By Mosarrap H. Khan
The rickety bus with a few passengers travels into the vast expanse of the valley and the gray mountains lend a desultory look to the landscape. The furrows on the old man’s brown forehead deepen as he grips the hand-railing attached to the seat in front of him. He had to travel to the city to seek permission from the Israeli authorities for his son’s wedding. Before getting off at a nearby stop, he doesn’t forget to invite the passengers to the wedding.
The women in tattered clothes move about the house with a spring in their steps and gossip about the marriage. The men in the village gather in an uneasy huddle to discuss about the impossible offer of Israeli soldiers being present at the wedding. In this Palestinian village ruled by an Israeli military governor, the night-time curfew can be relaxed only by inviting the governor and his soldiers to the wedding. Some refuse to attend the wedding as it implies breaking bread with ‘enemy’ soldiers. Others come around thinking of the old man’s predicament.
On the day of the wedding, the old man wakes up early and kisses the forehead of his son. He goes to the stable, pets his favorite horse and speaks to her affectionately of his eldest son’s marriage. The groom mounts the decked-up horse and gallops to the bride’s house.
The governor with his soldiers arrives to keep an eye on the proceedings. The guests start pouring in. The governor and his men are treated with respect and indifference. Neither side is sure how to deal with the other.
Gradually, food is served; the tense atmosphere relaxes; the men gossip about other sumptuous meals they have had on different occasions. The soldiers recount the best kebabs they had in Syria. The men drink heavily, dance with a frenzy, and eat ravenously. The oppressive everyday barriers have been broken down in this carnivalesque atmosphere. The tactility of food and drink transgresses the ethnic, linguistic, religious, and national barriers and forges a bond between these people.
Meanwhile, two kids enter the stable and let the horse out inadvertently and it crosses over into the Israeli territory. The kids run after the horse and one of the boys almost steps across the border. The other kid reminds him of the mines that have been carefully planted right across the border to stop the Palestinians from crossing over into the Israeli territory. One boy keeps an eye on the horse while the other returns to inform the old man.
One of the soldiers accompanies the old man back to where the horse has wandered into. Other soldiers gather and take turns to fire bullets from the Israeli side to scare it back into the Palestinian territory. The old man feels restless and requests the Israeli soldiers to stop firing. He wants to risk mines and cross into the no-man’s land to rescue his favorite horse. The soldiers prevent him from taking such a drastic step. He calls out the horse’s name. She recognizes the familiar sound of his voice and starts walking back into the Palestinian territory. He pets her; she nods approvingly; he brings her back home. The traditional aural-tactile bond proves stronger than the hostile sound of machine guns.
The stifling weather and endless chatter of men overpower the lone Israeli woman soldier present on the occasion. The Arab women carry the khaki-clad woman soldier into a room. They take off her khaki dress, rub her neck, chest, and back. Her limp body responds to the warmth of these village women. The Palestinian women delight at the fine, soft skin of an exotic woman. The Israeli woman feels a calm she hasn’t experienced before. They touch each other and giggle. The bare, warm skin builds bridges. The tactile and the aural create affective bonds.
The marriage is solemnized. The bride and the groom return to the old man’s house. The bed is covered with a white bed-spread. The guests continue feasting and will do so until they see the proof of consummation of marriage in the form of red blotches of blood on the white bed-spread. They change into night-gowns, perform some of the wedding-rituals, and he pulls her close. In a sudden feat, he violently kicks her away from him. The warm tactility of his bride’s skin fails to excite him. He realizes his ‘impotence,’ his inability to respond to touch. She covers him with her body; she endeavors to inject warmth into his unresponsive body. The bare bodies touch but fail to create a bond.
The parents return to inquire if he passed the final test of his manhood and if she was a virgin. He accuses his father of bestowing on him an impossible burden, the burden of history, the burden of an incipient Palestinian nation.
The parents rush out shuddering to think of the consequences and mull over brining in a doctor from the nearby town. Inside the melancholy room, the bride ruptures her own hymen with the bed-spread. The guests return home satisfied.
The patriarch of the house wakes up early next morning, kisses the forehead of his younger son, and utters, “Why do I want you to learn my story by heart? What I fear most for you is myself.” The boy wakes up and runs away from his father refusing to carry the burden of a suffocating legacy. Once the conviviality of the carnival is over, the oppressive everyday life fails to reproduce what was promised in the transgressive carnivalesque atmosphere.
While watching Palestinian filmmaker, Michel Khleifi’s Wedding in Galilee (1987), for a moment, one is hopeful about the possibility of creating affective bonds between the Israelis and the Palestinians through orality-aurality and tactility. The transgressions, however, prove momentary as the horse is called back into its familiar territory, the soldiers go back to the Israeli territory.
And the younger son refuses to carry the burden of history.
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