The floating grass of Palestine

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After having spent almost a week in Amman to cast people and places for my upcoming novel, what was more interesting than the city itself were the city’s totems of elsewhere, especially Palestine. Juice stands, groceries, restaurants and other establishments had “Palestine” in their name. As a Lebanese national agonizingly forbidden from going to Palestine, I spent 15 minutes every day drinking fresh pineapple juice at Amman’s “Palestine Juice” pretending I was somehow there, until I decided to get as close as possible to this forbidden land instead of just daydreaming.

It is to my good fortune that Christ was baptized before the border existed. And that now, his baptism site is a touristic attraction alongside a green water creek that is the border between Jordan and occupied Palestine, the Jordan River. Technically, I could walk into Palestine from Jordan through the shallow waters of the Jordan River, “but they would snipe you,” my dear friend and chaperone Rosie said over and over again so I didn’t.

We left Amman to Palestine through the disturbingly soothing Jordanian desert, my excitement growing by the kilometer. I was not interested in getting an “overview” of Palestine from a tower, a hill or a telescope. I wanted to be close enough to smell it. My attempts to get there from Lebanon were flanked with all sorts of distressing security measures, fortresses and international forces that emphasized “war, war, war!” that it was not Palestine anymore, it was Occupied Palestine, the ongoing narrative of potential blood. Although that is the real current scenario, I was eager for another version.

After a quite tranquil checkpoint leading to the Dead Sea and the baptismal site, the highway descends revealing Palestine from afar. I took its blurred landscape as an appetizer for the treat to come. As eager as I was to get there, I knew that I was going to be a mere spectator. I was not going to be of any use. I wasn’t going to be able to help Palestine. If anything, I was going there for her to help me.

I needed help understanding what it meant for her to stare at me, and me to stare at her without being able to move forward. The discourse for average Lebanese citizens that are not directly participating in any form of physical resistance is quite abstract. To know historical facts intellectually is very different from facing them in real life. I was going as close as I could to Palestine to break my heart. I wanted to get there to register extracts of its shapes, sounds and smells and not be able to feel them again. I was on my way to physical loss. I wanted to lose Palestine, for it to be missing, as tangibly as possible, so that I would look for it again, as consciously and physically as possible.

We followed the shuttle bus packing dozens of tourists down to the beginning of a path covered in a wooden structure reminiscent of the aesthetics of a Lebanese beach club. Pink Bougainvillea shrubs planted to welcome the Pope’s most recent visit add to the pathetic trajectory of our destination. Outside the boundaries of this designed walk, death ruled the lands. Different churches for different Christian sects were built on dead-dry, cracked desert sand. Different platforms overlooked different parts of the swirling, curved river. A dry patch of land was apparently where Jesus was baptized. A few hundred meters later, I saw Palestine.

A platform that looked like a vernacular mud stage overlooked the land across the river. Another resort on the other side of the Jordan River had an Israeli flag flopping around with condescending pride. White vans like the ones we see on TV travelled up and down the dunes of Palestine. Israeli security officers were within shooting range. I couldn’t do it. I was not there to do anything. I was there to smell Palestine and feel crippled. As I zoomed in on everything I wanted to shoot with my camera, I felt impotent that they were still moving and that I still could not cross.

A few steps down, we reached another platform, a small wooden stadium of some sort leading to the river. There, I was four meters away from Palestine. It was surreal, both viscerally and intellectually. I was somehow stupefied, trying to prove to myself that I was there. I located myself on Google Maps and smiled. I looked at the Israeli flag in front of me and frowned. From my side, men and women touched water they considered holy. On the west bank, people swam within a guarded perimeter in the river. We were all conscious of the virtual line separating our worlds. Silently, I stared at them. Likewise, they stared at me. Eventually, I looked away, breathed Palestine in to fill my lungs with her while my eyes wandered to its grassy west bank. The grass floated over the green waters of the Jordan River. I was the closest I have been, four meters away from Palestine, and I couldn’t go in. The guide pressingly asked me to leave. My time with Palestine was up. Filled with her, something changed in me. Instead of just wishing for it, I wholeheartedly knew that sometime in the near future, I am going to free her.

Raafat Majzoub is an architect, author and artist living in Beirut

Comments

This is week 2 , I am as sick as a dog, how I am able to sit here & not drop dead of misery & illness I don't know.

Why are you writing a book ?
No one will buy it. Not because you wrote it, but because they cost money & then you actually have to read the bastard.
I watched the footage - snippets - 147 the garden, the grapevines you people are just a bunch of wogs man.

145 - who is the kid ?
& he talks
& he must be thinking so he has opinions, ideas...
children are the most fascinating people on this planet to talk to Raafat.
It should be you & the kid's -1/2 hour talk about their view of the Middle East - NO SCRIPT.
#@$5 the book man this will be through the eyes of the future of the Middle East.
p.s.
there is no point in taking a picture of a small space of ground for a few mintues where is the context.

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