From the Editors
For four days last week, I drank my morning coffee while gazing at Palestine. I was spending the weekend with friends at a house in a border village between Lebanon and what is now the State of Israel. Every morning, I walked from the bed I was sleeping in, to the kitchen to make a cup a coffee, then out onto the balcony where there was a cool breeze. The village is old, its remaining permanent inhabitants are mostly old, but its roads are new. The asphalt is still black in its newness, and its geometric shapes are drawn map like. It snakes through the landscape, cutting a path through the stone houses, the hills they border, the village square, until finally, the asphalt meets a main road that is destined to join the highway that welds South Lebanon into the rest of the country.
Across the mountain in front of me, a patch of houses is new. Their red roofs seem monotone in their conformity, the scars of urban planning no doubt. I stare at the houses, and they stare back silently, unblinking in the harsh sun. Between us is land that is green and seductively sloping, punctuated with trees that were replanted on the Lebanese side after the Israeli withdrawal of 2000, and again after the Israeli withdrawal of 2006. The trees are short and tall, thin and squat. Their unevenness tells the story of the trees that were there before them, and the fire that ate them during the decades of violence that the land was subjected to.
I hadn’t been to the Israel-Lebanon border since immediately after the war of 2006. Then, you could still see the casings of explosives littered everywhere. The road was uprooted, and the houses stank of the feces and urine of the withdrawing army. Families that had been cramped in the schoolrooms, public parks, and strangers’ homes that had housed the over 900,000 Lebanese citizens internally displaced in 2006, were finally coming home.
On the Lebanese side of the border, there is a newly built corniche where people take walks at all hours of the day and night, smoking cigarettes and chatting. Three flags move in the wind; the UN flag, the Lebanese flag, and the Hezbollah flag. If it were old enough, the corniche would have also been the mounting point of other flags; among them the Lebanese Communist Party flag, the Progressive Socialist Party flag, the National Front Coalition flag, and the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party flag. This corniche lines the highway that passes through many Lebanese border villages. At night young men come in their cars and use the highway to race and to throw swear words across the border, announcing their defiance to anyone who will listen, and to themselves. On the other side of the border, there is only quiet land, punctuated by army lookouts adorned with the Israeli flag. UN tanks roll by, driven by soldiers wearing blue helmets, patrolling the night and (ostensibly) the inhabitants of Southern Lebanon. I say inhabitants because it would be nearly impossible to grow up here, to live here, or to be displaced from here, without resisting the settler colonialism next door that swallows what is left of Palestine and, with the permanence of time, people’s memories of that seemingly far away, mystical place. It would be almost impossible not to resist the three invasions and occupations of South Lebanon, the siphoning of its water, the burning of its trees, and behind it all the logic of differently weighted human life.
What is it like to live looking at, and looking for, a Palestine that is now buried under the weight of history and concrete? Does it serve as an inspiration to liberation, or is it a warning, a constant reminder of how successful colonialism can be? Is it the same feeling of anger, frustration, and terror that I get when I look into the face of a refugee whose mother was a refugee whose mother was a refugee who was born in Haifa? There are over 400,000 of these faces, of these stories, and these experiences living in broken refugee camps across Lebanon. They are Palestine, or are a part of it at least. They are a people without a land, whose land was taken by other people. They are generations of waiting to go home to a home that no longer exists.
For four nights last week, the electric lights across the valley blinked at me in the darkness of a border village without electricity. Each night, when sleep began to overtake me, I would stand up for a moment and breathe in the silence that is precarious and precious in this village, whose new asphalt covers the scars of what was, unfortunately, only the most recent war. Before turning back into the house, I caught myself whispering words that longed to be a promise; Good Night Palestine.
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