Tweet As If We Were Free
The power of the imagination to create and eliminate borders
One particularly lazy morning this week when I didn’t get up as early to write as I normally do and instead opted to stay in bed stroking the cat and scrolling through Twitter when I came across a hashtag.
“#غرد_كأنها_حرة” “Tweet as if we were free.”
“After our beach day in Naqoura we’re driving down to Akka for our friend’s housewarming party; they just finished moving back into the home their grandfather was ousted from 73 years ago,” tweeted Lebanese writer Lina Mounzer.
Train tickets from Cairo to Jerusalem, flight plans from Jeddeh to Gaza. Photographs of the Gaza International Airport, and fantasies about day trips from Damascus to Akka. Day trips that were possible, once upon a time, but have since been forced out of our imaginations by wars and occupations, checkpoints and permissions, a system that deprives freedom of movement from those that need it the most and weaponizes it as a form of collective punishment.
For a split second, I caught myself believing it—the possibility of being able to drive from the Lebanese beach town of Naqoura to the Palestinian city of Akka, of train services connecting cities around the Middle East, of experiencing the richness of so much shared culture and history without the borders that have been drawn by Sykes-Picot and enforced by occupation, that have made Palestine a fantasy land for so much of the Middle East. For a split second, I caught myself imagining a world where the concrete wall that separates Lebanon from Palestine weren’t just as fortified in our minds as it is in the earth, and instead was the rolling hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea that it is supposed to be.
What would the world look like if we were free?
It would be a world where borders were a delineation of culture and identity but not a boundary meant to segregate and control. It would mean that geography was fluid and free, that we don’t accept that it is normal for some people to have to wait hours for permissions or be denied entry for no reason. It would mean train rides and two hour trips. It would mean breakfast in one country, dinner in another, taking in the beauty of the journey and the love of seeing friends and family all over.
But it is more than a question of geography. It is also healing what these broken geographies have done to us, and the way that we relate to one another. It made me remember the way that a Palestinian friend laughed at me when he heard me speak Arabic for the first time on a trip that we took together, hearing the Lebanese lilt on certain words, and teased me by calling me LBC—the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, a popular news channel in Lebanon and across the Middle East—for the rest of the time. It struck me that even though he grew up less than 200 kilometers away from the Lebanese border, he had never actually heard a Lebanese person speak outside of the television. It wasn’t for a lack of desire to travel, but a lack of freedom of movement—it is impossible for most Lebanese citizens to travel to occupied Palestine, and just as difficult for Palestinians living under occupation to travel anywhere else.
If this doesn’t strike you as strange, imagine that even approximating this distance—200 kilometers—required a perplexing interaction with Google Maps, one where I plugged in where he grew up in Palestine with a Lebanese town close to the border, and Google—in all of its infinite wisdom—sent me on a circuitous route traveling through Syria (areas almost certainly plagued by air strikes and barrel bombs in recent history) and all but refused me to even let me map an imagined blue line over the concrete wall that marks the impenetrable Lebanese-Israeli border.
Imagine this system superimposed on anywhere else, and it becomes absurd. The United States as it is today, but New Jersey—which is so often compared to present-day Israel due to it’s size—is occupied by an enemy power which has constructed a fortress around it, and made it impossible for anyone from the surrounding states to access. Driving from Philadelphia to New York City requires a complicated route through Allentown, Scranton, Newburgh and heading due south before finally hitting the Bronx. Meanwhile New Jersey itself becomes a country that exists as a concrete place for far flung foreign visitors but a dream bordering on a mythical land for its neighbors and its own.
Imagine it long enough, and it starts to resemble Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the connections (or lack thereof) between them due to the occupation. Imagine it long enough, and you just might imagine the flight patterns from Amman to Beirut that dip down to the Red Sea to avoid flying over Israel, the concrete barrier walls that have become ubiquitous with borders meant to corral and control Palestinians. Imagine it long enough and this absurdity becomes the new normal, the way we live our lives by permissions and passports and accepting that places we know to be real are no longer there.
We may have swallowed the hard truth that we need to delete the routes that should be from our practical understanding of the world for the time being, but it is chilling to feel as if we have erased them from our imaginations as well. What felt so powerful about these photographs and fantasies—even on social media—is the way that it breathed life back into our imaginations, and reminded us that this was not an impossible dream but a reality not so many years ago.
What would it be like to imagine a world outside the lines, or a world that didn’t have any lines at all?