Palestine – Our experience.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “shock (n)” as “the emotional or physical reaction to a sudden, unexpected, and usually unpleasant event or experience. It can also be the feeling of being offended or upset by something you consider wrong or unacceptable”. That’s what we felt in Palestine.
Ilan Pappé, expert in the Palestine reality, described four paradoxes (On Palestine, I. Pappé and N. Chomsky) that are setting the path for this country. Paradox number one: There is a huge gap between the world public opinion of the conflict and the continued support from the political and economic powers in the West. Second paradox: The gap between the widely negative image of Israel and the very positive image its own Jewish society has of the state.
Paradox number three: while specific Israeli policies are severely criticized and condemned, the very nature of the Israeli regime and the ideology that produces these policies are not targeted by the solidarity movement. And paradox number four: the tale of Palestine from the beginning is a simple story of colonialism and dispossession, yet the world treats it as a multifaceted and complex story – hard to understand and even harder to solve. And when you step into Palestine, you can feel how these four paradoxes become real. The reality of the shock.
Our arrival to Palestine
We arrived there at night, it was relatively easy to get the visa, but when we arrived in Aida Camp in Bethlehem, we got the first advice “it is probable that you will hear shoots, if it is the case, just stay inside”. Second advice was “if you are smoking in the terrace, be careful, they can shoot teargas”. We were warned about it before leaving Norway, but when Salah, one of our hosts, said that, all of our faces changed. The same way that it changed when we realized that there was an 8 meters wall in front of our terrace. That was our first shock. Aida Refugee Camp, created by UNRWA in 1948, it is surrounded by a wall. The Apartheid Wall. The creation of Israel provoked more than 750.000 Palestinian Forcibly Displaced People. Nowadays this data grows to more than 5 million.
The second shock came when we started visiting the Lajee Center, our host families, schools, the Badil Center, the Palestine Museum of Natural History and the IBDA Cultural Center. Everything we might have known, research and knowledge absorbed before going to Palestine, was nothing compared to what we learned on the ground. Reality slapped our faces in the humblest way. Every person was open to explain their story. Their fight. Their Dream.
But reality also shocked us by showing us the everyday life in the camp. The walls talk, because they are full of graffities claiming for respect of the human rights, the return of the jailed kids and adults of the camp, the fight for freedom. The burned Israeli tower in front of one of the schools also speaks. You can see through them how they are resisting. Because they resist every day. Soldiers enter to the camp, and kids get in the provocation and start throwing stones to them.
It’s kind of a game but it is also the way they have to protect what they have. Because all of them have received teargas while they are at the football field (covered by a net) or in the garden. Sometimes they also receive rubber bullets. We saw this our first day we were there. And the second, and the third, and so on. We also received teargas while we were chatting at the terrace of the center, out of nowhere. I think that I will have that moments, reproduced in slow-motion, in my head forever. This situation was our third shock.
The honest truth
So, to sum up, we have a refugee camp, in a city like Bethlehem, that is surrounded by a wall with Israeli soldiers that are there “for security reasons”, because some of us asked them. Security means throwing teargas to kids that are playing football. Security means arresting teenagers in the middle of the night. Security means occupying their houses. Security means checkpoints. And checkpoints mean military everywhere. Shock number four. When you go from Bethlehem to Jerusalem there is a checkpoint.
The passengers with Palestinian ID get out and are checked by the soldiers who are not over 20 years old. Meanwhile, two soldiers with the gun hanging in their shoulders enter and check the rest of the passengers. In Hebron, more of the same. You can feel the tension in the air, the occupation. Israelis can go with a gun. The Old City of Hebron, known as the “Ghost Town”, now is full of Israeli flags. You find soldiers, buildings in rune and dirt. “Where are you from?”, “Spain”, “Okay, go on”. Because if you are European is different. For example, if Muslims (Palestinians) want to enter the mosque, there is a checkpoint. But occupation it is not only checkpoints and military. It is also the settlements.
What they have
In Bethlehem, you can see how the city is surrounded by colonies of settlers, illegal by international law. How were we able to identify them? Because they didn’t have water tanks on top of the roof. Because the occupation also involves the control of the Palestinian resources. The Palestinians have the sources of water, but they only receive between 35 to 70 liters per capita/day while Israelis in Bethlehem receive between 350 and 400 liters per capita/day . In Aida Camp, the average is 50 liters per capita/day. Shatha, third generation refugee and volunteer from IBDA Center explained that “it is scary how normal that is. Occupation is part of our daily life. Palestinians have started to normalize the settlements”.
What is next for Palestine?
But “to exist is to resist” one mural claims. Dr. Sami, that helped us to organize the trip, explained to us that “Palestinians cannot afford losing the hope, it’s all we have”. Because despite everything, they still believe and they still dream of a free Palestine. And now, after coming back to Norway, I’ve realized that they are more positive than us. Because we left with a mix of feelings: Guilt, sadness and frustration.
It is a difficult feeling to put into words, but guilt because of the feeling of abandoning them, sadness to find out their reality and frustration that the only think we can do to help them it is not enough. And that it is also a shock. The shock number five. Because after seventeen days there, they became part of us. Our host family, is our family too. Because the moments with the kids in the camp are unforgettable. Because the people we met in Hebron University have a bright future in front of them.
So, what’s next for them? It is time to bring the Palestinian situation back into the spotlight. This is the moment to explain their story. It’s the moment to push politicians and the International Community to find a solution to the conflict after the failure of the two-state solution.
It’s time for Palestine´s freedom.
Interested in more? Read about the power structures in Zambia here.