As the corona pandemic and lockdown began, the city emptied for the first time. Shops and cafes closed, work stopped, schools were abandoned and people and cars disappeared from the streets. The city was liberated from us human beings, but another force flowed into our place. We could feel it as plants unfurled, light swept over garden paths and grass sprouted from the sides of the road. Every day, I walked back and forth along the main street of At-Tire. Sometimes I walked to the Al-Huda gas station, which overlooks far hills and spacious sky, and would come to a halt, caught by the wind blowing through the trees. Each time the wind stirred, leaves whispered something to me.
At home, we watched the news of the virus outbreak with horror. We bought masks and sterilisers. Every day we checked the corona global website for the mounting number of deaths in the United States and Italy. We read articles about failures to warn the public of the danger ahead, about failures that allowed the virus to spread. We felt angry at the occupation, which did not stop crushing us, even for a moment, in such dark times. We waited for the Pandemic Committee’s daily evening brief. We listened, knowing that everyone in Palestine was listening at the same time. It was the beginning of spring and the world was blossoming with verdant colour. We felt that something unfamiliar was knocking at our door—Something we knew so little about.
This moment has come with much pain. The pandemic has revealed the failure of political machineries and health systems that put the economy before human lives. It has exposed the brutality of these systems and the cruelty of this world. It has reminded us of how the marginal, vulnerable and poor are sacrificed to protect the rich and powerful. It has thereby reposed questions brewing for decades and reminded us of struggles long held in abeyance. Where shall we begin? In asking this question, many concerns press on us and we should take this to heart. We should understand that there is no longer one emergency. Rather, all issues are urgent, holding all lives in the balance at the same time.
So, when I invited friends and writers to participate in this issue of 28 Magazine, I was myself unsure of what I was asking for. If it is impossible to write about one issue without losing sight of another, how can we answer the question, “where shall we begin?” This is why my invitation was open ended—because I am asking the contributors not only where to start, but also how. Can the writing show us a way?
The contributors answer this question in their own way. They affirm the necessity to write and, as such, the necessity of writing. To write is to look into the emergency and to understand how it is not necessarily what we think it is.
There is a certain magic to this world that we will never see unless we acknowledge that it is vast and mysterious. The world is ever revealing itself to us. We tend to forget this amid the preoccupations of our daily lives; worries about work and children, responsibilities towards family, friends and our city. However, just as we search for ways to live on this Earth—to farm and build and invent—we also seek to make sense of life philosophically or poetically. Why do we love and hate? What do we need in friendship? Why are we touched by hills?
The stories told in this issue of 28 Magazine come from this space of wonder. They emerge from a world that is for a moment what it is: an enigma. To recognise the world as an enigma, as something that has yet to be revealed, is an imperative all at once poetic and political. We can’t hope for anything without recognising the world as a place still capable of enchanting us. Hope, in its political and revolutionary sense, is alive in a world still becoming, a world that dreams of a better version of itself. This world needs imagination, the imagination of dreamers who believe they can change the world. Without their dreaming, nothing can happen. We would have neither love nor art nor novels.
We cannot deny that we thought we’d see a glimpse of hope for the world at the beginning of the pandemic. For a brief moment, we felt hope that a better world could follow the crisis, a radically different world. This hope dimmed once it was confirmed to us that the ruling system has only grown more vicious during the pandemic. But perhaps it was good to take stock of the state of affairs, if it also reopened the question of what the future might hold, allowing us to believe again. The immediate form of this hope was emergence of new social and political movements in the world, such as the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.
If hope always had a place in this world, then writing must be physics of this hope. Through writing, we move with hope in its various guises; sometimes bright, other times fleeting and at times shattered. The stories in this issue of 28 Magazine remind us that we cannot re-envision the world without reconsidering the way we imagine, live, love and make friends. They remind us that we can choose to live as machines or as human beings who breathe, love, suffer, crave and dream of escaping. And they express an inescapable truth: that to really love in the full poetic sense of the term—that overtakes the narrow emotional connotation of the word—is one of the most radical acts possible in this strange world.
We all feel the burden to write from places being erased, often in the most literal sense of the word. But how do we write in the face of death? How do we write in the face of murder, erasure and displacement? How do we write in the face of a global pandemic? It is a difficult and painful time for writing. As Palestinians, we know that amidst a major crisis, we shy from talking about minor emergencies; and in the face of great pain, we do not know how to tend to small wounds. Perhaps literature reminds us that life happens in all its details, whether we see these details as being of political import or as banal and happenstance—whether we are weathering a murderous war or complaining about the lack of parking spots. The real gift of literature is that it is the gateway to other worlds. Not because what happens in stories happens elsewhere, but because these other worlds are the inner realms of the stories’ characters and the perspectives from which they see and describe the world. Writing speaks not of another place, but of an other, and tells us this other is also us.
So, whereas the world always seems hemmed in by prohibitions, judgments and iron-clad identities, this world also flows and moves on, indifferent to us all. Sometimes, we need to move in the opposite direction of the flow to say something new. We can do this by tending to the details of an inner world. Is not the gift of literature in such details? Is there a gift more beautiful than this? These stories in this magazine are passages to the inner worlds of other selves, entered through wondrous moments. Each text emerges from an isolation inside isolation. It is an isolation that is capacious, forward-looking and ever inviting, whispering to us, “Come wander; come try to be someone else.”