Qassem translated for Ali. “During the first Intifada, I knew Israeli owners of print houses, and one came to serve in the army here. I talk to him: Hello, how are you. After a while, one of our machines doesn’t work, and I wanted an Israeli expert but no one came. I called this friend and he came and fixed it.”
Ali said he still talks on the phone with Israeli colleagues and friends, some of whom he’s known for decades, but no one visits anymore, even for business. In fact, fulfilling basic business needs, like getting updated machinery, is tricky now. They have to buy machines sight unseen, over the phone, and hope for the best. Money is tight.
How much do you charge to print the posters? I asked. They dodged the question for a while, then said that for 1,000 posters, they charge 1,500 shekels (about $350). Would you still print the posters if you didn’t need the money? I asked.
“Sure,” Qassem said. “If the law here agree with me to make this business, I will make it. If not, I will not do it.”
I asked if I could see a poster laid out on the computer.
No, said Qassem. “After we finish the poster, we throw everything outside, because the [Israeli] army is not all good. Not all understand this is work. We try not to keep anything here.”
He went on. “During this Intifada, when [the army] enter houses, some very good, some very bad — destroying things. They came here to my house two times. Both times, good people, not bad people.” He paused, then added, “This is chance, maybe.”
After almost two hours, a moment came when Qassem and Ali were clearly, in a very polite way, ready for me to leave. We stood up and walked back past the machines, past sheets of wedding invitations, past stacks of candy boxes that needed to be folded up.
Qassem had given me three different answers in two hours to my unasked question about why he prints the posters: because shaheeds are heroes, because work is work, and because legally no one stops us. Then right at the end, he gave one more.
“We don’t like to make these things, because it’s very difficult to print these things,” he said. “But we cannot refuse. We are Palestinian, they are from our country. We cannot refuse. Even we don’t like it, we cannot refuse.”