I am hanging my first photo exhibition in Ramallah at the Sakakini Gallery. It consists of large photographs of the wall, photos from Gaza, the sea and Rafah. There are also some photos of the golden dome in the Old City of Jerusalem. A young woman helps me. We began the day before. Cleaned away some litter. Drunk many cups of coffee. Hung photos up in one place and then switched them around. Everything had to be in tune. Light photos in the darker room and dark photos in the room that had daylight flowing through the small windows. After two days, eighty photos are hanging on the beautiful white sandstone walls. The gallery was earlier a dwelling house and has been redone into a gallery. We are just about done when I suddenly see the woman sitting on the floor. She starts to cry and says:
– I long for the sea!
– What do you mean? I ask.
– I can see the houses, the skyscrapers in Tel Aviv from my apartment on the sixth floor. But I can’t see the sea. I always long for it. I want to show my daughter the sea.
– When were you there last? I ask.
– 1998, she replies. And now I can’t get there.
* * *
– I long for the red and white bird, says the girl who since three weeks sits in a refugee camp in northern Gaza. Three weeks earlier, bulldozers crushed her family’s house. Now she longs for the little bird that used to come every morning to the small balcony.
– Every morning, my mother gave me breakfast and the bird got crumbs from me.
* * *
– We had a dream about establishing a life here in my parents’ building in Al Ram. My loved one comes from Haifa, she is an Israeli Arab. Last week, the wall was closed. Everything suddenly became impossible. Every day, my six-year-old son has to pass by arbitrary, young soldiers.
– We long for freedom, to be free, free, free.
* * *
– Yesterday my youngest daughter gave birth to her first child. When I was going to visit her in the hospital in Nablus I was stopped by a young Israeli girl. I felt sorry for her, she was so young. She was just a girl, a soldier who in one day had left the longing of youth and happiness for the masquerade of death. 22 years ago, I gave birth to my daughter at the hospital in Nablus. Now I wanted to see my grandchild. Now I was not allowed. I long to see my grandchild.
* * *
– I will never again be able to see the olive hill to which my father used to bring me. It is on the other side of the wall. It was there that he taught me everything about animals. It was there that he used to sit and think and yearn for another time. It was there that we had the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem, of the Dome of the Rock. The grey dragon, the wall has now come in between. It kills everything. It even kills the dream. I long to be able to walk the fifty meters up to the olive hill.
* * *
– We long to be able to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem. Every year we apply for a permit. Every year we have the same dream. We have four children. We apply early, five months before Easter. Now the wall is complete. We are confined. It is more difficult for a Christian from Bethlehem to walk on Via Dolorosa than for a Swedish tourist. We need permits from the military, the Swedish tourist does not.
* * *
-We long for a calm night, says the woman in Gaza; a night without bombs, without children screaming, without helicopters, without ambulances, one single night.
* * *
Everybody is longing, everyone longs after something. The occupation has ensured that longing fills everyone’s day. Everyone speaks about it, speaks about what has been lost, about what was recently possible. It is not about the big dreams, but about being able to go to the sea, dip feet into the salty water, to be able to see the red and white bird, to look into the eyes of a grandchild, to be able to walk onto the father’s olive hill, to be able to celebrate Easter with the family, a night without bombs, to be free.
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 email@example.com.