I found myself sitting at a house party in Ramallah with young, educated Palestinians engaging in casual conversation. The guys were making dinner that night while the ladies were sitting back enjoying the role reversal.
Some were recent graduates of Birzeit University near Ramallah, others had returned after completing their studies overseas, while the rest remained students. Many of them were also artists of various kinds, part of a flourishing art scene in the West Bank, in particular Ramallah. There was a liberal consumption of alcohol while Western, Arabic and Turkish music blared in the background. While engaging in conversations, I sensed a rejection of traditional religious values and noted Che and Lenin iconography. Many lived what might be called ‘alternative lifestyles’ drawing from what I gathered to be ideas about anarchism and anti-establishmentism; a rejection of society and its institutions. One could go so far as to make the comparison to an essentially Western ‘hipster’ lifestyle or perhaps some other counterculture, one that challenges social norms.
I met one guy who had never left the country, much less Ramallah, in the last ten years, since his ‘illegal’ departure from Gaza. The sophisticated and philosophical manner in which he expressed his thoughts about life in Palestine rendered me speechless. He spoke of movement being in the mind and not limited by the unfortunate reality of the checkpoint system. He said that Westerners often come to Palestine with ideas about movement and freedom based on their own understandings of these concepts. Ironically enough, he continued, they become more outraged than even some Palestinians. However, as a Palestinian who had never experienced the kind of movement afforded to many Westerners, he neither missed it nor lamented over it. He then expressed the limitations of thinking of movement in only physical terms and suggested reconceptualizing the notion. This may not be a common perspective among Palestinians, the reality of restricted movement is crappy no matter how you look at it, but this certainly was a unique perspective and contributed to a more comprehensive understanding of Palestinian attitudes towards life under occupation.
I often forgot that I was in the West Bank and when I did remember, I smiled while thinking about how the media really did a fabulous job of constructing my ideas about this place. I realize now that I had an extremely narrow and simplistic understanding of Palestinian culture and society based almost exclusively on the conflict. I victimized the Palestinians and it was I, the foreign advocacy journalist, who came to liberate them from the devastating realities of occupation. What a joke. What I neglected to remember is that other processes were happening; Palestinian culture was transforming and evolving, love was being experienced, art and music were being appreciated, passion and anger and joy were being felt, ideas were being created, and one moment at a time people were simply just living.