By Leigh Hoffman
East of the Green Line, the winding narrow roads guide me through a labyrinth of questions. I am confronted with power never before felt; there are limits to my own imagination, and I have only been able to dream of what such intensity could feel like. There is the expected shock, of course, of gross (in)human violence, of children being arrested and beaten for atrocities arbitrarily determined by the powerful, of homes being destroyed for the sake of a political message. Families left devastated by conditions that are controlled by faceless enemies, made human by 18 year old soldiers carrying out orders, their own boundaries of normalcy, which rupture the very foundations upon which life is built and lived in. The normalcy of occupation, demanding breathing life to accept that the conditions of their life are not their own to shape. And perhaps that is true for the 18-year old soldiers, who hold the guns and powerfully change another’s circumstance, handed a shape to outline, but not the power to define. Yet, one can only expect so much, can mentally prepare to be witness through imagined images, but can never viscerally feel the reality of stories that are not one’s own. The thing about shock is that it can never truly be expected. Its shattering blows shake consciousness, force per-conceived understandings out of lungs and ripple through a steady pulse like sweet poison to already defined existence. And one is left wandering through winding, deteriorating streets, to attempt to answer aimless questions.
In the holy hills of Occupied Palestine, one can only stand in awe of what one cannot understand.
Immense beauty rolls through hills and suspended sunsets. Valleys dip below roads, drawing a longing I did not know I had out of my chest into the splendor of green-lined horizons.
Wonder and hope glimmers in the eyes of children playing in the dilapidated streets, their youthful laughter echoing through the open windows of urban neighbourhoods, thick enough to overpower the lingering density of dissolving tear gas floating through the air.
Beauty beyond the limits of imagination rests in the deep eyes of strangers, a soft, harrowed gaze everlasting. Images that flash before my eyes as I witness and confront the violence of live ammunition being shot into a tight crowd, manage to catch a glimpse of a soldier’s face painted with its own pure depth beyond the limits of imagination. Heaviness, a passion and conviction gleaming through from behind armed uniforms. Contrasting images of raw human exposure.
And I wonder of the limitations of human knowledge, of the narrow ability to know, yet of perceived infinite capacity. Can I ever comprehend what the Occupation feels like? I wonder if the constrained conditions of rational reasoning suggest that perhaps there is something more to this world. Can thought or reason ever explain the power of warm winds through the branches of centuries-old fields to extract air from my lungs as if I was breathing through the clouds themselves? I wonder if existential questions too hard to face, of the seemingly recurrent and inevitable human ability of heart-wrenching violence, suggest that perhaps there is something beyond what we can feel or see. Can the devastating beauty of a simple olive tree be intimately connected to the startling urge to power, to destroy? Are we simply products of the power systems under which we live, malleable minds to the forces above which we cannot see? Is there room for autonomy, the ability to identify and shape the conditions under which we live, and are we given this room as a right, or must we create it ourselves? Is humanity a question of goodness or of circumstance, of our capacity of morality or our arbitrary attempts at free agency in constrained conditions? Are we all simply simple, convincing ourselves of any power which we will never hold?
It turns out that humanity is capable of violence and causing suffering that feels like an arbitration, yet is more consistently the norm. I accept that I cannot understand, that there are tendencies of human behavior that I will never comprehend fully. But I dedicate myself to searching, to looking for answers on what enables simplicity to be transformed into conviction. Without staring wonder directly in the eyes, without recognizing the limitations of rational reason and defined parameters, one will never be able to see, to feel, the effect of power.