H.   16      I live in Ramallah.  I am involved in a creative writing group.  Human beings have creativity because we have so much curiosity.  We want to live more than one experience at a time because life is so short.  So we are creative in order to be able to live all these things at once.  That is the point of creating.  It is a way to get around the problem of dying.

The occupation changes your personality.  I often wonder who I would be and what I would be like if I had lived my life in a normal way like kids do in a country that is just theirs, without war and the threat of soldiers coming in to boss you around.  Here, you can be a normal child playing in the street one moment and in a second you turn into an angry, stone-throwing child.  You become a man more quickly.  You can't go to the places and cities that you want to go.  You can't act on your dreams.

My father has been in prison four times.  It is never easy when he is in prison.  It is not easy anyway, but it is even harder when he is away from us.  Generally he gets arrested when he goes to pray at the mosque.  Someone, some traitor, points out our house to the Israelis, military jeeps surround the house and when my father comes home, they arrest him.  He's been in prison for six months, nine months, one year.  Once he was a general of the Islamic party at the university, so he is always a target.  One time, in l988, a soldier hit his mother - my grandmother - and so my father hit the soldier in return and that, of course, landed him in prison.

It has impacted my family in a lot of ways, my father being locked up.  When my dad was first sent away, my little brother was quite small and he would sleep in my mother's room.  When my father finally came home, my little brother didn't recognize him.  One of the worst times for me was when I was only 10, maybe younger.  My father was in prison.  My mother was going to have a baby.  She had to eat to keep the baby healthy but we had no food or money.  She was sick, too, so she could not do anything except try to rest.  I had to go to work in the market, carrying vegetables for merchants.  They paid me just a tiny bit of money, sometimes they gave me vegetables that did not sell.  I had to go home and cook and try to get my mother to eat.  We only have running water for some of the time.  One of my friends has had no water in his house for three years - he has to go to the neighbour's house for water.

Overall, we have been lucky.  My friend's father was in prison for 12 years for burning an Israeli flag.

I haven't had a lot to do with Israelis other than the soldiers.  Where would I meet an Israeli?  They don't come here.  It is against the law for them to go through the checkpoints, although I don't know what would happen to them if they did go through.  It's not against the law for them to enter Palestine.  No one checks their ID on the way in.  But when they cross back into Israel, that's when they wold have to explain themselves.  Still, there are lots of ways they could do it.  Israelis can drive on roads that Palestinians can't.  If they were really interested in meeting us, they would come.  But they don't.

The Israeli's I've met have been soldiers.  One soldier stuck his gun right in my face one of the times they arrested my father.  He kept the gun in my face as they took Dad away, so I couldn't say goodbye to him or give him a hug or anything.

Troops go into Nablus and Hebron and Beit Unina down the road.  There is lots of fighting there.  They come into this neighbourhood, too.  A 17 year old boy was arrested just the other day for taking photographs.  They didn't like what he was taking pictures of, or maybe they thought his camera was a gun, who knows what they thought?  They saw him on the street and took him.

There are so many stories about people and the checkpoints.  When my friend's grandmother died, he was waiting on the checkpoint with his family to go to the funeral on the other side of the wall.  His little brother saw a dog and said, "Look, there's a dog."  The Israelis thought he was calling them a dog and there was a big uproar.  Finally they were able to pass, but not before lots of yelling and searching and explanations.

You never know what will make things go really bad, really fast.