The conversation at a dinner table begins with a couple of menopausal women (united by one acronym: CRIMINE, Committee of Ramallah Independent Menopausal Inner Network Enterprise) talking about sagging buttocks, facelifts, changes in their bodies and trails off to Hamas vs Fatah and the barely existing hope of a free Palestine. Do I still look beautiful? Am I still sexy? Suad Amiry’s Menopausal Palestine bridges insecurities of beautiful women, going through stages of menopause, and once resplendent Palestine scarred by incessant conflicts and tussles and finally election of Hamas into power.
Do I still look beautiful? Am I still sexy? Suad Amiry’s Menopausal Palestine bridges insecurities of beautiful women, going through stages of menopause, and once resplendent Palestine scarred by incessant conflicts and tussles and finally election of Hamas into power.
The book (first English publication launched in Kolkata recently) is not about politics. It is about lives of women most whom had left their homes in the 70’s, at the tender age of 18-19 to join the Palestine Liberal Organisation movement, most of them Palestinian by association, or have one parent who carries the Palestinian bloodline. All, at some point of their lives were inspired to work for the PLO.
Suad Amiry is a refugee, an architect and the founder and director of an NGO, in Ramallah. What made her an author are Hamas, walls between Palestine and Israel and her mother-in-law. “I am a writer by pure accident. In 2003, when the Israelis reoccupied Palestine, my mother-in-law had to stay with us and drove me crazy. For 34 days, I had to deal with the Israeli army in the garden and my mother-in-law inside. I wrote emails to friends describing this insane situation. Little did I know that I would come to publish this as Sharon and My Mother-in-Law. It gives me a new way of talking about Palestine,” says Suad.
‘Suad’ means happy woman and that is how she deals with difficult situations around her. Be it getting away by behaving stupid at checkpoints or traveling on her dogs’s Jerusalem passport, Suad has done them all. But beneath the frothy humour is years of accumulated anger. “In Palestine you cannot move. Here, in Kolkata you know how much time it will take to reach a particular place. In Palestine, it all depends on the checkpoints we have to cross. It can be anything. It had once taken me 16 hours to cover 25 Kms. The settlement is such that it simply interferes in your life. My mother-in-law deals with the situation by being overly orderly while I stand aside and laugh. To fight the crisis one has to be human first,” she says.
Suad Amiry doesn’t like stereotypes and generalisations. “When I write, I don’t touch the big issues” she underlines. “The occupation is the reality that I don’t want, and, also, I don’t want Palestinians to be heroes, or a symbol of death. In my works I want to show that there is a nation that wants to live simply, to go to the cinema, to walk in the streets. I’d say to the Israeli that I want what they want. No more than that, no less than that. I am not a big feminist but what I believe is that the power of women is in the details of life. To me, the news of a child who can’t reach his school is more important than what Hamas says or does. I try to deal with the details and the texture of life. Texture is very complicated.”
Suad narrates a story in which an Israeli child used to tell her mother that she has nightmares that a man peeks from her window and she fears that he has come to take their piano back. She says that the Isarelis are insecure and what gives Palestine security is culture. Suad, the founder and director, RIWAQ, Centre for Architectural Conservation, says: “Rehabilitating and protecting the cultural heritage in Palestine is very important for us, particularly because of our relations with Israel. Between 1948 and 1951, Israel destroyed 420 villages of what then became Israel. This means that they deleted any trace of the fact that we were ever in Palestine. So, for us, restoring the buildings is an issue of identity and history.”
Suad says that she can never trust an Israeli who is always trying to take away her land. She cannot shrug off the fact that her ancestral home is in Jaffa. “If Israelis want peace, they must apologise for what they did to the Palestinians in 1948. They don’t want to accept what happened because since they are afraid that if they did that there won’t be an Israel. There is a solution — divide the land into two states, Israel and Palestine. But the Israelis want their portion of the land and for us to share our portion with them. Israel is like a spoilt child, it should first learn to behave,” she added.
Suad was a member of the Palestinian delegation that held bilateral peace-negotiations in Washington from 1991 to 1993, sponsored by the US government. When asked about the disillusionment, she says: “No, I couldn’t feel disillusioned or betrayed, because I never actually expected much to come out of such negotiations. The United States have always backed Israel’s interests and aims and furthered Israel’s projects. There was no reason to believe that they wanted negotiations with the Palestinians for any other reason than securing the well-being of the colonial power on our backs. Hamas is strangely listed as a terrorist group by US and EU. The day it recognises Israel, it will be off the list.”
After a lot of Bush-bashing, Barack Obama’s name brings a twinkle in Suad’s eyes. She says that Obama brings in a world of change. He is not the ‘white anglo-saxon man’ rulling. Maybe Obama is not capable of doing certain things but he creates an atmosphere in which change can be brought, for example, the Goldstone report. “I believe in Obama, because I think he connected with what I think about identity. We have to realize how the world has changed. What does it mean ‘I am German’ with more than four million Turks? What does it mean ‘I am French’ within a society of more than five million Algerians and Moroccans? For me Obama is President of the new reality. And when he was elected I didn’t care about Palestine. I care more about Iraq or about the meaning of his election for a black person in the U.S.A. So, I am very optimistic for humanity more than for Palestine.”
“Morality is on our side, history is on our side. We are stubborn and love life. People see us as someone who chants ‘we desire death as you desire life’. But that is not true; we prevail because we are resilient. We want to live and so we celebrate life and build institutions. This makes me feel no injustice can go on forever,” say Suad as she sets off on a new journey.
Suad Amiry’s new book, Murad, Murad, is the story of her eighteen-hour journey in 2007 with Murad, an ‘illegal’ Palestinian worker and his friends, as they attempt to cross the ‘border’ into Israel and find work. Murad has worked in Israel since he was thirteen and is utterly determined to continue to work there, despite the enormous odds against him.