Thursday, July 9, 2009

I'm coming home

This will be my last entry from Palestine - I leave on an overnight flight today. I just went to the post office to mail home everything I had on me that even hinted that I was in the West Bank or that I am in any way pro-Palestinian. Now I'm just your average, Jewish-Canadian tourist, so sad to see the end of my magical vacation in the Holy Land. Here's hoping that there are no problems at the airport - I'm fairly confident that my race/ethnicity combined with their racism will result in a smooth passage through security. If not, I'm just going to cry and ask them why they hate Jews.

Yesterday, I went to Akka, which is about 45 minutes from Tel Aviv. It used to be one of the main port-cities before the Nakba. It's now a mixed city, with the Palestinian population mostly living in what can only be described as ghettos or slums within the city. I walked around this beautiful, ancient city and listened in on various Zionist tours that were being given. It was so messed up that the guides at once acknowledged the history of the city 'ancient port etc', but somehow don't connect the 'historical' people they talk about with the people that were forcibly removed from the city. For them, it's ok to talk about the fact that there were ancient Arab people whose history is interesting, but there is this complete denial of the recent past and the current situation for Arab people in 'Israel'.

While sitting on the beach yesterday, watching the waves and enjoying the beauty of the Mediterranean I got so unbelievably sad and angry. There are so many people I know from home and who I've met here who would give anything just to sit by the sea, but aren't allowed because they are either refugees or from the West Bank and don't have the right ID. I realized that because I've studied so much about Israeli Apartheid I wasn't often surprised by the violence, repression and cruelty I've seen - I was expecting it. But I don't think I was prepared for how devastating it is to see the beautiful, wonderful places that have been stolen and are out of reach for so many who deserve the right be be there and see those places.

My final thought before leaving is that this trip has reminded me of how important it is to link the work we do around Palestine with issues back home. I've met so many people who see Canada as a wonderful place and I've spent a fair bit of time correcting that misconception. Many people - including Palestinians - have asked me point blank why I focus on Israel when Canada is so bad and I'm glad that I can answer that we link our work on Palestine with fighting oppression in Canada. It's now even more important to me that we continue to do so in genuine ways that are in solidarity with people who are being oppressed in the settler colonial context I call home.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Oh right, I have a blog...

I realize that I haven't blogged in over a week. And I was on such a roll for a while there. I'm currently in Haifa, having left the West Bank yesterday. I come home on Friday, so this is the last leg of my trip. It was sad leaving Ramallah and the West Bank yesterday because here you never know if you'll be able to come back. First of all, there's always the possibility that you will be denied entry at the border. I've managed to keep a low profile here, although yesterday the Israeli Army arrested all the internationals that were with a group I was staying with just a few days earlier in Beit Ummar (a village located between Bethlehem and Hebron). Beyond the personal issue of being denied entry there is, of course, the politics of apartheid that can and so often do change the situation on the ground. I have been told over and over that I came at time of relative calm, especially in the bigger cities in the West Bank. Still, I have been acutely aware of how tenuous any calm is and that the situation can deteriorate so quickly because the Israelis have built up such a matrix of control that they could lock down the whole West Bank if they felt so inclined. We've seen it happen in Gaza, which has been under lockdown for over two years now.

It's really strange being back on this side of the Green Line. Again, I was all to aware of the affluence around me as I was walking through West Jerusalem to the bus station (for anyone carrying a giant backpack, do not believe anyone who tells you that it's walking distance from Jaffa gate - it's totally not walkable on a hot day, trust me). It's the big things like architecture. properly paved roads, waste management, elaborate bus system and also little things like going into well stocked stores and buying food that isn't even close to its expiration date. And of course, there's the fact that I was walking the path of the light-rail project that is being built to link Jerusalem to the settlements in the West Bank. It's part of the annexation of 'Greater Jerusalem' (more info ). Then there was the bus ride through the country on well maintained highways that cannot even be compared the dangerous routes that Palestinians are forced to take throughout the West Bank to get around settlements and the Wall. Anyone who's taken a service from Ramallah to Bethlehem knows the fear of death one experiences on those roads - I'm only partly joking because traffic accidents are a major cause of death and injury in the West Bank. Finally, there's the water situation. There is a drought right now, which means that the West Bank is experiencing periodic water shut-offs, which are normal throughout the year, but are lasting longer right now. In '48 and the settlements, no such shortage exists. I have all the water I could ever need here. Gross.

I am happy that I'm spending some time in '48 because I know that too often we focus on Gaza and the West Bank and don't pay enough attention to the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel. I hope to go to the Galilee tomorrow to visit with people in some of the Palestinian villages there. I'm told that the situation is quite similar to the West Bank, with most towns surrounded by settlements. Here in Haifa, I am staying in one of the most 'integrated' neighbourhoods in the country, with working class Israeli Jews, Russian immigrants and Palestinians living side by side. This is, of course, an exception here, where usually cities are segregated and ghettoized.

I have a whole lot more to say, but might have to continue blogging after I've gotten home and had time to think things over. I know I want to write about Hebron, but I haven't found the right words just yet.