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"Mats, You Must be Balanced"

Mental Barriers in Palestine

by MATS SVENSSON

It is dry, it is hot. Black string bikinis descend the small steps meeting black flapping swimming trunks. They look naked thanks to the black mud. Both bodies entirely black, only the feet remain white. Salt easily penetrates the skin, making it soft and filled with wellbeing.

The water is salty. I protect my eyes, protect myself. I feel that I am constantly protecting myself. Protecting myself from inner conflicts. Protecting myself from myself, from my own anxiety, my prejudices, stories, childhood, education, manipulation, songs, sermons…

I’m filled with strong emotions when I look towards that powerful mountain, the mountain near the Holy City. Protecting myself from what I see, from what I feel, from what I hear.

Eat a salad by the Dead Sea.

I’m near, but far from, the conflict, the war. Carry a barrier, a mental barrier. Over there, there is war; here, there is peace. Peace behind a mud mask.

We float around like corks in this Shangri-la on the shores of the Dead Sea. A sea that is disappearing and which will soon really be a dead sea, a sea without water, only salt.

Take a shower; leave Shangri-la, the string bikinis, the flapping black swimming trunks, all the water pipes, lifeguards and happy children.

Quickly transported from East to West over the mountain. Pass through a checkpoint without stopping (driving a diplomatic car) and within two hours I am sitting on the Mediterranean drinking chilled white wine.

Sitting by the Mediterranean Shangri-la among fortunate children, fortunate couples newly in love, looking out over the sea that slowly goes to sleep.

The sun ebbs to the horizon and the children build sandcastles.

I made a quick trip through Palestinian lands. Two hours from East to West.

I exist in the same way as all Israelis, tourists, and most diplomats. Don’t need to see, hear, taste or feel. Palestine is felt for only a few minutes. No soldier stopped me, no wall, no struggle, no dead, no hospital, no Palestinian families, no discussions, no rifles pointed at me.

Lunch at the Dead Sea, a chilled glass of white wine by the Mediterranean.

In between were Palestinian lands I never saw.

Are they really there? Or have they disappeared like a shadow under an olive tree?

Just something we read about but never have to confront. We read about them in the daily news to understand, to be able to take part in discussions. But I never need to see them, be part of them, or taste them.

Tonight, I’m going through the latest political reports. Reading about Rafah, about the wall, about new settlements, about Jimmy Carter, about the economy, about the killings, about suicide bombers, about the children, about Gaza. I have to read the latest reports. It’s important, important to be able to take part in the discussions, to show that I am aware, that I understand.

To be balanced, I must know.

MATS SVENSSON, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He can be reached at isbjorn2001@hotmail.com