Monday, June 22, 2009

Random Thoughts

I haven't blogged in a while because I haven't really had consistent internet access. So this will be kind of a rambling rant of things I've been thinking about in the last week or so, in no particular order.

I have been talking to a lot of other internationals and we all seem to agree that Palestine was not what we expected. Back home we talk so much about oppression and apartheid, that I think we all naively assume we're walking into the kind of war zone we see on TV. Then you get to the West Bank and people are going about their daily life. You eat in restaurants, meet friends for coffee, see people studying, getting married etc. Besides the cultural and language differences that are expected with travel, sometimes being here isn't that different from your life at home. But then it hits you in certain moments or when you take the time to think about it. Then you see the violence that is everywhere. I've had many of these moments recently and I'll sum up just a few:

I was talking to a teenager who had just gotten back from a camp that brings kids from the West Bank together with kids from Jerusalem and 48. She was telling me how hard it was to explain to the others why she couldn't come visit them. Palestinians with West Bank IDs can't travel to Jerusalem or anywhere in '48 without a permit. Palestinian citizens of Israel can't come to most parts of the West Bank without a permit. Marriage between people with different IDs can be nearly impossible - I met a man on a bus who told me that he was marrying a girl from 48 and they were moving to London because it's the only place they can live together. Immobility is violence and part of the on-going ethnic cleansing. That my passport and white skin allow me to so easily go to these places makes me even more angry because I have no connection to this land and am allowed to see it all, while the people I meet here, who are deeply connected to it, are denied access. This is all making me question my presence here as an international with so much privilege.

A few days ago I was at the Alternative Information Centre in Beit Sahour and we were watching a film that was shot, in part, during the invasion of Bethlehem during the 2nd Intifada. I watched footage of places I had just been a few weeks ago, but was seeing them as the war zone they were back in 2002. While watching the movie, it hit me that, in some ways, I have been treating Palestine like a war memorial. I was visiting places where massacres and invasions had occurred. I was visiting cemeteries and monuments dedicated to martyrs who died resisting Israeli Apartheid. Earlier that same day I had visited Jenin and seen the refugee camp that had been mostly destroyed during the massacre that took place there during the Intifada. Everything I saw was heartbreaking, but I think I was perceiving a lot of it in some ways as past tense. Watching that movie, for some reason, shook me back into the present. With checkpoints everywhere, and one of the world's largest militaries able to mobilize at any time, the violent invasions and massacres of the past are a constant threat in the present and, are, of course, still the present in Gaza. It is this threat that makes resistance all the more necessary, but for the people here, that much more dangerous. That's the collective punishment - people here know that resistance can and will be met with retribution on everyone here. The Israelis, no doubt, count on this as a way of trying to kill the resistance that they can't kill with assassinations and arrests.

The last thought I want to relay comes from visiting Jenin. When the camp was rebuilt, they made the roads wide enough for tanks to come in. The official line was that this would prevent house demolitions that often occur as Israelis bulldoze homes to make way for tanks on narrow streets. When comparing Jenin to other camps (I will try to post pictures later to show this visually), one could think that the wide streets are a vast improvement. But then, when you think about how much more easily the Israelis can now enter and occupy the camp because of these streets, you realize that most changes here that may seem positive either have a horrible backstory or an even more horrible purpose. This was reinforced for me when I was visiting a park near Bethlehem that had been built on an old military base. Seems like such a nice idea - military base becomes a park. Then you learn that a lot of the building had to be done quickly and quietly because permits were denied or that the settlers come at least once a week to attack families that are playing because settlers can't stand to see Palestinians have even a little happiness or dignity. Everything here has another story below the surface - the stories of apartheid and occupation.

I think it's important for people to see daily life in Palestine - because going on with life is its own form of resistance and also because I think it's wrong to only know about the oppression in people's lives and not to know about their actual lives. That said, we can't just look at the present 'calm' here in the West Bank (calm relative to the intifada, that is) and forget the violence that is ever present and the threat of even more violence that can come at any minute.

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