by Yazan, UWCM
12th of July, 2022

My pen ran out of ink the second I approached the border checkpoints. I tried to write with more firmness, yet it only helped me achieve some choppy scribbles, which cannot describe the agitation of a reality where writings alternate voices.

The long year under the Dutch rain splashes and the wet bike routes did not snip my memory of the arid winds of July, nor did they erase the crooning of the joyful old Palestinian women that made up my soundtrack of Ramallah’s streets. I used to sit at a bench near the downtown to write stories and thoughts. That did not change in the Netherlands, and the flatness of the Dutch lands only unfolded broader freedom. However, Behind the Dutch windmills, my written papers flew, while behind the Palestinian Palms, my papers burned.

Lost in thoughts, I closed my notebook and observed the congested queue I had been standing in for an hour. My yearning to reunite with the holy land was high, and only the Jordanian River was keeping me away. Though it all went into oblivion as I stepped closer and an Israeli soldier drew near. The Netherlands had made me forget the Israeli checkpoints and seduced me into an illusion of liberty.

Once in Amsterdam, around the Overtoom neighborhood. I was having coffee with a Mongolian friend who was about to leave Europe in two days. Because I was thinking about his departure, I was quiet, but he asked: “Don’t you think your time here has replaced your image about your country.” I did not take the question seriously and had to leave ten minutes later to pick up a night train back to Maastricht. Maybe I was reminded of this question standing in the endless queue while the elderly were trying to wait under a superfine sunshade. 

Behind me stood an international student in Hungary. We had a quick conversation, where he said: “Waiting under the sun for hours is just a reminder that wherever life took us, we should never lie to ourselves that we are liberated.” Perhaps the time in Hungary had made him grow into a better, more dependable person, but his true self is there beyond the Dead Sea.

Why were we shocked by the checkpoints, excessive inspections, and being transported like cattle? Why did reality strike us hard? Was not that always the case? Or because I have once biked to Belgium, I have confused my freedom? Perhaps it was unfeasible for me to question my liberty while I was slicing through the Bolognese roman gods or above the cliffs of Tuscany in Northern Italy two months ago with my Japanese friend. I was seeking stories, voices, and experiences in my cheap travels around Europe to have topics to write about. Whereas Haifa, the city that marked me as a refugee after my grandparents fled from the Israeli attacks in 1948, was unreachable. Maybe I can take a photo with the god Neptune in Bologna, Italy, but Haifa Mount Carmel, where my grandparents had planted olive trees decades ago, is beyond my reach.

Suddenly, the queue was over, and a bus took me beyond the Jordanian valley, where I arrived at the most ancient city in the world, The Palestinian city of Jericho. The microbus dropped me next to the old station. At the bottom of a Palm tree I saw a daring look watching me with tears around her pupil that caused refraction. She was my mom. Her gaze was my answer to my questions along the way. I knew at that moment the occupation may silence my voice or burn my writing, but there is one thing no one can ever take. As Viktor Frankl said: “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”