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A Patient Heartbeat

2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

2nd Place - $50 prize

From the judge, Sarah Irving.Amira gave a great balance of the personal and political, portraying the trauma and indignity of checkpoints, and their impacts on Palestinian education, health and economy. With her emphasis on 'waiting', Amira gave a real feeling of anticipation and the suspension of normal rights and expectations that affects Palestinian life.

A Patient Heartbeat

by Amira Aleem, India

Mahmoud runs to the Barrier. His tanned face flustered in the scorching heat. He looks around. Nothing. No one. He runs back to his house and picks up baby Ismail and cradles him in his arms. Not long now. The ambulance must be on its way. It takes a while because it needs an army escort. But patience, he counsels himself. And he waits.

The sun screams down at us from directly overhead. Harsh, unforgiving rays that run as drops across our foreheads, down our backs. Lines of Palestinians snake their way across the caged corridors and under the dusty surveillance of the Israeli militia. Next to me, an old woman complains in heavily accented Arabic. We wait. A child runs around as her mother tries to coax her back. We wait. A man in front of us rattles the turnstile and shakes his head. Drenched in the midday sun, we stand at Kalandia, Israel’s largest checkpoint for movement in and out of the West Bank, and we wait.

Far away, in embassies around the world, diplomats gather in wood panelled offices, to discuss the Middle East Conflict. They talk for an hour, ten hours, a week. They talk of the problems the occupation has caused. They are indignant of the Human Rights violations and of the threat to global security. The injustice of the Barrier and its effect on local Palestinians. They look at charts of the declining economy, of the amount of international aid pouring in. Ten years. They talk about the UN, Oxfam, the Red Cross. Fifty years. They talk for ten weeks, a year, ten years. Something about America, politics, what was that? Oh, yes. Oil. The media’s camera happily clicks away. Fifty years go by. War; its very sexy you see. Explosions in Gaza. Jackpot. All across the world, huddled in front of televisions Muslims and Jews watch with fervour. And they wait.

Across the arid hills and rocky mountains, people whisper in hushed tones about which side they support. They talk of the government. They speak about freedom. National pride or oppression. A sacred land or an oppressive regime. Scriptures are invoked; sentiments run high. Children of Israel, they say. The Promised Land they say. Memories of the crusades. Memories of a sanctuary in a world torn by the Holocaust. A people, two peoples bound to the land by the word of God and histories older than time itself. The narratives on either side exactly the same but completely different. Information, to fact. Fact to propaganda. Deluded by what religion has morphed into. A national identity, a religious space. A place to seek refuge from a world that scorned them or a home, a family, and a fight to remain where they have always belonged. Israelis and Palestinians, they wait.

In a city of arches, dripping with the past a magnificent gold topped mosque shares a skyline with the remnants of the Wailing Wall. Large round brimmed hats navigate the smooth cobbled stone alongside pious long habits. Shops are abandoned to offer timely prayers, and returned to again to cater to soldiers and tourists. Amongst the heavily intertwined lines of faith, a silent understanding passes of the tension. Behind the kind and welcoming smiles the fear lurks of another uprising. Of sudden violence. It is almost inevitable. Whispers of footsteps walked by Christ echo against the clamour of the crusades. A city sighs as it braces itself for the promise of blood that must be spilt. Its very breath filled with faith and what it means to believe. Jerusalem waits.

Across Palestine, schools wait, for children held up by the Barrier. Hospitals across the West Bank wait for patients who never made it in. Offices wait for employees who cannot make the commute today and loved ones wait for those across the Wall. Fields wait for farmers without permits to tend them. Citrus plants wait for the time when they can be planted again, reaching up into the warm glow of sunlight and be proud. Proud of their land, proud of their people and proud to be Palestinian. Every irregular rock across the rolling hills, every brave new piece of greenery that challenges the heat in an effort to flourish and every strong Palestinian heart that fights for dignity and the right to be recognised. Palestine waits.