Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Welcome to Palestine!

(Joint Advocacy Initiative Intern in Palestine)

On the eve of my one month milestone in Palestine I finally sit down to process my thoughts...I have absorbed a crazy amount of information which I don’t want to just relay back to you (I think if this would evoke any response from you, the international community would have intervened here long ago). So instead I want to share some of my experiences and what I have witnessed here with my own eyes. It won’t necessarily be PC or well articulated it is just an expression of my views – a piece of me to help you see a piece of Palestine.

So I arrived in Beit Sahour, which was much colder than I had thought (thanks a bunch lonely planet) and I was shown my accommodation options which turned out to be my accommodation option (a bit of a dive) but thankfully I am living near super nice people who volunteer at the JAI and so I settled in immensely quickly to my new surroundings.  I am still of course asking stupid questions like, ‘When do the bins go out?’ Or, ‘When is the set lunch time?’ I am learning everyday about the indirect, ‘go with the flow’ culture here and similarly in my office, deadlines, structure and forward planning are pretty unheard of concepts so is any kind of praise or recognition of my work at all!

By and large, in relation to where I am staying in the West Bank, you could be forgiven for being blissfully unaware that you are standing in occupied territory. My first experience of the occupation was the day after I arrived, on a trip to Hebron where the very centre of the city is occupied. As I had nothing to compare it to and because everything was still a blur after just arriving, it was only on later visits that I realised how crazy it was. Palestinians are barred from going down certain roads in their own neighbourhood, arbitrary checks of Palestinians’ IDs occur constantly and a part of a mosque was converted into a synagogue.

Closer to home is Bethlehem which instead of being like, ‘Oh little town of Bethlehem’ which I was made to believe every Christmas, it is more like Oh large town of noise, pollution and pervy men. Of course I was also expecting to see the exact hill where Jesus had been crucified, not a blade of grass out of place and the ‘stable’ where he was born. These of course are long gone, (things change apparently over a couple of thousand years!) only a metal star or a few candles commemorates the place where it was thought that these events may have happened and so I was more than a tad disappointed as it all seems just for show and to give tourists (of which there are many) a good photo.

Unlike Palestinians, Israelis appear somewhat more direct about their intentions. Simply put they want to protect land which they believe is Eretz Israel. This includes what is biblically known as Judea and Samaria (aka the whole of the West Bank) where over 2 million mainly non – Jews (mostly Muslims and Christians) live. To accomplish this goal, many Jewish, pro Zionists from Israel and around the world have moved into illegal settlements across the West Bank with a very clear intention of land grabbing and many of whom have made public threats on the lives of Palestinians.

I have heard of many atrocities already in my short time here. I witnessed a march on the 30th March to commemorate land day when protestors against land confiscation were shot dead by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in 1976. Many pro-Palestinians all over the world marched towards Jerusalem to show solidarity for the Palestinian people. I was in Bethlehem for this were I believe 15 were severely injured due to teargas and rubber bullets (ordinary bullets with a small coating of rubber, not bullets made out of rubber, as I once thought) and many more injuries were reported throughout the West Bank.

Another event on the 17th April marked Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. I recently heard from a woman whose son has been in prison for the last 20 years. His crime: Driving a car carrying a person who was wanted by the IDF. He was only 20 years old at the time of his arrest.

I have also seen several Internationals being arrested here for raising awareness on particular issues, they however are released pretty quickly and can enjoy freedom again a luxury which Palestinians have not been allowed since the occupation began over 60 years ago.

Many people make draw similarities here (possibly to try and maintain hope) to the Northern Ireland and South African conflicts and resolutions. I think of the song ‘Waka Waka This time For Africa’ by Shakira and I think to myself maybe one day some equally bootylicious popstar will sing: This time for Palestine....

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