Could you be any funnier?

May 24, 2009
*Special to asia!

It's not easy to steal the show be funny next to someone like British comedian Michael Palin, but Palestinian writer Suad Amiry proved she had just what it took.

one wall


Behind me, the technical crew al-Jazeera were setting up. They were going to be broadcasting “live” this evening. Monty Python's Michael Palin was in town.

It's not everyday an international star graces Ramallah with his presence, so the cosy garden where this evening's Palestinian Festival of Literature was being held, was rapidly filling up. As the night progressed though, the star turned out not to be the English comedian, but Palestinian writer Suad Amiry.

It would take a more detached journalist to tell you just what this immaculately-dressed lady was wearing. I was instead content to just sit back and enjoy the stories she was beguiling her audience with. Even Michael Palin -with whom she shared the stage with - seemed happy to do the same.

Saud Amiry is not a writer. This architect's writing career really began, with the Israeli-imposed curfew on Ramallah from late 2001 to 2002. For 42 days, she was stuck at home with her mother-in-law.

“I was under occupation both inside and out,” she joked.

She went on to share some of her experiences then that bordered on the absurd, like how forbidden from entering Jerusalem, she ended up using her pet dog, which had an Israeli-issued doggie passport, to get her in. The soldier smiled, when she reasoned that the dog could not possibly drive itself to Israel.

Amiry also spoke about her upcoming book Murad Murad. Apparently not one to enter Israel by conventional means, she decided this time to disguise as a man. Instead of her pet dog, she was accompanied by a group of Palestinians stealing across the newly-constructed wall dividing the West Bank and Israel for work. 

If it had been up to most other writers, this would have been no laughing matter. But in the hands of Amiry, she was inciting roars of laughter from the audience.

Amiry read the account where the Palestinians, upon reaching the Israeli side, had to then try to look Israeli. Now, most outsiders would be hard-pressed to differentiate between a Palestinian and an Israeli. But for those living here, there is a difference.

So how does a Palestinian transform himself into his nemesis? In five minutes, he changes his clothes, douses himself with hairgel and dons those opaque sunglasses.

Israelis talk about the threats they face from hostile Arab neighbours and terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. For Palestinians, Amiry pointed out, the occupation also creates new situations to which they have had to constantly adapt.

“Palestine keeps changing on us and that is a sense of insecurity for us.”

While change in most other countries happens in years or decades, in Palestinian areas, it could be a matter of days. When she moved here in 1981, Amiry knew every street. Now she gets lost trying to get between towns, because Palestinian access on the roads keeps changing according to new Israeli regulations.

Planning a journey can be a bit complicated. After figuring out the route between Points A and B, one has to then measure the time required, taking into consideration not just the distance between them, but also the number of Israeli checkpoints between them.

These were the everyday realities of the Israeli occupation. While more often than not, it seemed really morose, Amiry proved that it was not impossible to sometimes have a laugh about it.

“A sense of humour would do good in resolving the problems of the world,” noted Palin in the end.

Hear, hear.

At the end of the day, if a Palestinian like Amiry who has to live under occupation and oppression can still retain her sense of humour, the naysayers have no reason yet to beat their chests and declare the end of hope.

Until the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians has been pronounced dead, it's still premature to start crying for a funeral.

(This post is a part of's coverage of the Second Palestinian Festival of Literature, held in May 2009)


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi