Understand

It’s hard to describe the incredible lack of desire I had to blog over the past few days. While I can’t seem to pinpoint it, when we began staying with our Ramallah friends’ host families I had been utterly dreading opening that computer and baring my soul through many clicks on a keyboard. What I can say, however, is that this second part of the trip, once we were stationed in Ramallah,  was vastly different than the first half. Before I was traveling and struggling to understand and then I was simply there. Rather than reflecting out the window of our tour bus I was being drenched in experiences as I trudged through the city’s streets in the pouring rain. As hard as I try I will never truly understand politics. What I do understand is humanity. One of the first things my host sister, Dina, said to me was in response to my desire to pick a side. “You don’t have to pick a side,” she said “You just have to understand”. No lecture, tour guide, or discussion has helped me better understand than getting to know Dina. Paired up randomly it turned out to be one of those wonderful situations where the more time we spent together the more we realized we had in common. She is so much more than a poor Palestinian suffering under an occupation. She is the rebel daughter, the ex-girlfriend, and the best friend. As a teenage girl she deals with the very same issues I do and on top of that she fights for her freedom.

Friday night we sit on the couch in the sitting area outside our bedrooms and laugh as she goes through pictures on Facebook and describes her friends. She tells me stores about each one, drawing connections to former couples and cringing at those girls she knows hate her simply because she doesn’t match her nail polish to her outfit and she flirts with all the wrong boys. She asks me if I’ve heard of the rapper Lowkey and when I haven’t she immediately pulls up Youtube and finds his video “Terrorist”. Standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people, his rap implores and forces anyone listening to examine who is truly doing the terrorism. His angry words seem to fill my soul before coming back out of my body in the form of goosebumps. Sitting next to Dina who I’ve become close enough to hug and giggle with as girls so often do, I cannot say I understand the conflict but I know I understand human connection. As we move on to another video by Lowkey called Obamanation I am reminded of my role in all this. Obamanation begins with the statement “This is not an attack on the American people. This is an attack on the system in which they live.” While Obama preached change as thick as the billionaires wallets that fund our nations political campaigns, he wouldn’t dare touch Israel. Our foreign policy is what ensure the continuation of both the conflict and the occupation. I cannot say whether it is one state solution or two. I cannot say where the right to return must be recognized in theory or in practice. I can say that violence will increase and lives will be lost as apartheid is renewed in full if something doesn’t change halfway across the world in Washington D.C. Another piece of graffiti written on the wall that simply said “Made in the U.S.A.” is another image forever engrained in my mind and I understand my responsibility.

Let Not..

…a poem i scribbled during a discussion on Friday, March 2nd 

let not war breed hate.

let not ignorance breed injustice.

peace is not just an agreement, it is human connection.

for without empathy we are simply slaves to suffering.

this conflict is a trial is desensitization,

in apathy.

violence is not a social custom, it is a product of

opression.

let us open the gate of understanding and tear down the wall of terror.

“It’s Complicated”

Day 4

This trip has been intense thus far yes, but everything reached a new high when we approached one of the busiest checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank. Sitting on the bus we were told by our Welsh-born Israeli guide, Lydia, that there are absolutely no pictures at the checkpoint. While we’ve been talking about many serious topics surrounding the conflict this was the first time I felt such an intense sense of urgency in her voice. As we began thinking about it, however, we wondered why documenting these checkpoints is so forbidden. If the Israelis wholly believe that what they are doing is both legal and necessary to the security of the Jewish people why do they feel the need to assure there is no evidence?

The moment we stepped off the bus was the first time I felt truly uncomfortable. Lydia told us the soldiers were just barely okay with letting her bring groups of foreigners into the area to witness the checkpoints and I could so palpably feel the tension. As we stood by the entrance I felt such a strong urge to know each one of their stores in-depth. I wanted to know if the men coming back from their work in construction were heading back to a wife and four children, or an aging father, or a home full of warm and boisterous extended family. I wanted to  know how they felt each time they had to go out of their way and pay extra simply to make their living. Was it worth it for the young male students traveling to get a good education? Would they be able to live their passions or would they be turned away at another checkpoint? To me it seems like such a lack of independence. Melissa told us that ” it all depends on the whim of the Israeli soldier”. How can one person, one young man usually, hold that power over another young man, the only difference between them being that one is Israeli and one is Palestinian? So often one will describe a “security fence” and one will describe a “separation wall” while talking about the same issue. Even between Lydia and Hazam (our Palestinian driver) I can feel the tension of the conflict. They may have sympathies for or a desire to understand the other side but they are still working on either side of the divide. The complexities and intricacies of the view points continue to amaze and overwhelm me.

The more Palestinian faces we see trudging through the checkpoint on their elongated joinery home the less I want to leave. Despite how unwelcome and out-of-place I was I felt as though I could have stayed there simply watching forever. How many families will I see pull out their identification and submit to an occupation before I lose the abilities to see the Israeli side? Similarly, how long might it take for me to see enough possible bombers get caught before I understand the Israeli justification? It seemed impossible last night, but the conflict has only gotten more real as another day goes by. In this reality sits a seemingly vast extent of “It’s complicated”. I cannot think of a better or more frustrating word to describe what I’ve learned, seen, and felt on the beginnings of this trip.

-Cherylyn

Hope?

Day Three

I’m not sure how to describe the emotions coursing through me in this moment. All I know is that that is exactly what they are doing, coursing. I can feel them in my skull like a headache that won’t go away. They inhale and exhale with my breath. They make my knees tremble and my cold feet colder. While I’m sure I’m overwhelmed I can’t say quite with what. Is it the frustration at how each piece of information makes the conflict seem a little bit more unsolvable? Is it the fact that my mind so badly wants to be able to pick a side while I know there is no right side to pick? I see Israelis living in fear after hundreds of years of persecution, living with the mindset that it is them against the world, that they must fight first and empathize later. In what feels like the blink of an eye I see Palestinians living in the constant oppression of occupation. I see them desperately trying to hold on to the land that has been in their family for generation all the time knowing their existence on it has been deemed illegal. Most of all, however, I see a loss of hope, a creation of hate, and an unbinding sense of ignorance.

“I hope one day there is no need for the existence of an Israeli state.” were the words of our Canadian born, Israeli guide, David with the implication that, for now, a Jewish state is deserved and necessary. He uttered them in that matter of fact way that made me certain he believed them. Do the Jews have the right to a solely Jewish state? If so what does this mean for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are currently living has half-rate citizens? They have been separated from their families by a concrete wall twice the size of that which separated the Germans in Berlin. They are forced to abandon land, lose jobs, leave schools because a 15 minute commute suddenly turned into an hour and half. “Welcome to apartheid” they graffiti on that concrete that so definitively changed their lives.

Here I am experiencing this with the certainty that lives are being lost and rights are being denied. Here I am on my oversized and over-comfortable tour bus looking down at the people whose suffering I can’t even begin to understand. I am privileged in ways beyond my comprehension and as I look through that glass and look into the curious eyes staring back at me I wonder what I am doing here. Not that I’m too uncomfortable or too out of place or too overwhelmed. I am simply wondering what I am going to do about it. And as I sit and stare I am brought back to my previous trips to Bangladesh. I may be four years older and innumerable experiences wiser than when I went on those trips but I am just as helpless. More than anything I saw suffering. I saw children maimed on the street in Bangladesh that I knew had been purposefully harmed so that they would make more money begging for the sick adults who “cared” for them. Images like these, though four years old now, will never be far from right behind my eyes. My third day attempting to understand the Israel/Palestine conflict by witnessing it first hand and I know this trip will be the same. What will I do for them? How can I help? Most importantly where can I find hope?

Getting Real

My biggest surprise when we arrived in Tel Aviv was how familiar it felt. Aside from the Middle Eastern style music playing on the radio and the Hebrew/Arabic/English road signs I felt as though I could have flown into southern California. As we continued to an Israeli friend’s house for dinner, my sheltered feeling didn’t alleviate. Their pronunciation of humus with the stereotypical throat sound was one of the few indication that we had left the United States and entered such a prominent region. As the night continued in conversation about the conflict things continued on a hypothetical and philosophical level. I could hear that they were experiencing intense conflict and had experienced great tragedy and violence in their lives yet I could not see it.

The next morning, as we toured the Old City in Jerusalem, I couldn’t shake of the feeling that I was a mere tourist avoiding the true purpose of the trip. While the buildings were beautiful and the history so wonderfully rich, the fact that we were in Israel had yet to sink in. That is until the moment I saw the Palestinian neighborhood. I was immediately met with dilapidated houses, hanging laundry, and piles upon piles of trash. Our guide told us the trash had accumulated in every corner because the Israeli government did not provide trash services to the Palestinians. The conflict continued to become a reality for me when we saw the wall up close for the first time. On it was graffiti that said, among other things, “When ignorance reigns, lives are lost” and “Welcome to apartheid”. Seeing these strong and charged words in black and white solidified for me the oppression and injustice the Palestinian people are living with daily. I also realized an Israeli teenager could easily ignore the conflict and occupation now that the wall has been constructed and the “acts of terror” have decreased significantly. A Palestinian teenager, however, lives in constant reminder that they are living are living in an occupation, that they are unwanted by many and unjustly hated by some. I am left with the feeling that as we heard during our discussion on the first night…”Life is complicated in this region.” 

-Cherylyn