I have met Dr Rauf Azar at Beit Sahour medical centre. He is the director of the clinic since 2005. The clinic is part of the Health Work Committees in Palestine, a no profit NGO which main goal is to provide health services to the inhabitants of occupied Palestinian territories, with a special focus on patients from marginalised groups, like poor people, women, children and people with special needs. ‘This centre was founded as a clinic’ Dr Azar says, ‘then it expended and became a day care surgery centre and we are on our way to establish here a small hospital for general and reconstructive surgery’. The reconstructive surgery will be the first hospital dealing with reconstruction and it will be the first one in the Palestinian territories and it will be developed in partnership together with the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive surgery in Bari (Italy) and with prof. Michele Pascone.
Then I go straight to the point, and ask Dr Azar What is Palestine?
He does not say a word for a while. Then he looks at the bricks and without even touching them, he firmly says ‘Palestine is nothing here…’.
He seems sceptical, but I invite him to build. He is not comfortable, he tries to talk, and I again invite him to build first and talk
later. ‘I need to talk to be able to think.’ he says and by taking the black small platform he says ‘This is Palestine… the area that is recognised to be Palestine… or that should be Palestine…’ As he was opposing the process, all I could do, was to induce and force him into the process. I look at the black platform and ask him ‘So, Palestine is a black block?’.
It was a question he was not expecting. ‘Well, you can take another colour… it’s symbolic… But what does this thing mean for me?…’ he asks himself while touching and putting together some bricks. He
simply put 2 yellow thin bricks one next to the other. So I challenge him and take those two bricks apart. ‘This is not a stable … Palestine…’. He seems puzzled and I encourage him to build something. He stays silent. He does not move. I insist ‘If this is Palestine, it’s made only by two parts that can shift apart…’. He stays silent for a moment. Than sobbing he says ‘No.’ Then he finally gets into the process, he starts thinking, reflecting, and says ‘Maybe…Maybe…’. He is puzzled and finally, when I invite him again to play with the bricks, he starts building.
When he finishes, he simply says ‘This is Palestine for me… it is nothing and it is something at the
same time. Maybe I took two parts to show that the historical Palestine does not exist anymore. Now we have, 2 occupied territories and Israel…’ I ask him where the occupied territories are in the model. ‘I don’t know where are they’ he says ‘That’s not important… and when you see here, I placed another piece on both on them’ – he says by showing me his model and the bricks that keep the yellow ones together – ‘ and I have put a bridge between both parts… this is not stable, you see?’ He asks pointing me out the instability of his model. ‘Why are not stable?’ I ask. ‘Because they belong to each other, and even if there are no natural barriers, they are separated…’.
Time for me to get into the real issue ‘So what are those 2 yellow and the black thin bricks then?’
He looks at the model and thinks ‘Both of them might be the occupied territories, both of them might be Israel… it depends on the perspective you look at them from. I think that fighting or discussing about what belongs to me, as a Palestinian, or what belongs to an Israeli as an Israeli, it is not going to bring anything. Maybe my Palestine is this one, or this one, or…’ he says showing me the bricks. ‘I did not put them around with any strategic plan because I mean that Palestine for me is the place where I can live, the country where I was born, where I can feel free and where I love to live… this is Palestine. The real Palestine is the place where I know I have my human rights, all my rights, where my children have also their rights – their right to play, their right to talk, to learn, even to exist… So… It might be anywhere… all these places might be Palestine or might be Israel. The very important thing is that whoever lives there, he has to know his borders and at the same time he has to know and to accept the borders’ of the others… For example, if Palestine for me is Bethlehem, it may not be my free Palestine as long as Bethlehem is closed by the wall and it is cut off from its natural neighborhood where bridges does not exist… it’s the chaos…’
He is finally into the process. So I keep him talking and thinking.
‘What are those two parts there’? I ask pointing at the yellow and black blocks.
‘They are Human rights and the contacts’
‘Contacts?…’ I repeat.
‘But this all Palestine, isn’t it?’
‘Historic Palestine… When we are together and respect the rights of the others…’
‘Where’s the others?’ I ask him.
‘The others are the others… they are not in the model… so, this bridge would be an effective one but it requires to be builded together to be strong.’
‘And how do you build this bridge?’
‘With the agreement between people… if we have two pieces of land and we know this is my land and this is your land, we need to have a very closed relationship so that both of us can exist… this is the agreement, and it won’t be very difficult to achieve, if I know that one part needs a little bit more from my part, I can give them this part too… or they can give me a part of their own… it’s not difficult… it can’t be effective without an agreement. Without this agreement it’s just parts… without the work and efforts from the population, starting with children… When we have the agreement, this stones do not mean that much, so it can be build and rebuilt and nobody will be anger, because I know the other is not a stranger… it’s not identical to me, it may have a different religion and a different culture, but he knows his borders, I can accept him and he can accept me… So it may be like this… that…’ he says while playing ad moving the bricks around… “they cane exist in friendship with each other and it is stable…’
‘How do you think that these two parts of Palestine can agree on something and make a stable and strong model… Who should work on that…?’
‘Everyone. All together.’ he says firmly ‘sometimes this has to begin, maybe we have to begin with the young people and give them the possibility to discover each other so that we can set the foundations for two things: acceptance of the others, and the reciprocal discovery of our own reciprocal boarders, so that everyone can accept and respect others’ borders… So this can happen and the history is full of examples. Take the example of Germany and France: they have tried long time through dialogues but the real change has began with a cooperation program and an exchange program between youth of both countries… maybe this is a way… It’s not very important for me to set the borders, but it’s important that people learn about each other, and I know many Palestinian would say that what I am talking about is normalisation, that it can’t exist normalisation between occupied and occupiers.. it may be right but I think a way has to be found, because also for the occupier is not easy to handle a normalisation with the occupation…For both sides the situation is very difficult…’
This Interview was recorded on Dec 31st 2011 in Bethlehem. Ever since the situation in Palestine has underwent several phases with increasing tensions. This situation has been going on for 64 years now. Soon Palestinians will celebrate their Nakba. Many errors have been committed from both sides. And yet, it seems none has learned yet the lesson.
The complete full length interview with Dr Rauf Azar has been published as an exclusive on the London Progressive Journal on May 26th 2013.