“The Accumulation Thereof” – Palestine, Pt. 6

by Tochi

The novella I’ve been working on is part of a short story collection, a log of the various lives of regular folk on a space colony: alcoholics, androids, celestial beachcombers. Many of them are fraught with the notion that those problems they thought they’d left behind on Earth have followed them into space. They thought the vast, eternal expanse would cure them. The pieces in the collection are more than a little biographical.

The series of pieces I’ve been working on lately concern the android, a female care worker named Cecile who has stumbled into sentience. Underpinning much of her arc is the notion that sentience is a result of the accumulation of enough data. Her ‘Father’ believed this and had it in mind when creating her, implanting in her enough memories that were not hers in order to provide her with enough ‘junk DNA’ that would coalesce in a consciousness soup from which her awareness of the world would emerge. She learns, piece by piece, how to emulate red-blooded human beings and later to move beyond copying their reactions to generating her own.

The details. The accumulation thereof.

I realize it’s been a persistent theme in my travels. Each place I’ve spent time in, I’ve focused almost obsessively on these details, collecting them, hoarding them. The kid in the faux-Globetrotters jersey who stands on my street, waiting for me so that he can say, blue eyes wide with curiosity, “Howeryoo.” The builders and construction workers who live inside the half-finished buildings they’re constructing. The projectiles caught on the steel net above the Arab market, meant to shield the customers and proprietors from the hatred and avarice of their settler neighbors overhead. Embedded in this aggregation is the hope that if I collect enough of these things, I will come to some understanding of where exactly I am. I will have learned this place’s sense, its color.

The expectation crystallizes with particular brilliance when I find myself in places in flux, conflict zones or states-in-waiting. It happened in Kosovo, in Bosnia. And it’s happening again here. I collect details and facts. As of May 2013, there were 4979 political prisoners held in Israeli military prisons, 156 of whom are administrative detainees who have not received notice of their charge or a trial, 236 of whom are minors under international law, 44 of whom are younger than 16, 529 of whom are currently serving life sentences, etc., etc.

I work on the profiles of some of these prisoners.

Imad Batran (né Imad Abdul Aziz Abdullah Batran) was born on July 3, 1974, lived in Hebron at the time of his arrest on Nov. 18, 2011, is currently held in Ramleh Prison Hospital, and is married with 4 children. Today marks his 50th day on hunger strike.

Ayman Tbeisheh was born on Apr. 20, 1980, lived in Dura outside Hebron at the time of his arrest on May 9, 2013, is currently in isolation in Ofer Prison, and was engaged at the time of his arrest. Today marks his 34th day on hunger strike.

Etc., etc.

Maybe if I squint hard enough the gild the setting sun casts over the apartment blocks spotting the hills outside my flat will grant me an epiphany, will unlock this place to me. Maybe if I pay attention to what products in the grocery store by the flat are in Arabic or Hebrew, I will divine my future and our respective places in it. Maybe if I collect enough stones from the Jordan Valley, they will grant me, by osmosis, the wisdom with which I’m to return home.

Maybe if I jot down enough details, enough remarks on these box-shaped dwellings, enough cataloguing of Palestinian jubilation at the Arab Idol results, if I write enough capsuled profiles of men and women thrown into prison under circumstances that violate international law, I will gain sentience. I will become more human than I was before I came here.

Fact: Mohammad Sa’di Ibrahim Nimer, born on Jan. 14, 1990, a football player in Al Khader Sports Club and former member of the Palestine National Team, was arrested on Feb. 18, 2012.

Fact: He is the same age as my younger brother.

Fact: Google Maps refuses to calculate the distance between me and my family.

There’s the object I can hold in my hand. The pint of milk. The unexploded tear gas canister.

And then there’s everything else: a place that is as much a revelation to me as it is a mystery. And a collection of people, sharing my last name, who I’d give a kidney to spend the rest of my summer with.