It is remarkable how little effort the footmen of a police state have to put into intimidation. The mere suggestion of a threat, of danger, is enough. The invisible scarecrow.
The strategy works because of the not knowing, the waiting, which entirely consumes novices. Every act, every decision, every word is suddenly imbued with a new significance. Immediately after the threat is received, things seem to speed up somehow, and the outside world retreats – or is blocked out – a little. External sounds become distant as the deafening fear courses through the bloodstream from the stomach and the heart until it reaches the head, where it sits like spilt oil on seawater, choking hope and happiness and normal thought.
And in that moment they’ve won.
The knowledge of being watched is suffocating. Its worst, most exhausting, aspect is that after they enter your head, they are in your home, at your work, in your car, in your street, everywhere you look. It is difficult to put into words the feelings induced by receiving a phone call at 1 a.m advising you to leave your house immediately because they might be coming for you. The mad 10 minute rush of getting dressed and putting basic essentials into a bag, waiting, waiting, waiting for the explosion. Your home suddenly transformed into a trap.
And then out into the night, and the comfort – or the illusion of comfort – provided by constant movement.
It’s surprising how you can get used to fear, learn to live with it. Gradually it becomes yet another of the million things lurking at the back of your mind – the unreturned library books, the email not sent, the people not called.
The only bright spot in all this is people’s support, their solidarity. Solidarity is a word often bandied around in activist statements etc. Its true worth can only be appreciated in situations when it is really needed. It is a life jacket. I will never forget the friends – Moftases, Abadodo, Sharshar – who dropped everything so I wouldn’t be on my own, and Aida who unquestioningly gave me a bed in her home in the middle of the night, and Haitham or Umm Nakad who rang up to check on me periodically.
I’m so happy that Philip was released, but feelings of happiness have almost been obscured by anger: anger that this happened to him (would it have happened to a foreigner?), anger that these people have interrupted my and others’ lives, anger that their sickness is allowed to spread through our society by the people in charge and their supporters abroad, anger about the people still in detention.
One day this will end, and hopefully it will be soon. When it does, it will because of people like Philip, whose first public statement on being released from his incommunicado detention was that the marches in solidarity with Gaza should continue.
To people reading this: next time you hear about someone in danger and are requested to join a protest or sign a petition or send a letter, don’t hesitate. Please do it.