss until all

you have left is the unutterable scream you possess in the

heave of your breast and the depth of your chest. But you also

know as well as I do that the size of the prison increases the capacity

to resist, and the extent of the suffering makes fear

just another feeling among many because the

most occupied are also the most free since there are no illusions

left but the vision of freedom and how to

realize it. You know all this but you know

too, just as I do, that enough is enough

and those below will continue to rise up.

Ammiel Alcalay is a poet, translator, critic, scholar and activist, he teaches at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of numerous books, including Scrapmetal and After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture. Some of his translations include Sarajevo Blues and Nine Alexandrias. Islanders, a novel, came out in 2010. His new selection of poetry, Neither Wit Nor Gold, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2011. A 10th anniversary reprint of from the warring factions and a new book of essays, a little history, were published by re:public / UpSet in Fall, 2012. He is the founding editor of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, a series of student and guest edited archival texts emerging from the New American Poetry.