Love in Ramallah A Short Story by Ibrahim Nasrallah - Translated by Mohammed Ghalaieny from Arabic- 2021 - Included in The Book of Ramallah- A City in Short Fiction- edited and introduced by Maya Abu Al-Hayat
Love in Ramallah is the second story from The Book of Ramallah- A City in Short Fiction upon which I have posted,
The City of Ramallah, population about 70,000, is located in the West Bank area of Palestine, has become a focal point of world wide media. Isreal does not have legal control but it domination of the city is manifested by actions.This Anthology was published prior to the initiation of the current conflict. In the very informative elegant introduction Maya Abu Al-Hayat tells us the literary history of the city going back to the 16th century up to 2021. She has selected a quite diverse range of stories but each one is informed by the occupation of the city.
One thing that has happened for 1000s of years is young men armed against much weaker opposition often turn into petty tyrants and sadists. This is magnified when those in authority dehumanise the enemy.
In today's story, "Love in Ramallah" we see young Isreali soldiers at a check point bus stop subjecting a Palestinian man and woman passenger to humiliation just for the fun of it. They order the man to kiss a young woman, in knowing violation of their cultural norms,
"The bus to Ramallah had to stop at an Israeli checkpoint between two hills, a place called Uyoun al-Haramiya. There had never been a day when soldiers hadn’t been stationed at this spot. First it was the British soldiers; after them the Jordanian now the Israelis.
Israeli Soldiers ordered the passengers off the bus. Then a soldier boarded it and walked the length of the aisle until he reached the long back seat. Then, from inside he looked back out at the faces of the passengers lined up on the tarmac looking for any expression other than indifference. The soldier got off the bus and circled around the passengers, stopping beside an attractive young girl to stare at her. He walked a few steps then stopped again. Turning, he signalled to three other soldiers, observing the scene from 15 metres away, to come closer. As they approached he walked to the end of the line of passengers and stopped by Yasseen..The soldier stopped directly in front of the attractive young girl, and there behind him now stood Na’eem. The soldier turned, looked at Na’eem, then looked back to the young girl. ‘Do you want the bus to pass?’ he asked Na’eem. Na’eem nodded in affirmation. ‘If you want the bus to pass, you have to kiss her!’ the soldier said, pointing at the girl. A glimmer lit up the soldiers’ eyes. They liked this game, it enthused them."
The man refuses, he is hit with the butt of a rifle then kicked. The young woman begs him to kiss her.
Part of the deep sadness embedded in this story is how the residents of Ramallah have come to see constant cruelty as to be expected.
"In a turn that nobody saw coming the young girl bent down by the man on the ground in front of her, took his hand and whispered, ‘Kiss me, I beg you!’ Na’eem looked up at the passengers again; they were staring at the ground trying to not be there. He kissed her on her right cheek. As his lips met her face several of the soldiers whooped, as if they were cheering for a winning goal scored by their team, while others grumbled in disapproval."
Ibrahim Nasrallah was born in 1954 to Palestinian parents who were evicted from their land in Palestine in 1948. He spent his childhood and youth in a refugee camp in Jordan, and began his career as a teacher in Saudi Arabia. After returning to Amman, he worked in the media and cultural sector until 2006. To date, he has published 15 poetry collections, 21 novels, and several other books. In 1985, he started writing the Palestinian Comedy covering 250 years of modern Palestinian history in a series of independent novels. His works have been translated into English, Italian, Danish, Turkish, and Persian. Three of his novels have been shortlisted or longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) – sometimes referred to as the ‘Arabic Booker’ – and in 2018 his novel The Second Dog War won it. In 2012 he won the inaugural Jerusalem Award for Culture and Creativity, and his novel Prairies of Fever was chosen by The Guardian one of the ten most important novels written about the Arab world.
There are eight additional stories in the collection. I hope to post on them all.