By Khaled Diab
Salama is young, unemployed and so cut off by Israeli settlements that he has almost nowhere to go and no friends to hang out with except his brother.
Tuesday 21 February 2012
Picture what life must be like when you not only have no job and no prospects but your community also faces eviction. Imagine being unable to enjoy the freedom of youth because you're hemmed in by Israeli settlements and need a permit to travel to nearby Jerusalem. Imagine how lonely it must feel to rarely get the opportunity to hang out with people your own age and so your brother has to double up as your friend.
And to top it all off, think how frustrating it must be if you've been raised as a Bedouin to value the freedom to roam, yet you're stuck between the rock of a settlement on one side and the hard place of a military training zone on the other.
Welcome to the world of Salama (22), who lives in an endangered Bedouin community on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The young man proved a friendly and conscientious host during the long wait for his father to arrive, yet the dull drudgery and hardship of his life had instilled in him an earnestness and solemnity beyond his years.
Since finishing high school, he's only managed to work as a seasonal labourer and, at the moment, he has no work, which leaves him with wide expanses of free time, but no wide open spaces to misspend it in.
“There's no one else my age here, except for my brother, who is older than me. We keep each other company by hanging out together, telling each other things. There's time to kill and we don't know what to do with it,” he confesses. “I don't have anyone else and nor does he.”
Salama is frustrated at how circumstances have conspired to stop him from making something of his life. “I try to do something for myself. At night, I ask myself, ‘What have I done today?” I realise nothing. The day has passed with nothing to show for it. Sometimes, I just want to do something, so I knock something down and rebuild it. I have all this energy and I need an outlet for it.”
He is also frustrated that he cannot do something meaningful for his country, especially at a time when youth in neighbouring Egypt are struggling to transform theirs. “I have too much free time. Take Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas]… He must account even for bathroom breaks. Now look at me and all the free time I have,” he reflects, a pastime he has plenty of time for. “When you come home, you think to yourself, what have you done for your country? You eat, you sleep, you get up, you come and you go… That is the sum of your life.”
And even on the rare occasion he manages to go out with friends, the endeavour can be risky, even when visiting nearby Jericho, which he is allowed to do. Salama relates the story of when he got arrested during Eid el-Fitr in 2011 for allegedly bothering an Israeli girl.
He says that he did not bother anyone and that he has photographic evidence to prove it. At the time of the alleged incident, he was having his photo taken with a friend at a studio in Jericho. Salama claims that the real reason he got taken in was because he had answered back to the soldier. While arresting him, the soldier kicked him in the shins, Salama claims.
Although no formal charges were brought against him, Salama says he spent over two months in detention. “In prison, I truly felt the suffering of the Palestinian people for the first time. Before that I'd heard about prisoners and that freedom is a blessing. But I didn't expect it to be like this. We were in a room that was 3m by 3m.”
And the wide expanses of time got even wider in the narrow confines of his cell: “At times I got so bored that I began to count the tiles.”
“In detention, you see terrible suffering,” Salama adds. “You meet people who say they've been here for a year. You ask them if they've appeared in court. They say, no.”
This experience makes him pine for liberty all the more. “Freedom is the foundation of a person. Without freedom, you are worthless,” he opines. “I have no personal freedom. I'll tell you, if I go just outside, 50m down the hill, I reach the boundaries of the settlement next door, Kifar Adumim. I'm not allowed to enter it.”
After answering his numerous questions about my travels, I asked where he would go if he had the freedom to go where he pleased?.“My dream is to see our ancestral land [in the Naqab/Negev],” he replies.
And how about abroad, where he can shake of the restrictions? “When I have the freedom to travel at home, then I can think about going abroad,” he says.
Scroll up to the top of the article to watch the video (in Arabic).