I had seen it before, a few days earlier. I had seen it on my way into one of the many homelands of the 21st century. I saw the woman who wasn’t let into the city Nablus, to go to the hospital with her sick child. I saw the woman who wasn’t allowed home to her village after giving birth to a little girl; saw the man on crutches being sent back to the city by frightened young boys and terror-struck young girls with automatic weapons and security equipment.
It was when the pianist on the cinema screen started playing to save himself from what he didn’t know. When I saw the wall being built, how thousands and thousands of families were pushed together in cramped houses, when I heard the voices from the past in the big cinema speakers and, at the same time, the screams of despair from today, from the present that I am now a part of. That’s when I left, and then I had to go outside and cry.
The things I saw on the screen and heard through the speakers, the things that weren’t real, that were acted out by the best and most expensive actors suddenly came close. I understood that it had happened, but that it’s in some small way also happening right now, and that I’m a part of it through my silence and my dissociation.
I watch, write, take photographs, mediate and try to understand. Day after day, I go through something that I have partly seen before. Everything is mingled. I try to think back and remember when I have seen it before, but it is just glimpses from my own past, from films, conversations and theatre productions.
At the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, soldiers tread on the stage in high boots, smash doors to pieces and destroy houses. A bleeding woman is giving birth on the stage floor. The husband is taken away; there are screams, beatings, collaborators getting burning tires around their necks, humiliation. Then I stayed. Then it was a part of history, a history that I was trying to understand and that I wasn’t a part of. Then it had happened a long time ago, then it was easy to watch to understand, then I didn’t have to leave.
Now the film sequences are coming back, they are shown on BBC and CNN. In Chile, the black glasses have been thrown away and he failed to get immunity. In southern Africa, two former enemies sit around the negotiating table and plan a common future. The tall man, who is not yet out of prison, speaks to those in power and that leads to a shift of power. They understood that ‘the other’ couldn’t be defeated. And I dream about new films, films describing how the lost country is reestablished, how walls are taken down and sold as souvenirs.
And I see the woman going into “sniper alley” at Eretz, a mother visiting her son who is in prison on the Israeli side. When she comes back she tells me about cold speaker voices, soldiers in concrete bunkers, dogs to close, automatic weapons pointed at her body, soldiers laughing, and humiliation.
I never saw the end of the film, The Pianist. I don’t know what happened, if there was a happy ending for the pianist or if he died together with the other millions murdered people. I also don’t know what happened to the woman giving birth, the woman who wanted to go home to her husband, the man on crutches. I don’t know what will happen to the soldiers; the girl and boy who stopped them.
But the soldier at Eretz, who I have never written about before, said that he had been there seven months and that he was going to stay a long time. ”I will stay if I can stay sane, look around,” he said,”it’s all crazy.” I think he will make it. He will hand over to his successor in a few years’ time; he will have personal experiences that will make him a complete human being. I believe he will be somebody who never will be silenced. I am meeting him in a couple of weeks, when he’s on leave. He has promised to tell me a story.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.